Norton Plsek Robair Trio cover This recording documents a broadcast performance by the
Norton/Plsek/Robair Trio at Tufts University’s WMFO radio
station in Medford, Massachusetts on February 4th, 1995 and a
long distance recording assembled using an adaptation of the
“exquisite corpse” method.

This is a cooperative release with Rastascan Records of
San Leandro, California.

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The Norton/Plsek/Robair Trio is:

Steve Norton: saxophones, bass clarinet, game calls
Tom Plsek: trombone
Gino Robair: percussion

Track listing:

1. Crow Black, Crow Blue   2:09
2. She recalled his elaborate shine internal supply, consumer watchdogs agree.  18:14
3. Firehouse Futurities  2:13
4. Magoun Square, Somerville, 1953  38:11

All titles by Norton/Plsek/Robair
Published by Red Notebook, BMI & Gino Robair Ink, BMI.

Production and technical credits:

Produced by Steve Norton
Track 2 recorded February 15, 1995 by Myles Boisen at Guerilla Euphonics, Oakland CA
and October 10, 1996 by Eric Kilburn at Wellspring Sound, Concord MA.
Remaining tracks recorded February 4, 1995 by Paul Sanni in live broadcast performance
at WMFO, Medford MA.
Post-production by Bob Ross at Wellspring Sound, Concord MA, Summer, 1997.
Edited and mastered by Bill Crabtree at Tree Media, Boston MA.
Liner Notes by Thomas Gaudynski.
Gino Robair photograph by Gudrun Edel-Rösnes.
All other photographs by Matt Samolis.
Design & layout by Steve Norton/Red Notebook.
Type by Matthew Desmond, Ethan Dunham, and Brian Willson.

Liner notes by Thomas Gaudynski:

In our century, artists and musicians have resorted to various mechanisms to liberate imagination and to facilitate new modes of expression—individually and collaboratively. The Surrealists, always interested in unlocking the subconscious in either the act of making or responding to art, created a technique called the corpse exquis to liberate artistic invention through unique collaboration. This art-making game could be either verbal or visual. To write an ‘exquisite corpse,’ three or more people would be assigned various parts of a sentence but not told what the others had written until all parts were assembled. The first such sentence read, “The exquisite/corpse/shall drink/the bubbling wine.”

Similarly, a visual exquisite corpse would proceed with one person drawing something on part of a piece of paper folding that part out of view, and then having a second person add to the drawing without seeing the work of the first. This would be added to subsequently, with each participant working independently and unaware of the others’ contributions. Andre Breton wrote, “What thrilled us in these productions was the certainty that, for better or worse, they stood for something that couldn’t possibly be the work of a single brain, and possess to an exceptional degree that quality of drift which means so much to poetry.”

With the advent of the technology that we now take for granted in the production and recording of music, composers and musicians have resorted to technical processes that provide similar freeing results. The common use of headphones in recording to monitor the mix from the console has been beautifully subverted by composers like Gavin Bryars. His “1, 2, 1-2-3-4” (1971) uses headphones to isolate the performers rather than to help them enhance their “ensemble.” Feeding different material from various tape recorders privately to individuals using headphones, Bryars has them play along with the tape as best they can. The audience hears only the music produced by the live musicians, not the tapes. The result is a composite not unlike the that of an exquisite corpse.

She recalled his elaborate shine internal supply, consumer watchdogs agree makes use of a similar scheme, carried out as a long-distance collaboration. Gino recorded eighteen minutes of improvised percussion music in California and then sent it off to Tom and Steve in Massachusetts. They took it to the studio as the first installment of the corpse. The recording engineer fed the tape via headphones to Tom in the isolation booth. As he played along with Gino’s recording, the engineer in turn fed Tom’s playing via headphones to Steve who then played along with Tom. So each musician was able to hear only the previous one’s playing. The result heard here, however, is the composite of all three parts, recorded independently but combined as a single sound object.

Juxtaposition as a technique gained its first methodical use in composition during the late fifties in the work of Jackson MacLow and John Cage. MacLow provided strict guidelines for the simultaneous performance of independent actions (musical or literal) that create a unique result he called ‘simultaneities.’ Cage developed his idea of a ‘musicircus’ that made it possible for many performers and pieces of music to be juxtaposed at the same time.

The practice of simultaneous invention appeared in jazz as early as Dixieland, but the recent development as a contrast of independent lines, solos or movements in creative improvised music began in the sixties with practitioners like the AEC and other members of the AACM. By now, many musicians have assimilated and integrated both streams: players such as Derek Bailey have built a career on performing simultaneously with other musicians, while composers like Anthony Braxton regularly juxtapose compositions.

Gino, Tom and Steve initially provide musical tension in Magoun Square, Somerville, 1953 in a traditional form with Steve taking the lead and Gino and Tom providing support. But as the trio develops its material, long solos by each are juxtaposed against a counterpoint of duos and other solos. The listener’s attention shifts among the players as the pace picks up or meanders. The independence of thought, so obvious in She recalled... because of the way the work was recorded, is consciously created in Magoun Square. Here, the only imposed structure is the length of the piece—the time available for a broadcast performance at WMFO in Medford, MA. Tom’s ability to provide a drone helps feed this unfolding of long, independent development. His energetic automatic mouth and trombone solos still crack me up. Gino’s persistently deft touch on the metal of his kit adds a shimmer to the recording, while his toms and bass help kick along both Steve’s and Tom’s horns.

The short works that round out the recording have a precision of statement and a gratifying energy that make this listener’s fingers twitch as he wants to join in.

Thomas Gaudynski
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
September 1997

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