LIVE AT SPACE FARMS

Double CD Set
CD 2 Enhanced with Pictures and Video!

ScienSonic Laboratories 2010

Cover painting by Richard Powers; used by agreement with the estate. Artwork copyright © The Estate of Richard M. Powers.

The Music

All compositions by Scott Robinson, MultiSonic Music, BMI Top

The Artists

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The Live at Space Farms Story

by Scott Robinson


Few people think of deep, moist forests, quaint little towns, and clear mountain lakes when they hear the words “New Jersey”, but these are some of the delights that the Garden State keeps tucked away in its beautifully rural northwest corner. This region, encompassing the area known as “High Point”, offers great camping and fishing (if you don’t mind a bear or two wandering through your campsite), and it’s where Sharon and I like to spend a couple of days when it’s time to seek respite from the less-unspoiled part of the state where we make our home.

It was during one of these trips that I first noticed mysterious signs pointing to a “Space Farms” somewhere down a side road, and as a fancier both of the outdoors and of outer space (the ultimate outdoors, when you think about it), I was certainly intrigued. We continued to see the signs in subsequent years, but always passed them by. Finally I could stand it no longer, and as we came upon one on our way back from an outing in Swartswood State Park, I exhorted Sharon to make the turn so we could investigate. What we discovered down that road proved to be something entirely new in my experience.

How to describe Space Farms? In addition to being a working farm, it is a zoo – home to some 100 species of snakes, lions, lemurs, yaks, emus, bison and more – which for years laid claim to the distinction of housing the world’s largest bear (recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records). Space Farms is also a multiplex of museums housing eye-popping collections of antique cars, American Indian artifacts, nickelodeons, old toys, circus memorabilia, buggies and wagons, blacksmith tools – even antique caskets! – all overseen by a genial, coverall-clad country gentleman named Fred Space, who can be seen riding his tractor around the premises attending to this and that. It was his father Ralph Space who founded Space Farms in 1927, and yes, those are their real names. I was floored by all of this … but it was the great arching stone tower standing in a cow pasture, festooned with rows of giant antique cast-iron bells, which really got the wheels turning in my brain. I stared at it as we drove away, wondering, “does anyone ever play those bells? Would they ever let anyone play those bells?” Soon, the idea of a CD with the evocative title Live at Space Farms began to form.

This remained an attractive but idle whim for a couple of years until, when again in the area, I decided to stop and broach the idea to someone and see what kind of reception it would get. This is when I met Mr. Space (man, am I jealous of that name!). He sat on his tractor and listened bemusedly as I spoke of experimental music, strange instruments, and my desire to set up a band and record with the big bells out in the cow pasture. After hearing me out, Fred summoned his son Parker, who is also involved in running the place, and I went over it again. Parker was thoughtful for a moment, then looked up and said, “ Well … sure. We could do that.” Wow! I was surprised and ecstatic. I had honestly expected a polite refusal … now I realized I would have to actually make this thing happen.

I lined up some colleagues to play, and we set a date in October, with a couple of alternates in case the weather was bad. As the date approached, I was on the phone with Parker, going over some details. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “we’ll be respectful and gentle with the bells – I promise you we won’t crack them or anything.” “Oh, I’m not worried about that,” he said, “the only thing I’d worry about is somebody maybe getting stung if there’s bees living in some of them.”

Hmm … something I hadn’t thought about. So, I made a special trip out there with a flashlight to inspect the inside of each bell and make sure there were no entomological hazards. One bell did indeed harbor a sizable wasp nest, but it was unoccupied... so it seemed we were good to go. The Scottish Highland cattle for whom the pasture was home – great, shaggy beasts with long, handlebar horns – looked a bit fearsome but seemed docile enough. “Oh, they won’t bother you none,” I was told. Nevertheless, we were going to present quite an intrusion on their normally quiescent domain.

As the date approached, a nagging thought began to grow in my mind, and gradually it became a certainty: I had to try to get the great alto saxophonist Marshall Allen involved in this. Marshall has been playing cosmic music with the Sun Ra Arkestra since the 1950s and is now its distinctive and charismatic leader. I knew Marshall and had shared the stage with him before, in Michael Ray’s Cosmic Krewe. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that Marshall Allen really belonged on a CD called Live at Space Farms. So I called down to the Sun Ra house in Philadelphia and to my delight and astonishment, he was both willing and available. I was ecstatic again – this was really going to be something!

However, certain difficulties arose the night before the recording was to take place. There were last-minute personnel changes. Also the transportation that I thought was going to work out to bring Marshall up from Philadelphia unexpectedly fell through, and I was unable to arrange an alternative. After many frustrating hours on the phone, at about 2 AM I finally had to face the fact that I just could not pull it off. It was heartbreaking to have to cancel, and I was completely devastated.

