Tom Erbe, Chris Mann, Larry Polansky,
Douglas Repetto, Christian Wolff
1998 (released 2004)

Some reviews of Trios:

Computer Music Journal

Vol. 29 Issue 4

Reviewed by Steven M. Miller
New York, New York, USA

Reviewed by Alan Shockley
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Improvijazzation Nation

Issue #72 REVIEWS

Tom Erbe, Chris Mann, Larry Polansky, Douglas Repetto, Christian Wolff - TRIOS: I'll have to apologize here to the artists, & the distributor (our friends from Pogus Productions), for not getting 'round to this one for so long. Chris Mann's spoken word & text snippets are in the foreground, & they're odder than even I am used to.. & that's really "saying something"... this stuff is totally out & REFRESHING. Be forewarned, though - if you think that means "nostalgia", or "heard before", you're headed down the wrong path. The other players weave a very complicated web of sounds (mostly electronic) behind the sliced & diced texts that Chris performs, & your ears will have to be of the type that are rabid for adventure, or you will find yourself running from the room to be treated by your shrink. Tom Erbe did the recording, & it's clear that he's a master at capturing the cacophony... this is one of the best recorded "out" albums I've heard (yet) this year. VERY interesting, & it will never give your ears (or your mind) a rest... be prepared for the new! I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, but only for listeners who aren't afraid of those sounds we hear in the dark. --Rotcod Zzaj


Issue 244 June 2004



Best known as the developer of Soundhack processing software, engineer and sound designer Tom Erbe fashioned the six tracks on Trios from music made during two improvising sessions in New Hampshire in 1998. Both involved computer and electronics musician Douglas Repetto, with Larry Polansky playing fretted and fretless electric guitars. In January they were joined by idiosyncratic Australian poet Chris Mann, and in April by composer and improviser Christian Wolff playing piano, bass, percussion and melodica. Erbe's compositional work -- selecting, editing, processing mixing -- results in an excellent, strange and compelling set of assemblages, enigmatic swirls of electronic and acoustic ingredients.

In his studio and Out of real time, Erbe created an auditory space to relocate Wolff's jangling piano and plunging bass, the soar, swoop and feedback discharge of Polansky's guitars, Repetto's atmoshperes, electronic burble and fizz, and Mann's obsessional vocalising. As on his fine recordings with Machine For Making Sense and The Impediments, Mann is volubly incomprehensible, repidly enunciating words that mostly dissolve on utterance to leave a trail of cancelled statements and shadowy implications. He reels text into ear-catching shapes and fractured patters like an adventurous horn player working a thematic strand into a tangle of surprises.

The defining element in his performance is his barbed Aussie twang. Hi pinched tone, eccentric attack and sporadic stark expletives are the least digestible components in the mix, the chili in the dish, made more pungent by Erbe's calculated distortions and superimpositions. Spontaneous interaction may have lost its priority in thes crafty arrangement, but Trios is nonetheless exhilarating and persuasively collaborative.

Downtown Music Gallery

ERBE/MANN/POLANSKY/REPETTO/WOLFF - Trios (Pogus 21031) Featuring Christian Wolff on piano, bass & percussion, Larry Polansky on electric guitars, Tom Erbe on recording, editing & processing, Chris Mann on texts & voice and Douglas Repetto on computer & electronics. We know of composers Christian Wolff and Larry Polansky from their numerous releases throughout the years, as well as Mr. Wolff's association with John Cage, AMM and Christian Marclay. Chris Mann also worked with Cage, as well as Machines for Making Sense from Australia. Mr.'s Erbe and Repetto, I am unfamiliar with as of now. This release is called 'Trios' since two different improvised trios were recorded on two different dates in January & April of 1998 in New Hampshire and then Tom Erbe manipulated both trios to transform them into these six tracks. Well constructed and quietly weird stuff going on here. Chris Mann's voice blends cartoon characters with an auctioneer dishing out some bizarre philosophical texts. Can't really tell what he is saying much of the time, but he fits well with the spiraling acoustic, electronic and manipulated sounds. Too dense and filled with nervous energy at times to be an Erstwhile release, but just as fascinating.


SoundTracks: April 2004

I wrote liner notes for a violinist I greatly admired once. It took forever because I agonized over every sentence, questioning the content and second-guessing myself, wondering at every word, 'Who the hell are you to tell someone else what the music sounds like or means when they have a perfectly good copy of the disc right in front of them?'. The process was so painful I swore never to take on such an assignment again.

So before I even dropped Trios into my player, I enjoyed the freedom of the completely blank cd booklet and the six untitled tracks (unless you count "track one," "track two"). Stylistically, the album is quite cohesive, arguably functioning as one long sonic event. With Chris Mann offering the largely unintelligible voice and texts, Larry Polansky plucking on fretted and fretless electric guitars, Christian Wolff at the piano, bass, percussion, melodica, Douglas Repetto adding computer and electronics, and Tom Erbe at the recording, editing, processing controls, the resulting disc is quite a ride without getting tedious like some of those computer blip-bleep constructions can be.

Not that there aren't the de rigueur beeps throughout from the computer. But somehow, with Mann chatting away in the background (to my ear often sounding like a gossipy Shakespearian nursemaid), there is a human/machine conversation going on that takes the edge off. The electronic sounds poke and prod, sometimes seeming to empathize with the vocalist and sometimes more menacing, almost keeping him captive as if he were some mad inmate of Bedlam. The other human-played instruments are only sometimes complicit in this. At other turns they're completely off in their own fields of self-expression. Now, maybe I've just been sitting next to the fax machine for too long, but the layers of after-the-fact electronic additions and editing choices over the human improv tie the package up in a way that makes it seem like the players and machines used in trios have experienced their own sort of fall of Babel and are now desperately trying to communicate with one another again.