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To say that John Butcher has made a science of the saxophone is no idle chatter. By the time he earned a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Imperial College in 1977, Butcher had already turned his attention to the saxophone. Over the ensuing decades, he has developed a thoroughly unique language based on an intense understanding of the properties of air moving through a tube. Few have done as much to advance the language of the saxophone since John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and the fiery explosion of the 1960s than Butcher has.
In more recent years he has extended his sound chamber to include the whole of the space he’s playing in – sometimes as large as an empty water cistern in Scotland, a 400-foot tall gas pipe in Germany or a lava-carved cavern in Japan. He has played in windstorms, allowing the elements to blow through the mouthpiece as he positioned and fingered the horn. And he has reduced the playing field to the horn’s interior, using a microphone positioned inside the bell to create what is essentially a device for controlling and modifying feedback.
Northern Spy is proud to present two of Butcher’s most recent experiments in moving soundwaves through space. On Bell Trove Spools we hear Butcher in two distinct situations: Richmond Hall, a Houston art gallery housing a permanent Dan Flavin collection that has been compared to a bowling alley; and the high-ceilinged marble room in Brooklyn which is the new home to Issue Project Room. Butcher is heard on his two saxes of choice, the soprano and the tenor, and suspended in space, fluid, challenging, at times melodic and always exciting.
In short, John Butcher knows how to work a room – and that’s not about relating to the audience. In fact, there was no audience present for the Brooklyn session. Bell Trove Spools is just Butcher and a saxophone and spaces ready to receive. The results speak for themselves.