JOHN BUTCHER tenor or soprano saxophone (amplified/feedback on 3 & 6)
1 - FIRST ZIZOKU - 8:00
2 - SECOND ZIZOKU - 11:06
3 - A SHORT TIME TO SING - 5:58
4 - BUT MORE SO (for Derek Bailey) - 7:02
5 - ACTION THEORY BLUES - 12:42
6 - SOFT LOGIC - 4:56
7 - TRÄGERFREQUENZ - 9:08
1 & 2 Tochigi, Utsunomiya (Oya Stone Museum) by Misumi San - 2004 November 7
3 & 6 London (LMC at Candid Arts) by David Reid - 2006 May 28
4 Paris, Montreuil (Les Instants Chavirés) by Ètienne Foyer - 2006 November 10
5 London (Red Rose Club) by Tim Fletcher - 2006 October 26
7 Oberhausen (Gazometer) by Mikkel Meyer - 2006 September 29
Total time 59:37
All previously unissued
I do not know who was first to comment on the extent to which Butcher’s acoustic preoccupations produce results that seem electronic, or whether it preceded his interest in electronic feedback and amplified saxophone. It’s a resemblance that seems to go to the mystery and heart of his music and what I read as concerns with process, time, place and causality - feedback, yes, but feed-forward, too, as if what we have heard is somehow produced by what will come later, as if we ultimately await causality.
In John Butcher’s practice there is clearly a concern with place - each location duly noted - just as there is a concern with variety - the alterations brought about by a series of performance spaces. His solo CDs are characteristically a selection of live recordings from varied sites - there is no special consistency of the auditory situation. The individual take is privileged, but the notion of a changing space (changing space) seems paramount too. A notion of sound reproduction as electronically conditioned is also paramount, thus the measured proximity to the microphone and the way in which it recasts the horn’s harmonic profile. Perhaps it is the way in which the electronic magnifies the behaviour of acoustic space at the same time that it makes it invisible.
In Butcher’s hands the saxophone’s existence as a column of air, as a vibrating reed, as a system of keys and pads, becomes central, suggesting the saxophone as mechanism and intermediary, a kind of delicate and complex scientific instrument of measurement whether meant for the laboratory or, more likely, the voyage (saxophone and astrolabe made of the same metal). There is a photograph of John Butcher in a windy spot in Scotland holding his saxophone aloft and allowing the wind itself to play the saxophone, but the saxophone is also amplified and he appears to be playing the keys. This simultaneous space constructed of the acoustic and the electronic seems germane to where we place the Butcher performance, in which the recording itself involves averaging, chance or even transformative occurrences. It is as if the contours of the site of realization disappear into the work and the listener disappears into it as well.
In the present sequence there’s a back-and-forth movement that suggests a stepped pyramid, the music beginning and ending in the lower voice of the tenor saxophone and in the most spectacular of spaces, then ascending through pitch to the soprano and to the quotidian worlds of London, Paris and electricity before descending on another side.
The opening and closing environments are so startling as to overdetermine the site of production, places so strange that they transcend our usual notions of environment, extending the notion of collaboration. The pieces join and extend a certain tradition of environmental saxophone music, primarily Swiss, that includes Werner Ludi’s recordings inside the vast Lucendro dam and September Wind’s recordings in an empty water cistern above Zurich.
The first two tracks were recorded in the Oya Stone Museum, an enormous geometrical space created by the mining of oya stone. The gallery is thus a space inside an absolute mass, enjoying, like natural caves, its own micro-climate. In the First Zizoku the space seems to harmonise and orchestrate Butcher’s long tones. Then, playing oscillating arpeggio-like figures against (and with) the vast rock walls in the Second Zizoku, he builds a counter-wall of sound, playing with chromatic shifts to heighten the reverberations. There is a sense in which the sound is itself a living entity and that it draws that life from the stone as well as the human agency.
One of the unusual aspects of Butcher’s use of electronic feedback is the extent to which it creates another series of illusion. Rather than sounding specifically electronic, it will suggest other instruments, often a kind of underwater muffling. The soprano of A short time to sing is to some degree percussive. There is as much sonic alteration in the acoustic But more so with its introductory motivic development in which a secondary line is suggested by slightly muffled microtones (the mutation of multiphonics). It eventually reaches an expressive peak in which the abrasive grit of the sound is seemingly dialed in and out (displacing, misplacing or even replacing the usual notion of what is giving expression to whom). That traditional pattern of development is also true of the early-going linear segment of Action Theory Blues (in which a glissando suggests the clarinets of the 1920s), while there is a moment in Soft Logic in which a sound in the environment appears to trigger an alarm in the saxophone.
