Live at “Ton Art”, DRS Radio, Bern Switzerland
JOHN BUTCHER: tenor or soprano saxophone
PHIL DURRANT: live electronic manipulation and generation
Phil Durrant performs live electronic manipulation of John Butcher's saxophone playing - the familiar skronks of the improviser's brass-puffing are constantly and instantly pushed completely out of shape, pulled into a wonky dimension of otherness, and propelled into unprecedented spaces they could never reach alone.
SOUND PROJECTOR - Ed Pinsent.
1 The Ice Trade - 8:20
2 Ample - 13:06
3 Revolt - 8:26
4 Flex - 8:59
5 Eggs Little Pie - 5:52
6 A Tilbury - 5:55
18 November 1997
Ton Art, Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland
Producer: Thomas Adank
Wobbly Rail - WOB 006
Requests and Antisongs
Live at “Ton Art”, DRS Radio, Bern Switzerland
JOHN BUTCHER: tenor or soprano saxophone
PHIL DURRANT: live electronic manipulation, modular feedback
Like the best imaginative music from time immemorial, the concatenation of sounds is capable ofproducing luminous pictures for active listeners.
Signal to Noise - Walter Horn.
1 Sheet Bend - 6:42
2 Jansik - 1:02
3 Sliding Chinese Crown - 4:55
4 Eye Splice - 1:40
5 Kreuzklem - 5:10
6 Bimini Twist - 7:16
7 Prusik Loop - 7:42
8 Float Stop - 3:35
9 Flemish Eye - 5:23
10 Palomar - 9:02
11 Japanese Square Lashing - 6:25
10 January / 2 February 2000
Moat Studios, London
SOUND PROJECTOR - Ed Pinsent
An outstanding example of fresh innovation in contemporary improvised UK music. Phil Durrant performs live electronic manipulation of John Butcher's saxophone playing - the familiar skronks of the improviser's brass-puffing are constantly and instantly pushed completely out of shape, pulled into a wonky dimension of otherness, and propelled into unprecedented spaces they could never reach alone. Sublime moments of music are achieved when Butcher battles it out with a titanic wave of white noise, or pipes a melodic parp over random bursts of burring, buzzing and beeping. This is a bold artistic statement, a truly experimental gesture, and adds extra dimension to the art of improvising.
We might want to point out that this ain't necessarily a completely novel strategy, and in fact I think there was an interest amongst the true founders of improv in this country, in combining acoustic instruments with electronic music right from the start. There is, certainly, an LP issued by the ICA in 1968 which might be one of the earliest manifestations of this: Cybernetic Serendipity Music, it contains 'Infraudibles", a concert of music composed with the assistance of computers, generated by Herbert Brun of the University of Illinois. He used as source material an improvisation by Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Gavin Bryars, Richard Hower and Bernard Rands. Evan Parker's commitment to sax and electronic pairing is a challenge he has continued to follow in his latter career.
But it is a gauntlet that hasn't been picked up as often as it might. Indeed, in the UK a school of thought emerged that insisted apon nothing other than acoustic recording of an improv performance as it happened with no post-production. By extension, this seemed to mean little or no live electronic variation would be permitted - although there were some exceptions (Bailey and his volume pedal). Apart from the occasional synth player or sampler being admitted to a Company Week, few have attempted this live electronic transmutation of another musician's playing.
And yet Secret Measures is more than simply adding electronic effects to enhance the sound: as Richard Sanderson states in the sleeve notes, it is "a real time duo recording as valid as any acoustic duo in the improvising sphere". The rules of this game demand immediate responses from both players; Durrant is reacting to a sound from Butcher, who in turn has to contribute more to work with the changes Durrant proposes. How can players get closer than this? An uncanny hybrid results, a real blending of the colours in a box of plasticine.
Who better to do this than Phil Durrant, a man with experience in the world of making electro records. However, this recording uses a comparatively simple set up, modelled more on the equipment that David Tudor used to modulate live piano performances... only partially controllable.
Startling and powerful, this is a truly excellent record. If they ever put a drum beat behind it then current media darlings Add N to X might start looking for another job (let's hope).
SLEEVE NOTES by Richard Sanderson (1998)
A soprano saxophone weaves an almost jaunty figure through a landscape of Eraserhead neo-industrialism. A tenor saxophone buzzes and barks inside a hive of hyperactivite insects. What sounds like slow-sweep radio tunings at the deeper end of the short wave spectrum are gradually revealed to be precisely controlled twists and turns of the saxophone as layers of processing are stripped away. Lick-spittle splutters of reed tickling become indistinguishable from the glitching static that starts to surround it. Sudden orchestral bursts of rich harmony trickle away as whispering voices start to undermine their presumptuousness. These are some of the moments you will experience on this CD.
This recording, I think I should emphasize, was not concocted in some state of the art recording studio over months, but recorded in front of an audience in Bern, Switzerland. John Butcher is playing the saxophones, Phil Durrant is responsible for 'live electronic manipulation and generation', a role which needs clarifying, mainly in terms of what he is not doing. He is not adding special effects to Butcher's solo - nor is he simply 'treating' the sounds, much as a record engineer might add reverb to a vocal or ‘gate' to a snare drum. The saxophone is routed through a series of comparatively simple electronic devices (delay, modulation, multi-effects processor and a filter bank) which create a vast array of sounds and atmospheres which Butcher then reacts to. The two are keen to stress that this is a real time duo recording, as valid as any acoustic duo in the improvising scene. The musicians work in a kind of intellectual feedback loop. Butcher plays a sound which Durrant instantly reacts to, transmuting the sound and returning it; Butcher reacts and the loop continues. The fact that both players are masters of instant reaction time, edge of the seat acoustic improvisation, such as in their trio with John Russell, ensures that nothing ever gets predictable or safe.
