Tom Guralnick | broken dances for muted pieces


Tom Guralnick

broken dances for muted pieces

whatnext recordings

Recorded January 25-27,1994 at The Outpost Performance Space, Albuquerque ©1995 Tom Guralnick ® 1995 Nonsequiturl/WhatNext?

Produced by Steve Peters & Tom Guralnick. Executive Producer: Jonathan Scheuer. Digital Recording: Steve Peters. Digital Editing: Kevin Campbell. Sculptures and Design: Michael Motley. Title Assistance: David Abel.

Tracklist: 1. BROKEN DANCE [4:08] 2. WHIRLED WEARY [4:51] 3. TONE FARM [1:53] 4. MEMORY LINK [4:27] 5. SLIDES PEAK [5:20] 6. BLOWN LOGIC [4:09] 7. MOBILE MOTIVE [3:12] 8. IN DIFFERENT VERSION [5:34] 9. DIFFERENT INVERSION [3:05] 10. FOAM TONES [1:35] 11. IN THE OUT-TAKE [3:22] 12. SPOKEN PEDALS [5:06] 13. READING SAMPLE [3:25] 14. INVISIBLE ON IT [2:50]

These live improvisations were performed on tenor and soprano saxophones modified with homemade mutes and electronic processing, and augmented with invented and appropriated wind instruments. These various elements are assembled withing a sculptural construction which has come to be known fondly as the “Mobile Saxophone & Mute Unit”, the structure of which allows the performer easy access to the many components while encouraging lively physical movement within its boundaries. All pieces were recorded direct to DAT; while some digital editing was used to remove unintended noises, the music is heard essentially as it was played.

Write for a free catalog of our other releases: WHAT NEXT? RECORDINGS c/o Nonsequitur, PO Box 344, Albuquerque, NM, 87103 USA

Tom Guralnick

had two musical personalities during the 1990s. He had a jazz quartet/trio and he had a solo thing. He kept a small jazz band that eventually resulted in the remarkable cd PITCHIN’ (VoxLox 110). These formats ran simultaneously on two separate tracks. I think one time he presented the solo and trio performances on a double-bill

There was no over-lap except for the fact that Tom employed saxophones in both areas — they were concurrent and simultaneous trajectories. According to the liner notes to his long-player ALBUQUERQUE (Cleo 001) his fist solo saxophone concerts were in 1979. I think the last time Tom played in public was May 22, 2000 on a double-bill with Roswell Rudd & Bonefied. “The penultimate performance,” Tom says today. As the Outpost Performance Space became more and more involved and complicated and expensive and bigger he found it necessary to set aside his saxophone playing and concentrate on the third trajectory in his life’s work and that is as a concert presenter. Tangentially going on about his business. He has since sold his bass saxophone to Vinny Golia and his alto to JB Bryan.

The incredible music on BROKEN DANCES FOR MUTED PIECES could be thought as the culmination of his solo work, but only because it was the last of a series of work Tom did in the realm of sound. The documentation of his solo artistry began in 1980 with “Ten Instrument Studies for Solo Saxophone.” He did his graduate studies at Wesleyen completing his thesis work with the publication of 402-page dissertation Contemporary Improvised Solo Saxophone Performance and Recording Activity (1987) as well as two video performances: one of John Zorn, solo; and one of himself in solo, and the presentation of a solo concert. His long-playing vinyl album ALBUQUERQUE (1982) represents several facets of his solo work at that time.

On May 17, 1996 I interviewed Tom. Here are some extracts from that afternoon in Albuquerque:

Mark Weber: I think of your work with the Mobile Saxophone & Mute Unit as very much out of the jazz tradition.

Tom Guralnick: Really? I don’t know where it fits in to tell you the truth. The only reason why I don’t classify it as jazz is because I think it’s kind of a loaded term. I’m definitely coming out of some aspect of the jazz tradition, so it’s not like I’m ignoring that, but to me, the stuff (MSMU) is more abstract. I really don’t know how to classify it. It’s more out of the experimental music world, though certainly not of the classical thing because I have no contact with that world. I mean, Webern, I like it, and I like some Cage stuff, but you know I don’t listen to that music very much. It’s “sound art.” The construction of the instrument and so forth puts me a little in the “sound art” category. But my music is much more purely musical.

