A Fireside Chat with Kevin Norton
KN: I want to answer it on a personal level. When the records in the Seventies first came out, like New York, Fall (1974) and Five Pieces (1975), they were brand new records, but I remember getting them just as they came out. What I heard in those records was an excitement and the drive of jazz, but also the sensitivity and the complexity and the expansiveness of contemporary classical music, put together in a very honest way. The music, to me, was very stimulating emotionally and intellectually. To finally, years later, get to be able to play with him, is a huge deal. In between the Seventies and the Nineties, that’s a lot of time, but in that interim, I would read articles where he was being interviewed and there would always be these little things about the spirituality of music and what it meant to him and bringing people together. Lots of people say that and sometimes it is really sort of cornball, but you hear it in his music. He follows through in his music. He has a kind of honesty and integrity that he has never, never let go of. That’s made a big impression on me. What that has done for the music, in general, is that listeners of all ages can go to someone like him and here is a guy who has never backed down from his ideals. He wrote a four-hour opera that I played in, Trillium R. I was just one guy in a pit with thirty, thirty-five musicians, but I was as happy to play that and proud to play that piece of music as anything that I have done in my life. It was just an amazing feat, the amount of work that he put into it. There were a couple of people that said that he should wait until next year to do this. But he was like, “No way. I’m not backing off of this now. I’m doing it.” That’s heavy and that is really inspiration. So many other people would take the safe route. He knew that he could do it. It would push him to the brink, but he’d survive and that survival gives you a lot of energy. That’s one of the lessons for anybody. Braxton has that affect on a lot of people. And he will continue to have that affect because there are people who aren’t even aware of this stuff yet.
FJ: How much of a challenge is it to interpret his music?
KN: I think the thing I like about Anthony’s music and I’ve told this to him, is that at a certain point in the downtown New York scene, there was a lot of interest in making things shift really fast like switching the channels on the television. And I am interested in that, but I am also interested in concentrating for long periods of time. It is not surprising, at least to me, that the music has evolved and some of the pieces that we’re doing now are very, very long and really ask the listeners and the performers to really concentrate for very long periods of time. I really like that.
FJ: What was the impetus behind the creation of your Barking Hoop label?
KN: The idea first came because I thought I was going to make a solo percussion record and I had asked a bunch of people for pieces, but before that came about, the Tri-Centric Foundation started a concert series and Anthony generously said to the group that if anybody wants a contrabass clarinetist, I would be happy to play with them. That was amazing because I did want to write a piece for him because I had this idea, for lack of a better word, “concerto” type pieces for various soloists and I wanted to write a piece like that for Anthony and the piece “For Guy Debord” came about. I was very happy with the way the piece was coming along. We performed it and it was a great performance. We recorded it and I thought I would just want the recording for my own documentation, so I could listen to it and see what went wrong and what I would like to change. The more I listened to it, the more I said that this had to come out. In fact, I did send it to a couple of different labels and they were tentative about it. I couldn’t wait. I really wanted it to come out now. The first CIMP record had been out. The record on Music & Arts had been out. This piece was a great piece. I worked very hard on it. Even though Anthony said that if I wanted to do it again in the studio, he would, I knew it would be hard to get everybody together. So I decided to put it out and that is how Barking Hoop started.
FJ: Sustaining a label on your own, while not compromising your artistic development is not easy beans.