The concluding performance takes place in the gasometer in Oberhausen, Germany, an enormous near-cylindrical form (it has 24 sides) constructed in 1929 to hold the gas needed by nearby manufacturers. A parody of a canister, the world’s ultimate pressurized can, it is 117 metres high with a diameter of 68 metres. Rebuilt in 1949 after war-time damage, it was employed as a storage facility for coke gas until it was retired in 1989. Eventually renovated as an exhibition space, the gasometer has an extraordinary 8-time echo. We might be invited, I think, to view this as purely acoustic space (or carrier frequency) but it is a special kind of industrial archaeology, a work of menacing scale and once perfectly toxic environment (the gasometer is a kind of Forbidden Planet) that has been reclaimed as a vertical theme park, a self-declared 'industrial cathedral'. Butcher’s performance here exploits the gasometer’s resonance for a work of solemnity and majesty, triggering a space in which each minutia of sound is magnified into a cataclysm. Each sonic gesture appears to be a very precise measurement, as if Butcher is surveying its time (the echo, history) as well as its singular space. How odd, too, that a gas chamber should sound electric.
STUART BROOMER (2007)
"A new John Butcher solo album always sends a shiver of anticipation down the spine. Given Butcher's impressive track record as a solo explorer, any new release is sure to contain stimulating, exciting music. And so it proves here.
This music comes from five different dates between November 2004 and November 2006. More tellingly, it comes from five very different locations and playing situations. The two opening tracks were recorded on a return visit to Japan's Oya Stone Museum, the vast resonant space created by stone mining that was featured on Butcher's CAVERN WITH NIGHTLIFE. On the first, Butcher plays with (in both senses) the echoes. Subtly varying their tone and attack, he allows time between his deliberate, measured phrases for the echoes to be heard - literally, playing with himself. Then, he is suddenly into a rapid-fire barrage of notes - sustained by circular breathing - that allows no space to hear the echoes, a duel for dominance between the sax and its own reflection. Butcher has pioneered the use of electronics in his playing, but here none are necessary, the cavern naturally providing similar effects to those that electronics can.
Even more experimental are two tracks on which Butcher does not blow through his saxes, instead creating feedback and then playing it with the keys of his instruments. The end results do not sound much like saxophones, having a far colder, more brittle quality. As always with feedback, it is constantly on the verge of spiraling out of control, giving the pieces an edgy feel, like walking on a tightrope. Daredevil stuff.
Strangely, one of the more conventional pieces, But More So, is dedicated to the very far from conventional Derek Bailey. Of course, conventional is a relative term. The track sounds conventional in the context of this album, but for most other saxophonists it would be iconoclastic.
The concluding track again shifts the scene, but links back to the opener. Recorded in Germany, inside the disused gasometer in Oberhausen. the vast space is even more resonant than the Stone Museum, with multiple echoes and a long delay time. Again the effect is similar to those created electronically, using loops, delays and multi-tracking. Butcher again demonstrates masterly restraint, enabling his playing to be enhanced by the acoustics, but also allowing the space to be heard to dramatic effect. He is playing the space even more than he is playing the sax. One could almost be inside that gasometer, so immediate is the sound. A Butcher solo album is always a treat. This is well up to the usual high standard. "
JOHN EYLES - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2007
"As with past projects, Butcher concerns himself with adapting his approaches to various acoustic environments, specifically in relation to echo and delay. Settings range from the sundry to the exotic, culminating with a nine-minute improvisation within an enormous metal canister. The opening pair of pieces involves the singular acoustics of a Japanese cave. Butcher uses the natural echo of the space to vary his presence from clenched-lip murmurs to a bullhorn roars. Amplification enters the equation on another pair of performances recorded in London, further smudging the lines between human and machine while creating a new conduit of expression.
