Number 12

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All said, 2009 was a good year. After a year of odd-jobs and soul-searching throughout the northeast, a couple tours and a rough transition back to bay area living, things were finally looking up. Most notably, I’d just been hired as a math teacher at a public charter high school and while the pay wasn’t phenomenal, the juxtaposition between that and the previous five years spent on subsistence rations was great enough to afford a certain sense of luxury to the environs. Within the first 4 months of employment, Pau and I had moved out of our beloved noise-hovel, the Golden Trapperkeeper Lodge and into a small one-bedroom apartment in the Mission. I invested in a wardrobe deficient in paint-splatters, holes and patchwork. We finally drove the car out from New York and began taking trips outside the limits of the Bay Area’s public transportation – you know, the little things that allow you to feel moderately human as opposed to some sort of pawn in the artistic scheme of things, willing to sacrifice almost all bastions of comfort and civilized lifestyle in favor of the chances of Bohemian existence in Fog City. Oddly enough, one of the initial lures that drew me out to the bay was Kerouac’s descriptions of bay area lifestyle in such books as Big Sur and The Dharma Bums. Imagine the surprise to arrive and find North Beach and just about every other environ glorified to every neo-Beatnik this side of Ferlinghetti’s printing press to be off-limits to the tax-brackets of the modern San Francisco artist. C’mon down to the Beanbag – $3 pints after 5. For a second, there was a website called myopenbar that compiled a list of every opening and event with free food and drink. Prior to my teaching gig, we used it heavily. Is it still hip to gallery-hop during times of economic turmoil in hopes of scoring a free meal? At that point, the answer wasn’t important. Hell, with our combined income, we were almost middle class by bay area standards!

Of the many side effects our increased income and access to wheels, one was that it became much easier to concentrate on a solo career – and between July and December of 2009, we’d pulled a cross-country tour, a festival in Santa Cruz, a couple support bills with Caroliner in SF, a burn up to Portland, one down to LA and a discount flight to Seattle and back. A note on west coast touring, especially of the ambient/experimental, analog-synth and laptop, psychedelic noise variety: you can only really play the major cities. Unlike the east coast and midwest, college towns tend not to be into the experimental stuff, especially as you head north towards Humbolt. Welcome to jam-rock, USA – home of the Dead. Try as you might, unless you’re selling metal, honkey-tonk, jam-rock, or are importing your audience into some campground 4 miles north of the bay for the weekend, just keep driving. For 700 miles. Portland will see you shortly after about 5 hours of white-knuckle driving through Mount Shasta snow-fields and passes. Just remember, you have to play after that, so be sure to keep yourself hydrated and caffeinated. And stay close to the highway – if you can’t see the sign for the lunch-stop, you’ll most likely be adding another 2 hours to the drive as you hobble on and off the highway in search of a burrito joint 30 miles down the service road. Such is the way of the west.

I arrived in Seattle at around 7 AM with a stripped-down rig, dressed in black. Took the bus to downtown, hiked to the Edgewater, checked out the Olympic sculpture garden, looked at the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project. Considered checking out the Lusty Lady, but my dignity got the best of me. Met a friend at Pike’s Place for lunch and it started to rain. With 7 hours to go until sound-check. The air was cold and wet – much like the bay in winter, but 20 degrees colder. Instead of a perpetual damp, the wetness permeated and sent a chill to the bone. All said, it was the first time since my time in Colorado that I’d truly been cold. This is why Seattle is famous for coffee. And, like many of the other art-drifters in the northwest that day, the rest of the afternoon was spent hopping from comfy chair to chair, sipping lattes and assessing the situation. At that point, I was still drinking in excess of 8 cups per day, so it felt entirely natural to sit back and overdose on caffeine while assessing the aforementioned, ahem, situation. Namely, now that every major city on the west coast had been played and analyzed ala scene, audience and vibe, what could be done to increase my sphere of influence without having to repeatedly put 1400 miles on the odometer for a 45 minute set? A few months back, I’d been featured on Matt Davignon’s Rigs video series showing off some of my early Ciat-Lonbarde-inspired synths, and had generated a small trickle of income from that, mostly from friends and associated into the sound, but unwilling to solder themselves. I’d been ordering in bulk for these projects, so it only seemed natural to bleed off some the the excess with a couple other builds offered to the standard market – not too many – after all, I didn’t want to undermine a friend’s business, but enough to prove to myself that I’m capable of producing a standardized production run of electronics, generate some income to pay for an upcoming trip south to Costa Rica and get rid of components that I thought at the time were part of a passing trend. Little did I know I’d still be building three years later. So, buried in the cushions of a comfy chair in a Seattle coffeehouse, I sent out a small mailing advertising custom-built synths for my periphery – less than a day later, my quota met, I began working. And these are the results.

Number12_03   Number12_04   Number12_02   Number 12.03


Over a decade later, one of these critters came back for a checkup. Naturally, I was happy to oblige and considering that my documentation game back in the primordial era of VF was something to be desired, I also took the opportunity to actually record a few licks on this beast. So, for the sake of posterity, here’s what this critter sounds like.

Another example recorded during 2020’s checkup of this beast which pairs it with our Sangre de Nieve module.

Number 12 MK II

Fast forward to 2021 – it’s now officially ten years since the VF name was coined and unlike other ventures that I abandon after a set amount of time, I’m somehow still dedicated to this particular labor of love. Owing to the recent check-up of one of the original 12’s, I felt inspired to hack together a new batch in “neoclassical” livery – or in other words, try to make something similar to thee old chestnuts but using a decade of experience to make them better, stable, louder, etc. The bamboo and plexi aesthetic is obviously still present, but all controls and jacks are panel-mounted, banana jacks replace machine screws and printed circuit boards replace slabs of acrylic with wires shoved through them. The third feature being probably the biggest innovation – all four of these guys were cranked out in less than a month – nearly a quarter of the time of the original batch. Here’s some photos and videos of said boxes, as is tradition.


A couple quick snaps of the new editions for those in need of a visual frame of reference.



Here’s a quick video of my set from Executive Summary 9 from 03.08.2021 using two of the Mark II’s in stereo:

Another one – this one pairs all four along with some other hand-hewn goodies for an Imaginary Network Topologies show from back during the lockdown when streaming concerts were all the rave:

And one more – this one was featured as part of the NorCal Noisefest:

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