But then Elson Nascimento, member and manager of the Sun Ra Arkestra who had assisted in my contacts with Marshall, encouraged me to go ahead and put it together for the following day. “Don’t give up,” he said, “I know Marshall really wants to do it!” I realized then that the next day had been our rain date anyway, so in the morning I got back on the phone. To my amazement, Frank Reilly (dear friend and all-around factotum who singlehandedly constructed my ScienSonic Laboratory facility here in Teaneck) came forward and said that he would be happy to drive down to the Sun Ra house in Philadelphia, bring Marshall up to Space Farms, and then take him back after the session, the two roundtrips totaling about 12 hours of driving. I paid him, of course – but it couldn’t have been enough.

The next morning I drove out early in my rusty yellow VW bus filled with equipment, and Parker’s son Hunter (the fourth generation of Space) led me back to the gate separating the Bell Tower pasture and its dozen or so Highland cattle from the rest of the zoo. Great clumps of cow dung were everywhere, the air was – um – fragrant, and the flies were enormous and plentiful. We ran what must have been a 100-ft. extension cord from the Old Car Museum, that being the nearest building, out to the foot of the tower. Soon my wife arrived with our recording engineer, and then the musicians trickled in, with Frankie telling me what a great time he’d had in the car with Marshall. We strategically parked the VW bus where it could function as a mobile sound lab, and Jon and his equipment moved in. So, unfortunately, did the flies – hundreds of them. I don’t know why they were so drawn to that bus, but poor Jon was besieged with them the entire time we were there.

At one point during the set-up and testing of the electronic instruments and recording equipment, all the power suddenly went dead. We looked up and froze, horrified, to see one of the massive Highland bulls with the extension cord in his mouth, tugging it out of the side of the building. Was he trying to tell us something?

Now, let me state emphatically that I am not a brave man -- at least, not outside of music. But after all it had taken to get to this point, I was determined that this session was going to go forward. So I did the only sensible thing under the circumstances: I charged at the huge bull like a madman, waving my arms and shouting incoherently. There were some gasps of horror behind me, but fortunately our hirsute, 1000-pound critic merely ambled off in a huff and didn’t mess with our power supply again.

Soon a tangle of instruments and equipment surrounded the base of the tower, and we were ready to go. Front and center was the giant contrabass saxophone suspended inside an A-frame ladder. There was an assortment of other saxes and woodwinds, plus bass, cello, drums, and vibraphone. Along with miscellaneous effects and percussion, there were electronic oddments including theremin, clavioline (an early analog keyboard with a particularly haunting sound, which Sun Ra employed on several important early recordings), and Marshall’s electronic valve instrument. I had supplied everyone with various large mallets and beaters to work the lower bells, plus poles to strike some of the ones mounted higher up. For the highest bells that were beyond the reach of the poles, I had brought several buckets of large and heavy acorns that were in plentiful supply in my backyard at the time. Although I can tell you that most of mine missed, I am reasonably confident that every bell on the tower is heard at some point in the recording.

I had told my fellows that the plan was to record a totally improvised piece of about an hour's duration first, and then go for a few shorter numbers after that. This extended piece would begin with everyone playing the bells, and develop slowly with the other instruments gradually entering later. Then we would just let the music take off and go wherever it wanted to go. Eventually the focus would return to the bells, and the piece would conclude with a few notes on the clavioline. No further instruction was given. The resulting piece, entitled Live at Space Farms, takes up the entirety of Disc One and is utterly unlike anything I have ever recorded.

Part of the beauty of the bells at Space Farms is that they do not constitute a matched set. Taken from a variety of settings and makers, each has a distinct voice. As this music begins to unfold, their effect is mesmerizing, like celestial angels in hushed colloquy. This piece requires patient listening, as it develops very gradually over the course of an hour, moving through a succession of sonic and structural levels of slowly increasing complexity before eventually settling back to Earth. Kevin Norton later recalled looking up from his drums at one point to see Marshall Allen standing there on the base of the tower in a kind of trance, surrounded by the voices of the bells, a look of transcendent bliss written across his face. Definitely in his element! (Disc Two contains a reprise of a short duo between Marshall and myself, taken from this piece, which I felt deserved a chance to stand on its own).