The other fact, that both have an interest in electronic music, is perhaps not so well known, although Butcher has long been interested in the peculiar sonorities - the heavily reverbed booms and twangs, ring modulation and so on - of the early decades of electronic music and musique concrète; and has experimented with studio techniques and multitracking on his own solo albums, with results that sound unexpectedly synthetic. Durrant on the other hand has been working with electronic music for the past two decades, both in free improvisation and in the world of ambient electronica and club music. He currently feels affinity with the glitch-ridden sounds coming from Vienna on the Mego label (echoes of which are on this CD if you're listening out for them). Although he's probably still best known for his violin playing, his solo CD Sowari on Acta introduced his electronics, and this recording brings us up to date with the most comprehensive demonstration of his anti pre-set approach so far.
The combination of technique and imagination alone on Secret Measures would ensure a rewarding listening experience, but it is the sense of research going on before your ears that makes it one you will return to. The musicians rarely rest, satisfied, but continue altering and twisting an ascending spiral learning curve. (A rare exception is the beautiful drone sequence near the end of Ample, where the duo seem reluctant to pass from the unforeseen pastorality - within minutes they have, of course). Frames of reference, like moods, are mostly jettisoned before they have a chance to pall, like the 'orchestral' interlude in Flex which soon disappears in bursts of meteorological static.
The result is an improvised music, which far from being some monstrous man-meets-machine music, finds both musicians equally explorative. Butcher, always one to explore the outer reaches of the saxophone rather than rely on the weight of its jazz history, finds himself pushing even further out as Durrant transforms delicate melodic flurries into landscapes of thudding percussion or a stentorian tenor roar is whisked into a telephone bleep. This is a disorienting landscape where a feather can weigh a ton and a pin dropping sounds like a bell. Where a fluting soprano saxophone can turn, growling, into a vicious electrical storm.
These are some of the moments you will experience on this CD.
Psychedelic. Kind of.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ - Glen Astarita
Requests and Antisongs
Requests And Antisongs represents a series of pieces performed by two prominent masters of the British improv scene, saxophonist John Butcher and violinist, electronics expert Phil Durrant. Yet here, Durrant often counters or parallels Butcher’s fragmented themes and lines by solely utilizing – live electronics and modular feedback.
With the opener, “Sheet Bends”, the listener should notice an eerie or perhaps subversive sense of tranquillity as matters gravitate towards some sort of alien dialogue between the two artists. On this piece, Durrant and Butcher engage their wares via persuasive interplay along with a dash of seemingly odd (yet all in good fun) behavior. Butcher, whether performing on tenor or soprano saxophone, implements delicately constructed themes that are marked by his penchant for exorcising shrieking lines, popping sounds and polytonal resonance amid throaty whispers or turbulent choruses which is evident on “Eye Splice” and elsewhere.
In many instances, Durrant and Butcher pursue slightly distorted layers of sound yet their instruments are merely tools of expressionism and to some ideological extent, might be rendered inconsequential to the overall effect or imagery that might spur thoughts of social chaos. Far reaching? Perhaps, yet the folks at “Erstwhile Records” have provided adventure seekers with a catalogue of fine releases from distinguished and proven artists who seem infatuated with exploring new directions in music and sound. Hence, Requests And Antisongs is one of several discernible recordings that identifies these often trailblazing concepts. Recommended!
NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW
Processing Saxophone Sound With a Partner at a Computer.
The English improvising saxophonist John Butcher doesn't assign to the saxophone the functions that most people do. Rather than tone and melody, he prefers flutter-tonguing and reed-pops, high overtones, key-clicking and sometimes just untempered wind. But most of all he sees the possibility of altering and connecting these sounds, making music of them, through electronic processing.
Last Tuesday night at Experimental Intermedia, he played duets with Phil Durrant. Mr. Durrant was hunched over a Macintosh laptop computer, processing the saxophone sounds as they came through a microphone. Here and there, as you'd expect, there was a clinical dryness to it, but there was also a tremendous focus and an exotic beauty.
Building a saxophone language of incidental elements, you'd think, is like creating a style of poetry that uses semicolons, ellipses and other niceties but no actual words. Maybe so, but there was music in this. It proves itself on pure structural coherence and professionalism, not recognizability. And the show demonstrated that the new nonidiomatic improvisers (Mr. Butcher is among the best of them) really, truly shouldn't be judged by the standards of jazz playing. It is its own discipline.
At one point, Mr. Butcher played single soprano-saxophone honks, which, with Mr. Durrant's help, sounded a bit like shotgun blasts followed by a bullet's whistle. At another point, Mr. Butcher took the horn out of his mouth, held the bell of the tenor saxophone up to the microphone, depressed keys in the instrument's low register and produced perfectly anticipated feedback notes.
Even without electronic manipulation, Mr. Butcher can sound like a computer. He carves sounds out of the instrument that you didn't know were there. He and Mr. Durrant worked through one idea at a time. Even the most abstract music can benefit from an element of composition. There was a respect for the audience in this; if what they do is research, they're expert at presenting their findings.
© Ben Ratliff