Tom Guralnick — October 10, 1999 — photo by Mark Weber

Tom Guralnick: Then there’s “sculptural sound art,” also. People like Ellen Fullman. Artists that make sculptures that actually make music, whether generated by the wind, or some other power.

Mark Weber: Like the Wind Harp.

Tom Guralnick: Yeh! There’s a lot of people working on those kinds of things. Constructions. And there’s a lot of beautiful music that comes out of it. Now, my construction is a little bit like that, but in a sense my construction stuff is more related to the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s extended instrument thing. But I find my solo music to be more abstract than what most people would consider to be jazz. I think the Art Ensemble did more conceptually for me than musically. Like they opened things up. In terms of what might be possible, or what would seem possible in the world of quote unquote jazz, you know? Than actually being musically deep, like Coltrane or something. What they really contributed was an opening of concepts. That’s what it did for me.

Tom Guralnick on Morningside Drive — Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA — 10 a.m. April 25, 1997 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: Is linear forward time important to your solo work?

Tom Guralnick: I’m not sure what that is, “linear forward time.” You know? I mean, uh, I’m really interested in the relationship of sound to time, like where the sounds are placed in linear forward time. The most successful pieces are where the time is broken up in interesting ways. Where the time and the space between the sounds are utilized in interesting ways. Where it’s all broken up. At this point I’m interested in things being broken up in weird ways and surprising ways. Let’s put it that way: not weird, but surprising.

Von Freeman & Tom Guralnick — December 13, 1996 — Vonksi had just played at Tom’s club The Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: But the music isn’t static. The sounds just don’t sit there in space by themselves.

Tom Guralnick: Some of them do.

Mark Weber: Well okay, some of them do.

Tom Guralnick: There’s a relationship between the repeated stuff that’s looping and then the break-up of the loop or the repositioning of the loop and then the things that have more space between them. That’s on the Nonsequitur cd. And I think that’s what’s interesting to me. The pieces on the cd have real form, you know, even though they’re improvised pieces. And this is how they were recorded. There is no editing. Occasionally we cut a piece a couple seconds earlier than when it ended because the process of actually playing the piece sometimes takes longer to fade it than you’re actually conceiving of. So, in mastering we might cut it a few seconds shorter, or start a few seconds into it.

Reggie Gammon & Tom Guralnick — December 5, 1997, Albuquerque — with Reggie’s portrait of TG — Reggie (1921-2005) kept a studio at Harwood Arts Building in Albuquerque and was a regular listener to my jazz radio show, he was a member of Romare Bearden’s inner circle — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: [ BROKEN DANCES was recorded by Steve Peters in Albuquerque on January 25, 26, 27, 1994 at the old Outpost Performance Space]

Tom Guralnick: . . . the scrutiny of it makes me uptight sometimes, [regarding listening to playbacks] but we got a lot of good music out of those three sessions. We maybe had a total of three hours of music and we chose an hour. That’s pretty good. So, I guess I wasn’t that uptight [laughter]. I feel good about that recording.

Tom Guralnick & J.A. Deane — March 8, 1997 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: It strikes me that children would really get off on your solo performances.

Tom Guralnick: They enjoy it a lot. They do like it, they do. If I had more time it would be great to do that more often. For the younger kids my solo stuff is really fun. And the trio has done some presentations that are fun, also, but for older kids. But for the young kids, I think they really get their heads turned around in a nice way. And I like kids, so, you know, it’s fun.

Mark Weber: Where have you done these performances?

Tom Guralnick: Of course I’ve done it at the summer camp — Camp Alton, New Hampshire — which my brother Peter ran for 20-plus years, until 1993. [ And here in Albuquerque] I’ve done things at Monte Vista School, and at Very Special Arts a couple years ago, and a little bit in the public schools, and some at the psychiatric hospital, Memorial Hospital, and an Artist in the Schools thing in Placitas. A number of these things, for kids.

Tom Guralnick plays for Albuquerque school children — April 8, 1997 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: We were talking earlier about one of the solo pieces having an absolute definite form. Are we talking about something that is written? Do you employ staff paper? Diagrams? Does it look like a Stockhausen score?

Tom Guralnick: No. Absolutely not. The composition of my solo music will be a description. Like: first use this kind of mute — it’ll be instrument-oriented instructions. Or, process-oriented, like let’s use this sampler or this electronic device with this horn for this section of the piece, then I’ll segue into using this horn with this mute with that sound processor.

Mark Weber: Is it written?

