This, as far as I know, is the common formula for making music: you take several distinct sounds and intertwine and mix and blend them until you have one definitive overriding sound that contains all the component sounds, but is greater than each individually. Herb Robertson’s Each Part a Whole album throws that theory out the window. In his "quarktet", he tries to put the macro and micro sounds on the same level so that each is on an equal level. Each player’s voice stands alone, and yet the meshing and clashing of the four together is just as present.
The album starts out with the barest of sounds, just air being blown through a trumpet, no exact pitch. To this is brought the harmonic tones of a second trumpet, playing an almost dirge-like melody. The bass enters with a plucking of strings, and then a roll on the toms. It’s a lot like waking up in the morning, where you first hear one bird’s call, and then another, then the dripping of rain off the leaves, then the far off thunderheads. Each sound is so distinct you can focus on one of them or all of them.
In some cases, however, the focus is more on the interaction between two of the four sounds. At times the two trumpets will play contrary melodies to each other, so that sometimes the sounds clash harmonically and other times they blend serenely. The interaction between the bass and drums is more dynamic, with one playing off the other so that there is a constantly building energy and tension between the two.
Other times, it is about a singular sound rising above the rest. There are several powerful bass solos, where the rich dark tones rise above the rest of the fray to stand in the spotlight. The use of the bow is especially provocative. The different mutes and attachments the trumpets use make their sounds unique, drawing the listener’s ear. There’s one place where the trumpet sounds almost like it’s snoring and another where it sounds like a runner out of breath.Since this album was recorded live, there’s not evidence of a lot of mixing and editing. It’s on disc as it was played. Each player shows an incredibly creative arsenal of musical phonetics that is put into play here. The music stretches our capacity for listening, because each part is so intense and yet so much a part of the colossal whole.