Throughout the program, Butcher's control of embouchure and breathing seems almost superhuman. The intensity of discipline on display exemplifies the amount of musculoskeletal stress he exerts on his person in summoning such sounds. Stuart Broomer makes repeated comparisons to bird song in the accompanying notes, but I hear more in the way of insects and elements, the abrasive scrape of cricket legs, a cloud of swarming hornets, or the reverberating howl of a coastal mistral. The ideas and permutations glide by swiftly, but amidst the numerous and often ear-boggling passages of extended technique, Butcher threads in silvery strands of melody. These spontaneously placed detours ground the music in semi-familiar forms without sounding incongruous with the more texture-based explorations.
Some people may pine for a little more Feynman in Butcher's intensely focused mien, but it's hard to knock the plenary dedication that drives his experiments. These particular wide-ranging examples exist on par with the best of the other solo work I've heard from him."
DEREK TAYLOR - BAGATELLEN 2007
"No task seems too mighty or unattainable for consummate improviser, saxophonist John Butcher. On this venture, the artist embarks upon a solo flight captured at various European and Japanese locations, spanning museums and music venues. Performing on tenor and soprano saxes, he employs amplified/feedback on two cuts, where he shines as a polytonal sound machine of sorts.
It's a study in contrasts, where Butcher morphs minimalism with heated phrasings to convey a myriad of emotively-charged parables. On the opener titled First Zizoku, which is a piece recorded at a Japanese museum, he uses the echo-chamber sonic attributes to his advantage via zigzagging exclamations and oscillating trills. Here and on other works, the saxophonist sports an angular gait, teeming with popping notes and split-tones. He generates a sequence of neural sparks that present notions of a jittery and somewhat volatile state of affairs while also rendering steely-edged and mind-bending phrasings.
Butcher sustains interest throughout by intimating the implications of the album moniker via a cavalcade of disparate angles. During the piece dedicated to the late, great guitar improviser Derek Bailey, But More So, he exploits the tonal capacity of his sax with creaky-toned notes. Yet it's all a testament to Butcher's ingenuity and scope, which surfaces throughout the entire realm of this all-encompassing and, at times, mystifying foray."
GLENN ASTARITA - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2007
"British musician John Butcher is better equipped than most improvising saxophonists to sustain a high level of interest and involvement throughout a solo set. There's real impetus to his playing, nothing slack or safe, and he thrives on urgency and precarious tensions. His vocabulary is inclusive yet remarkably free of bluster and stock responses: control and clarity of development coexist with commitment to risk. Here Butcher plays both tenor and soprano horns, and on two tracks he amplifies his instrument and negotiates creatively with electronic feedback.
Vitally, THE GEOMETRY OF SENTIMENT draws on recordings made in diverse locations. On the opening two tracks Butcher responds to the unique acoustic of a cavernous space in the Oya Stone Museum, Tochigi, Japan; on the closing track he confronts brilliantly the idiosyncrasies of a wildly reverberant gas holder in Oberhausen, Germany. The music in-between is from more standard venues in Paris and London.
Cultural theorist Michel de Certeau's observation that 'space is a practised place' is well illustrated by the way a room is destabilised and transformed by the dynamic practice of music performed within it, and that's just as much the case at London's Red Rose Club as in the Oberhausen gas holder. In a real sense Butcher is heard here producing spaces. Above and beyond illustrating such a point, however, the dynamism of THE GEOMETRY OF SENTIMENT, with its inspired array of sustained purring multiphonics, plosive popping, breathy fluttering phantom notes and contorted melodic fragments, is directly affecting and exhilarating. Extraordinary music that retains its excitement and intensity on repeated listening."
JULIAN COWLEY - THE WIRE 2007
" Butcher is up there with the Parkers, the Rothenbergs, the Zorns and the Harths, yet his style is inimitable; he has arrived at the top at last, and dominates in a world of bent overtones and multiple subdivisions of a single note. THE GEOMETRY OF SENTIMENT - which I perceive as his masterpiece - presents seven tracks recorded at various places between 2004 and 2006, each one with a different kind of resonant space forced by our man to respond in a unique way, at the same time exploring that very response to push the instrument to another level of internal juddering, with decisive consequences for the lucky ones who receive the message. These sounds penetrate the muscle and the bone, ploughing through the opposition field of the auricular membranes which, once subjected to this treatment, may react in bizarre ways. Murderous hoots, perfidious rauco, sensational adjacent movements within a quarter-tone, held notes slightly ruptured by the same bump-in-the-line of an electrocardiogram, toxic chirps in a wall-of-nothingness reverberation. Phrases filling the silence from where they were born and returning there in a five-second span, the hiss and the burble as strengthening elements in a series of concepts that, difficult as they might sound, become acceptable only by lowering the guard protecting a by now useless need of comfort. A crystal-clear sense of obliquely lyrical invention that finds no equals. The refreshing feeling of being able to sustain an invasive assault by the most acute stridencies without becoming deaf, since this music conforms to the cerebral cortex - when a sharp enough brain is present, that is. One of my personal favourites of 2007, requiring incessant listening for decades to come. A quavering orgy. Just great."