Tom Guralnick: Yeh, or thought in my head, ahead of time, knowing that the minute I start it’s all gonna go to hell anyway [laughter]. Because I’ll make some mistake or something won’t work. So, let’s say, in a concert situation, I may try and set up these kinds of guidelines, like start the concert with unaccompanied naked saxophone solo. Very instrument-oriented instructions. And knowing that I do a certain thing with certain instruments, or with a certain mute. Or, I’ll say to myself: This will be a very dense piece with two very dense loops set up against each other, you know? So, it’s more descriptive, that’s the way I look at the pieces. That’s the way I set up the pieces.

Mobile Saxophone & Mute Unit — April 8, 1997, Albuquerque — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: “Descriptive” as the compositional format?

Tom Guralnick: Yeh. I describe them, like: I’m going to do this, and then I’m going to do this, then I’ll do that, then this. And then, meanwhile, the minute I start playing the plan usually changes. Sometimes it changes for the better and sometimes it changes for the worse.

Mobile Saxophone & Mute Unit — April 8, 1997, Albuquerque — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: What would be an example of something that didn’t have a form?

Tom Guralnick: That didn’t have a form? [ laughter ] Um, . . . oh, some rambling kind of thing. Those are less successful pieces. I mean, for me, I’m trying to do a piece that actually defines its own form. That’s a successful piece. If that happens, it’s successful.

April 8, 1997 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: What part does chance play in your solo music?

Tom Guralnick: There’s always something set up in the music to surprise me. Like, one use of chance would be having a tape loop running of certain sounds which when I kick a foot pad the sounds come out but I don’t know which ones they may be. And I use that as a trigger for my further improvisations.

April 8, 1997 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: Let’s talk about the evolution of the various electronics you employ with the (Not So) Mobile Saxophone & Mute Unit. I would guess, originally, with the electronics you began with over-dubbing?

Tom Guralnick: Yes, that would probably be the first use of it. But of course, that can only be done in the studio. Then, you know, it took some five years to get to the point where I had an live electronic set-up. And it was not like I was aiming to recreate the studio over-dubbing situation, but I sort of got an electronic set-up through evolution. By buying this machine and hooking it up this way and that way and one machine breaking and having to replace it with another one, stuff like that. To get to the point where, suddenly listening one day I said: Hey, wait a minute this is sort of like what I used to do when I would over-dub. But it took that long to actually get to the point of that. But, the aspect that is interesting in my music, through the evolution of the machines that I’m using, is that the machines really become like another instrument. You really can’t tell where, on many presentations, where the live playing is and where the electronics are. So, it becomes several different people playing. And of course, all conducted and controlled by me because I’m kicking things in and out with foot pedals.

Tom Guralnick & his Mobile Saxophone & Mute Unit — April 8, 1997 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: Presently, how many layers can you get going?

Tom Guralnick: I can get the tape loop that has my samples on it.

Mark Weber: Is that actually an analog loop?

Tom Guralnick: Yes.

Mark Weber: It’s a piece of tape? In a loop?

Tom Guralnick: Yeah.

Mark Weber: Do those wear out, do you have to replace them?

Tom Guralnick: Yeh, probably, but it doesn’t get used that much, unfortunately [laughter]. That’s my goal: to wear out my tape loops!

April 8, 1997 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: Back in the early 70s I saw Marc Bolan with T Rex at the Whisky-A-Go-Go using a reel-to-reel that was set up in a loop that he fed his guitar through. It was very cool.

Tom Guralnick: That was probably an Echoplex machine, or something. But my thing is just a little cassette machine, that I have hooked up to a noise gate, and then I kick my foot pedal the noise gate opens up and lets the sound of the tape machine come out. So, the tape is constantly running. And I’ll change the tapes. So, there’s that. That is really kind of like a little effect, I don’t like to over-use that. Then I have a little sampling device made my Electro-Harmonix called the Super Replay. That’s about to wear out and I think on this next tour I’m actually going to replace it with a Jam Man, made by Lexicon. Then I have a Digitech sampler/delay device that has an 8-second memory.

Mark Weber: What happens with that 8 seconds?

Tom Guralnick: That’s the number of seconds before it repeats. That’s a long time. It varies from an instant delay like bob bop, all the way up to an 8-second delay, depending on how you set it.

(Not So) Mobile Mute Saxophone Unit — June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: What about the Casio FZ10 ?

