November 12, 2009
Accepting the challenge of solo improvising in selected parts of northern Scotland and the Orkney Islands, British saxophonist John Butcher evolves specific strategies that transform these sites into resonating showplaces. The result is as spectacular as it is unique.
Using either soprano or tenor saxophone acoustically, amplified or with feedback, Butcher takes into consideration the sites’ distinguishing natural or man-made characteristics. On “Close by, a waterfall” for instance, split tones, tongue slaps and reed bites are amplified in the Smoo Cave near Durness, so that the sibilant water pressures backdrop tonal reverb and oscillated buzzing. At the Wormit Reservoir near Fife, his circular breathing on soprano uses fortissimo multiphonics and disassociated pitch changes to reflect back upon the edifice’s stones, creating reverberating tones completely acoustically. Sometimes Butcher allows nature to take over, as when outside, he ceases his key percussion, letting gusts of wind blow through his saxophone.
Different saxophones suggest varied approaches at the same location. When Butcher plays tenor in Lyness’ oil tank, staccato timbres ricochet off the metal walls and are only gradually masticated into legato tones. Yet using soprano saxophone feedback, he seems to magnetizes all available aural space so the resulting trills adumbrate then echo the initial textures, creating a solid sound block.
Sculpting the sound available from these isolated spaces to his own specifications, Butcher proves that a committed improviser can use any acoustical properties to make original and memorable music.
— Ken Waxman
— For MusicWorks Issue #105