Norman's Logo Image















Projects include...

... Two albums of electronic minimal sax/pop music, Saxaphone Demonstratons and Sax Talk

... Bad Loops (unreleased), a cacophonous suite constructed entirely from saxophone loops created from a single 5-second sample and accompanied by electronically derived percussion

... The 40-Saxophone Orchestra, with improvisational conductor, created for the New York International Festival of the Arts' Fete de la Musique in celebration of the French Bicentennial

... The Moving Planet Orchestra, an ensemble combining traditional middle-eastern sound, style, and instrumentation with modal post-bop improvisational saxophone

... Saxophone Duo, with former Romeo Void saxophonist Benjamin Bossi (now available)

... Saxophone Stories, a series of solo soprano saxophone narratives accompanied by electronic tamboura

... The Imaginary Ensemble, a group devoted to whisper improv

Aside from solo work, Norman Salant has appeared on recordings by The Residents, Romeo Void and others. He was commissioned to provide scores for choreography, performance art and film projects. His music has been featured on John Schaeffer's New Sounds radio program on WNYC in New York as well as alternative radio stations across the country, and he appears in Mr. Schaeffer's New Sounds book.

Saxaphone Demonstrations

Norman Salant began his solo career in San Francisco when he began experimenting with electronics by running his saxophone through electric guitar effects. Playing in a rock band at the time called Deakin led by Andrew Shulman, he was soon creating electronically treated studio saxophone "orchestras." One of his first recordings, Accidents, featured eight heavily processed and speeded up tenor saxes including the first known instance of his signature talking sax technique, parodying Blondie's Accidents Never Happen. It attracted the attention of local radio DJ David Bassin who encouraged him to release it as a single. His first album Saxaphone Demonstrations had a startlingly original and refreshing sound constructed from layers of overdubbed and electronically altered saxophones, earning him a reputation as an artist of merit and a pioneer in new saxophone technology. While some were distracted by the apparent misspelling of the word "saxophone" in the title, the album itself was quickly noticed by others on the alternative/independent circuit and was selected by Trouser Press' America Underground as one of the ten best records of the year. For live shows he formed the Norman Salant Group, an instrumental new wave/minimalist sax-rock band fronted by two electronically altered saxophones that performed all over the Bay Area (the Old Waldorf, the On Broadway theater, the I-Beam). He was invited to play with The Residents on their album The Tunes of Two Cities and performed as a guest artist on Romeo Void's Benefactor alongside their own saxophonist Benjamin Bossi.

Sax Talk

With the support and encouragement of electronic music artist Roy Sablosky and his fledgling label Vinyl Records, and engineer Gregory Jones, he began work on follow-up album Sax Talk to extend the ideas laid out on Saxaphone Demonstrations and adapt them to a techno-dance format. Included on the title track was a gaggle of electronic talking saxes reciting random excerpts from Andy Warhol's memoir Popism over a techno sax-cluster rhythm track. When a friend of The Residents at the Cryptic Corporation lent him a tape of Bulgarian folk music there was an immediate connection, particularly as it related to the soprano sax. Once electronified, this new sound became an integral part of the Sax Talk sound, notably on the songs Kiyo, Molih Ta and No Night.

When Sax Talk was released, ultimately on a label other than Vinyl, it was featured on the cover of College Music Journal (CMJ) and reached as high as #19 on the national independent/alternative radio charts. Sax Talk and No Night became underground club hits, an almost unheard of level of success for an alternative instrumental album and demonstrating an ability to fuse pop, minimalism, world music and the avant garde in a style accessible to a broader audience. Middle-eastern as well as Celtic and medieval music remain strong influences on Norman Salant's work today, even in the midst of his current songwriting phase.

For the next few years public performances were rare. He disbanded the Norman Salant Group, beginning a pattern of continually retrenching and reevaluating ideas. He appeared in only a few eclectic concerts including a middle-eastern new music improvisational trio at San Francisco's New Performance Gallery Midnight Loft series, which was recorded for broadcast by Germany's WDR-TV's World Cultural Magazine. He also began moving more heavily into pop music, beginning a collaboration with former Parliament-Funkadelic singer Lynn Mabry (one of the Brides of Funkenstein) who was just coming off the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense tour. Working with Lynn and later Joel Webber (who came on to manage the project) and Funkadelic's Bernie Worrell (who helped with some of the New York production), he wrote and produced all of the songs for the project, becoming more deeply involved in the commercial aspects of music and songwriting.

During this period he also began exploring the vagaries of music production: after developing relationships with several producers at San Francisco's Colossal Pictures including the notorious Tim Boxell, he produced the theme music for MTV's Top 20 Countdown and collaborated with producer/composer Gregory Jones on a series of short station I.D.'s that received heavy airplay. One of them, M-Mollusk, won MTV a prestigious Annecy Award for video animation. Along these lines, he was approached by a Japanese advertising agency to appear in a tv commercial and ad campaign for Schick Injector razors (!) in Japan, playing the role of an American jazz musician who practices so diligently he forgets to shave - Schick Injector saves the day of course. He also contributed music for other Japanese tv commercials as well as fashion design shows. Various artists in the Bay Area tapped his studio expertise, enlisting him to produce their recordings.

Saxophone Duo

Abruptly he turned away from electronic and commercial music and began working in an all-acoustic saxophone duo, an art-music project with Benjamin Bossi who had recently departed from Romeo Void after that band's commercial run capped by the hit Girl In Trouble. Together they created a new kind of music exploring the sonic possibilities of two unadorned tenor saxophones. After garnering a good deal of attention and playing at premiere Bay Area venues such as the Fillmore West, the Roxie Theater, the On Broadway, South of Market's DNA Lounge and the San Francisco Video Festival, they left for New York in search of a more challenging cutting-edge artistic community.