Tom Guralnick: That’s my sampler and electronic horn/saxophone. I don’t use that at present very much. That’s on “Over Time” ( THE ARIEL #3, What Next?/Nonsequitur, 1990). The devices that I use now only record the sounds I’m playing live, as I’m playing them. There’s no pre-recorded sounds in there. There’s no pre-sampled sounds, except on the noise gate tape loop, which is the one thing I use to sort of kick myself, you know, in a chance kind of way. It’s kind of incidental, just to confuse myself and people. So, with the two samplers I use, and the delay device, all my instruments are mic’d and at any point I push a record button and it picks up the sound live. And then I push a playback button and it plays it back.

(Not So) Mobile Mute Saxophone Unit — June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: Is this the vacuuphone where you have stuck a piece of PVC tubing inside the saxophone? You explained how the tubing is cylindrical and the saxophone is conical.

Tom Guralnick: Yeh, the PVC totally fucks with the instrument. What I do now with the tubes is put the top part of the tube on the neck of the saxophone and that does essentially the same thing, although there’s no control over it.

Mark Weber: And it looks really cool ! It makes multiphonics?

Tom Guralnick: Yes. But it’s like a different direction. You got the cylindrical thing first going into a conical bore. Makes it completely weird. I don’t know why.

Mark Weber: I wonder how a person would found out why?

Tom Guralnick: Probably look into acoustics, books on acoustics. There’s probably some logical explanation for it. But it’s interesting, I like the sound.

June 17, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: So, with your solo sound art, there’s no conventional written composition, the pieces arrive out of your bits, they’re kind of self-referential?

Tom Guralnick: Well, everything is, in a way.

Mark Weber: They start themselves?

Tom Guralnick: I mean, everything comes out of, you know, yourself. The What for me, what is important for me with the solo stuff is changing the set-up in some way that it’ll trigger new things to happen. I try to develop new thins as much as possible.

Mark Weber: Isn’t that one of the 60s aesthetics in jazz, where it always had to be new?

Tom Guralnick: Well, for me, it’s like . . . . a lot of times I feel like I’ve got to be doing something new. I always forget that most of the audience is hearing me for the first time, especially if I’m on the road, you know? But, I always feel like: Oh, gawd, these people were here last night! It’s going to be embarrassing! So, it’s partially that, but, what the trio has taught me, out of necessity, is that it’s always fun playing. Even though we’re playing a lot of the same music over and over again. Because it’s kind of just a skeleton for improvising on. You know, and so in a successful performance it doesn’t matter which piece we’re playing. And then there is definitely the interplay between the piece and the improvisation. But a new piece always adds a little excitement to the performance. I just don’t like to feel static. In a way the issue becomes worse when performing all the time, the way I don’t [smiling]. The issue becomes worse because I don’t like the idea of being static over a period of years. Things naturally change if you’re performing more. So, in a way the issue becomes deeper for me. Although, if you’re performing all of the time, it’s hard to find time to change. It’s a question of feeling like you’re doing something fresh.

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: As I said before, when we were coming up, during the 1970s we really stressed the idea that everything had to be new. That was a big thing. And we were blind-sided by this idea for the longest time. But it occurs to me that it doesn’t necessarily always have to be new.

Tom Guralnick: Right. Well, I think that’s true. But if you play them as if they’re fresh, then they are new, you know? And if they hit new people then they are new. I think that there’s a certain humility that comes with age, realizing that there is nothing new. I mean, you’re not like no big deal, man, there’s nothing new, so . . . . yes, at one point innovation was the thing, and then you realize Hey wait a minute, there’s just nothing new, you know? It’s all been done before, it’s all been heard before, especially when you’re dealing with sounds like mine that other people might put another name to them. There are no new sounds, there are no new sounds. It’s just a question of how you put them together. And once you get a certain humility about it, you realize that everybody is striving for the same thing, to feel some sort of sense of rising above the mundane, for that moment, you know? Of trying to get to some higher plane for the time that you are performing. Floating along as opposed to drudging through the muck.

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: What would be an example of this, this feeling that you’re talking about?

Tom Guralnick: When a performance takes off and you’re being taken by the performance. Reaching for some heightened sense of awareness. Some sort of sense of being a vehicle for something that is more important than you, that has a life of its own. The place where music begins to take on a life of its own. The performance starts to take on a life of its own and you know it’s like there’s something more, something deeper that’s propelling it. You’re floating along on some sort of plane.