MASSIMO RICCI - TOUCHING EXTREMES 2007
"Over the past two decades Butcher has developed several performance strategies for the multitude of solo concerts he gives each year. Besides seeking to sustain spontaneous creations that avoid expected routines, he has experimented with semi-compositional ideas, close-miking and amplified feedback from the saxophone, and creating solos that take into account the characteristic of certain acoustic spaces. All these approaches are illustrated on THE GEOMETRY OF SENTIMENT. Three of the tracks come from performance venues in London or Paris, while the others involve respectively, an enormous geometrical locale created from a former stone mine in Japan, and an abandoned, near-cylindrical gas storage facility in Germany.
Tunnel-like, the cylindrical space used on Trägerfrequenz in Germany not only isolates supportive timbres that reflect Butcher's initial escalating slurs, but bounce them back as a secondary parakeet-like whistle that almost replaces the initial tone. Eventually harder and shriller vibrations are revealed as reverberating, tunnel-elongated reed bites and tongue slaps. Similarly, Butcher takes full advantage of the polyphonic air pockets and echoes exposed during his two Japanese performances. Still with his conception more sequenced and polyphonic, his playing attains a different form, especially on Second Zizoku. Using multi-thematic line, variations transform from a simple forward-moving harmonic structure to fortissimo snorts and slurs plus rough key pops. They quicken into coloured air and blurry arpeggios, and conclude with triple-tonguing and squeaking overtones, some of which vibrate up into dog-whistle territory.
A Short Time to Sing recorded in London not only highlights tongue-slapping effervescent reverberations, but also showcases key percussion that contrapuntally becomes as necessary to the performance as the reed tones themselves. Eventually, amplified feedback triggers piercing whistles that ricochet into themselves for additional sonics. The other standout is Action Theory Blues - which is no more a blues than General Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, is a democrat. Instead the piece twists and turns a simple melody every which way to eviscerate its very innards. Repeated staccatissimo lines and note clusters move in a circular fashion sometimes creating rubber-heel-on linoleum squeaks that gradually fade into oscillated flat lines. "
KEN WAXMAN - JAZZ WORD 2008
"John Butcher's latest solo recording is another dazzling entry in his catalogue, with equal parts reinvention and refinement. First Zizoku and Second Zizoku were recorded in the dark reverberant space of the Oya Stone Museum (Utsunomiya, Japan), where the saxophonist gets some massive resonance out of overblowing and filling the bell of the horn with buzzing sound. It's as good a point of entry into his sound world as any, as (on 2) he plays notes in a staggered fashion, toying with the decay as he constructs mutant phrases out of wide intervals. It's not just the soundworld of a Butcher solo disc that knocks me out, as impressive as that continues to be (and I'm still not sure anyone has done more post-Evan than this guy). But it's the sheer quality and exuberance of his musical ideas, as on the densely packed repeating phrases of the long Action Theory Blues, the alien music of popping keypads on A Short Time to Sing, or his superb use of feedback on tracks like Soft Logic. By the time of the closing Traegerfrequenz, with its vast echo and chorus of a thousand insects, you begin to feel like Butcher is some kind of sonic prophet, ushering in the doom of a conventional music with his horn and imagination. Bring on the end times, in that case."
JASON BIVINS - SIGNAL TO NOISE 2008
"He is becoming as prolific as Evan Parker, and each new release establishes still more of a distinctive improvisational voice. A couple of these tracks involve feedback processes. Others, and significantly the first two cuts from the Ova Stone Museum at Utsunonimaya in Japan, seem part of Butcher´s on-going effort to make his playing environment into an improvising partner. It´s arresting stuff. There´s a small tribute to the late Derek Bailey and a scattering of club and festival performances, but, as ever, put together with great care and logic. A hugely satisfying package."
RICHARD COOK & BRIAN MORTON - The Penguin Guide to JAZZ RECORDINGS, 9th edition, 2008
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