In contrast to the raucous and free improvisational style that dominated New York's downtown music scene at the time, the duo explored tightly controlled interlocking counterpoint, textural coloration and compositional improvisation that grew naturally from their contrasting sounds and styles. Without amplification, the music reflected a highly refined pop-infused minimalism, emphasizing intimacy and narrative in an attempt to tell coherent "stories." Soon after arriving they became regular featured performers at the Knitting Factory and other downtown venues: Experimental Intermedia, Dixon Place, Darinka, and EAR Magazine's annual benefit. Moving among New York's vibrant downtown arts scene, they contributed scores for performance artists (Alyson Pou) and choreographers (Jody Oberfelder).

40-Saxophone Orchestra

Not long after the duo project had run its course, he was commissioned by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council to create a full-length work for the New York International Festival of the Arts, which was sponsoring events all over New York City in celebration of France's Bicentennial. The piece he contributed, Leap of Faith, was written for 40 saxophones and was considered a "striking" event by John Rockwell of The New York Times. "All those saxophonists suggested a jazz aura, but the music was based more on Minimalist repetition, overlaid with easily accessible suggestions of hymn-tunes and the Baroque." (A rehearsal tape of The 40-Saxophone Orchestra has been released on cd.)

Shortly thereafter, he traveled to London as music director for recording artist Mary Kelley's tour of the U.K. and subsequent London showcases. At the same time, his developing interest in contemporary dance led to collaborations with William Douglas (a score entitled TV Dances featuring the otherworldly vocal artistry of Dina Emerson), Lisa Race, Laura Schandelmeier, Sue Schroeder & Several Dancers Core, Ben Munisteri, Mary Abrams (a piece called Bad Loops, an experiment in saxophone loop sampling) and others in works presented at Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Project at St. Marks Church, and Dia Center for the Arts (now the Joyce Soho).

The Moving Planet Orchestra / Saxophone Stories

This was followed by another brief period of retrenching during which he did not play the saxophone at all. When he re-emerged, he formed the legendary and influential Moving Planet Orchestra, which in a way represented the culmination of the journey that had begun when he received the first tape of Bulgarian music from The Residents' organization. The Moving Planet Orchestra was an ensemble combining musicians from middle-eastern, minimalist and jazz traditions, producing a music rooted in trance-modal drones, exotic ethnic sounds and rhythms, and a passionate highly personal saxophone style incorporating middle-eastern idiosyncracies with hard-driving post-bop and free playing. The full group gave performances at the Knitting Factory and the Gargoyle Mechanique Laboratory in New York, and smaller subgroups appeared at a variety of downtown venues. One particular videotaped performance at the Knitting Factory was broadcast on New York's Public Access television for years, and other recordings found their way onto an early Knitting Factory compilation release.

Around this time, he began performing a series of meditative soprano saxophone solos accompanied by electronic tamboura, formulating a nonverbal improvisational storytelling in what eventually became known as Saxophone Stories. He appeared at many events over the next several years including Creative Time's "Music of New York" series sponsored by the Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival, the New Dance Alliance Performance Mix series (hosting an entire season), PS 122's Avant-Garde-Arama and Danspace Project's Food For Thought. "The spare beauty of its performance seemed a kind of benediction," wrote Jennifer Dunning in The New York Times of one of the Danspace performances. Occasionally artists from other disciplines collaborated on Saxophone Stories such as choreographer Douglas Dunn and singer Susan McKeown. After being encouraged by choreographer and close friend Laura Schandelmeier to experiment with verbal storytelling, he began writing short text pieces and incorporating them into the Saxophone Stories performances, and he also began adding other musicians to the concept. Out of this grew the idea of a large-scale multidisciplinary theatrical version of Saxophone Stories to be woven around French New Wave actress Jean Seberg, in the end an overly ambitious project that was many years in development, with part of the creative team assembled (choreographer Douglas Dunn, for one), but eventually set aside.

Imaginary Ensemble

Desiring to explore more fully the faster/louder/wilder aspects of free saxophone improvisation, he began working in various duets with drummers and percussionists, primarily musician David Gould, performing in New York and San Francisco. Then in an about-face he formed the Imaginary Ensemble, a quintet of didjeridoo, drums, acoustic bass, and a second wind player (muted trumpet, flute, sax). The Ensemble was devoted entirely to extremely quiet collective improvisation (the so-called "whisper improv"), the compositions sometimes deriving from descriptive text phrases such as "the inside of a balloon" or "the first light of morning" in an attempt to musically convey visual landscapes using an abstract sound palette. The Imaginary Ensemble gave performances at the Anthology Film Archives" Spring Equinox Festival and the Gowanus Arts Exchange Sundays at Five music series. The group eventually shed the didjeridoo and began a collaboration with a quintet of improvisational dancers organized by choreographer Mary Abrams.


Declaring that the saxophone was "no longer a good fit," he put the instrument aside, withdrew from public view and began an investigation of songwriting, using guitar and voice as his primary instruments. As he has continued to pursue songwriting in force, he has not yet returned to the saxophone. However, there is a good deal of unreleased music in the archives, representing half a dozen varying projects spanning six or seven years, mostly from his time in New York. Four cds of this material have thus far been released: Saxophone Duo (Norman Salant & Benjamin Bossi), The 40-Saxophone Orchestra, Saxaphone Demonstrations II: Bad Loops - Love Letter, and Sax/Off - Dance Scores.

-- Mick Wade

[artwork by Kristen Copham]


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