Mark Weber: Do you have spiritual leanings, in terms of your art?

Tom Guralnick: Well, in what I’ve just described. That’s how, it would be about — I don’t know what it’s about but it’s something. The music takes you to some sort of heightened space. And in that sense I think I do. Like, where you feel that it’s not really you doing it, anymore. But I don’t know what it is, I haven’t come to any kind of description of what it is. All I know is that there are times when the whole thing just takes off, and it happens.

Outpost Performance Space, 112 Morningside Drive SE, Albuquerque — May 4, 1998 — photo by Mark Weber

Mark Weber: You’ve spoken about that before, in regards to the Outpost, where you endeavor to provide a space for these sort of transformative things to happen. That’s the word you used: transformative.

Tom Guralnick: I suppose that is true. I feel it quite a bit more, in a [ laughing ] ah, in my music than I do actually feel it with the Outpost. But, there are moments when it moves me to tears the fact that I’ve created a space which has allowed something to happen like that. You see, a lot of times I’m a little more concerned with more mundane things, running the Outpost. But, I know I’ve allowed that space for other people to do it, to get there, and that feels really good, you know.

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 16, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

Detail of MMSU with TG3 rehearsal in background — June 17, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 17, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 17, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 17, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 17, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

June 17, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

The Mobile Saxophone & Mute Unit — June 17, 1996 — photo by Mark Weber

TG3 rehearsal June 17, 1996 at old Outpost — Tom Guralnick, tenor saxophone; Steve Feld, trombone; Jefferson Voorhees, drums — ( Tom’s Mobile Saxophone & Mute Unit is in the background) — photo by Mark Weber

April 8, 1997 — photo by Mark Weber

April 8, 1997 – photo by Mark Weber

1998 — Albuquerque

It was Henry Miller who said backroads America
is full of crackpots, dreamers, mad geniuses,
wanderlust and eccentric inventors born on
the fluke, borne upon their own tide, let the
rest be damn’d. Or something to that effect
in his Air-Conditioned Nightmare, traffic against
the high tide of conformity so awash in America
of the 1950s and now
complete across the board, room & board, rent
& servitude, television instruction on how to
live and die, kick the can without
ever having resisted the vortex. For Henry
and myself it is these oddball tinkerers and
loophole visionaries and brautigans that
save America from itself. Thumbing their
nose at sacred cows. They do not
always turn clockwise.

Mark Weber – November 12, 2o12


  1. J.A. Deane

    TOM G
    dude, now I have had some large rigs in my life but DAMN
    you used to drag around a shitload of gear…!!!

  2. steve schmidt

    Well done. I feel fortunate to have seen the solo performance at a time when I lived so far away, and disappointed I missed so much of Tom’s music at the same time because of that.

  3. Marty Krystall

    Now I’ll have nightmares of saxophone colonoscopies.

  4. Cuzzin' Patsy aka Lillie White

    TG: This is great! I remember one of your solo performances at the old Space and how deeply it affected me. To see you stepping out and being so creative and making that kind of music certainly sparked me and my imagination. It was truly an ‘Aha’ moment.

    Mark: I am so glad you have archived this. I believe Tom’s music is very important and I so wish there was an opportunity to experience it live again. (hint hint)

  5. Tom Guralnick

    Wow Mark! Thanks so much. Really nice to see this stuff documented… you did a ton of work putting this together and I really appreciate it. And yes, Dino, I did carry around a shitload of gear….You should have seen me on the trains in europe… no elevators in the stations… 3 large cases… but I had it down! (sort of). and explaining to the Czech border guards (communist era) what the stuff was…. well…. let’s say it was an interesting experience!

  6. Daisy

    Thanks so much for providing some history, insight and beautiful pics of our local treasure, Tom G.

  7. Rick DiZenzo

    The gear and sax photos are pure art in themselves. It’s like really good porn,…you have to look again and again and every image is better than the last.

  8. Christopher Shultis

    That’s a great interview! Really enjoyed the conversation! Now I’ll have to go back and listen to some of those recordings again–fond memories always sound better in real time …

  9. Paul Gonzales

    Mr G! Great interview and collection of photos, Mark. I remember those concerts at the old Outpost. I was mesmerized. Thanks for the music, Tom. Incredible job with keeping the Space going and growing.

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