As long as I live I’ll never forget the way it all ended. Things had wound down to where I was hunched over the clavioline, playing the last few seconds alone as planned. I arrived at what I knew to be the conclusion of the piece, and played a few final notes in succession. Then, just after I had released the last key and the instrument had fallen silent, a gigantic bellowing outburst suddenly erupted from somewhere directly in front of me. Startled, I looked up to see a huge black Highland bull, now silent, staring into my face from just yards away. Our eyes locked briefly, and then, its point made, the giant brute turned heel and lumbered disdainfully away. And so ends Disc One of Live at Space Farms, with a completely unexpected yet somehow indispensable sound, delivered with the kind of spot-on timing that I, a lifelong professional musician, can only envy.

After recovering our composure, and taking a little break, we ventured a few smaller pieces (these are included on Disc Two along with an audio collage of sounds from Space Farms and interviews with Fred Space), and then packed up. The music having ended, the cattle became more boldly curious, coming up and nosing around our things. One rather closely examined the interior of Kevin Norton’s car through the driver’s side window, leaving behind a viscous coating thick enough to render the glass nearly impervious to vision. On moving to enter the vehicle, Kevin was heard to cry out aghast: “It slimed my car!”

Before driving off in my old rusty bus, I picked up a fist-sized thatch of wiry hair, russet-red – these were everywhere on the ground, along with that other evidence of the Highland cattle – and placed it on the dash where it resides still.

When I later returned to Space Farms to record some additional material for Disc Two, I was interviewed by Fred’s daughter Lori for a press release. She asked me that question that all musicians dread: “How would you describe your music?” Casting about for a term that might be comprehensible to the uninitiated, I lamely replied, “Well, I suppose you might call it ‘experimental music.’”

There was a pause. “I don’t know,” she said, looking thoughtful, “I think it’s really ‘experiential music.’ Maybe you should call it that!” I smiled and mumbled something polite … but as I left Space Farms, I started to think about it, and what she'd said began to sink in. It had certainly been quite an experience, after all, and the music embodied that experience. On these recordings can be heard the passing of trucks and tractors, the bells, the voices of animals, insects, and humans, even the voice of the wind, all components of the experience that contributed so much to the music. By the time I got back to the car, I began to realize how much more appropriate her term was for what had taken place at Space Farms. “Experiential music” … I liked that. For in order to be said to fully “experience” a thing, one must to some degree be a participant in it. My hope is that you, the listener, will truly participate, and experience this music by immersing yourself in a world of sound: sound that may not be music as you’ve come to expect it, but the music of another world … the world of Space Farms.

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How To Use This CD

Years of planning and effort have gone into the production of this ScienSonic recording. Science and Sound have been skillfully brought together by our team of experts to craft a unique listening experience. We at ScienSonic Laboratories think of this CD as more than just an audio document. To us, it is also a means of transportation, and we want you, our valued listener, to have as transporting an experience as possible. With that in mind, we provide a few helpful guidelines for its optimal use:

-- Use of this CD in the stereo system of a moving vehicle is not recommended, as this can be detrimental both to the auditory experience and to vehicular safety.

-- This recording is best listened to in a quiet, distraction-free environment, free from other activities or tasks, through high-quality stereo speakers or headphones. Complete concentration will yield best results.

-- We respectfully suggest that the listener experience each entire disc from beginning to end without interruption, as great care has been taken to ensure that the programming provides an optimal listening experience.

-- The high-quality artwork accompanying all ScienSonic releases has been carefully selected for its beneficial effects upon the imagination. Keep it handy when listening!

-- Our ScienSonic products have been carefully designed with you, the creative and adventurous listener, in mind. Anyone can be a creative listener! All that is required is a healthy imagination and a willingness to let this music guide you wherever both you and it seem inclined to go. Concern for such categorical distinctions as “music/non-music”, “tonal/non-tonal”, etc., would likely hinder this process.

-- After listening, a brief “cooling down” period, free of strenuous activity such as operating heavy machinery, is suggested.

-- Repeat listenings are encouraged. Listeners are kindly invited to share their experiences with us at: www.sciensonic.net

We at ScienSonic Research Laboratories hold our adventurous and high-spirited listeners in high esteem, and we humbly thank you for your interest in our work. Please “keep an ear out” for our future endeavors which will include many exciting and far-reaching projects. Thank you, be safe, and have a good trip!

Your ScienSonic Research Laboratory Technicians







“Worlds of Tomorrow through Sound”

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Get The CDs

This 2 CD Set can be obtained at

CD BABY (downloadable too!)

CD Baby: Live at Space Farms

or Downtown Music Gallery

Downtown Music Gallery: Live at Space Farms

or by sending your name and address and

For US: $26.50 (US) ppd (per CD Set)
For International: $35.00 (US) ppd (per CD Set)

to:

Scott Robinson
210 Elm Avenue
Teaneck, NJ 07666

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