Solo saxophone and analog electronics

Last March Steim gave me the opportunity to use Studio 1 and the apartment for a week, to work on my new solo project. I am a saxophone player (with a jazz and free improvisation background) and have been interested in playing solo saxophone for since the late ’90s, but never in playing the saxophone alone. I love the improvisational interaction with musicians and other sound sources, so when i first started experimenting with solo playing i worked with effect pedals and loop machines that would give me back my own sound in whatever unexpected or party expected way to respond to. The fine art of looping is to make constant variations (I got really into multi-tempo and multi-rhythmic layering, inspired by Ligeti and Ornette Coleman), so the loop is not the same all the time. Only a few loop machines can actually do that in a flexible way, and that already took a while to figure out.

I was never interested in playing with the computer (yes I did a short Steim residency exploring LISA many years ago), the digital cleanliness of the sound turns me off. Plus I don’t like sitting in front of a screen while playing music, like the energy of turning knobs, stamping on pedals, bending over backwards to reach the pedals, while balancing all that with playing the saxophone and keeping the flow and energy happening.

So after playing with loop machines and effects pedals for many years (and breaking my back carrying the gear) for this residency I wanted to explore overdubbing as an improvisational device. I got into playing short solo saxophone improvisations, keeping in mind that the next layer around I needed to have certain musical triggers and hooks to grab the next improvisational layer onto, like another saxophone player’s improvisation. After the first take I would right away do another overdub layer, to keep the flow happening, and another layer, balancing density with sparseness, and keeping the flow/swing alive. Like in real life when you play with an improvising duo partner. Other topics of exploration were microtonal textures, and this is where my Lyricon came in as well. the Lyricon is an amazingly well designed analog wind synth from the seventies, operating on control voltages only, so it does not have any midi capabilities. Back in the ’80 Steim was involved in building some midi extensions to the Lyricon, to no avail. Last fall i purchased myself a nice rig of Eurorack analog synth modules, that work fantastically with the Lyricon. It’s analog synthesis at it’s best, because the Lyricon controller gives out pitch, volume and lip tension CV’s (3 control voltages), for maximum expression. It really sounds like a wind instrument and it is extremely accurate and precise, if used properly. Then combined with all the amazing possibilities of the different Eurorack modules a world to explore opens.

Next November I will be at Steim for another week, to finish recording my new solo CD. I would like to focus more on overdubbing, getting the improvisations and interactions more clear, more to the point, and fresher, completing a nice collection of pieces. I would also like to experiment further with different layers of feedback, caused by a microphone in the bell, and who knows yet where else. I will present my work on November 13th at a concert at Steim, and for the second set Knalpot will join me in an improvisation. I am very excited!

Photos by Francesca Patella


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