I. Entering the Multiphonic Landscape
'The term multiphonics are sounds generated by a normally monophonic instrument in which two or more pitches can be heard simultaneously. Multiphonics' is normally used when referring to chords played on a woodwind or brass instrument. The woodwinds or brass instruments are monophonic instruments that can usually produce only one note. However, by altering the way of blowing, fingerings or by using voice, it is possible to produce more notes at the same time. These sounds are called multiphonics.' 1(Grove Music Online)
This research project is inspired by my experience as a saxophonist, improviser, and composer in the realm of free improvised music, jazz, and contemporary classical music. Against this backdrop of artistic practice, I wanted to investigate the possibility of unfolding the poetics of the saxophone multiphonics. I’m interested in improvisation and expanded instrumental techniques as both are complementary in their reflective nature for musical creation. Due to the multiphonics’ versatility and extreme focus on the sound’s textural details, it remains one of my preferred expression of musical gestural ideas. For me, it facilitates a natural explorative evolution of various parameters for my music making and exemplifies musical innovation beyond technology. In this chapter the focus is on the saxophone multiphonics only, and it will, in depth, deal with its context and raise arguments for my approach to them in this artistic research project. After explaining the physics of the saxophone multiphonics (and adding a personal notion on the subject), I will give a brief historical account of them as well as an insight on former research and resources available in the field. This will naturally lead to my understanding of the usage of multiphonics and why the academic work being done in the area has pitfalls, both for the saxophonist as an interpreter, the composer using these sonics in their scores, and the creative improvising musician
1.1 Acoustical aspects of saxophone multiphonics
How the sound is created on the instruments and vibrates in air is physics. Thus, a lot of the things that happens before the music reaches our ears and brain are mathematics and physics. Investigations into the scientific details of the multiphonics acoustics, such as spectral analyzes of my own or other saxophonists’ multiphonic findings, are out of the scope of my research. Still, to better understand the complexity, instability and versatility of the saxophone multiphonics, I will briefly describe some important acoustical aspect regarding them. The saxophone functions by means of a tube-reed system, where the tube is the instrument itself. The player supplies a source of air, which in turn vibrates the instrument’s reed. This creates a pulse of positive pressure traveling through the instrument until an open end is reached, at which point excess pressure drops to zero and a negative pressure pulse travels back to the original source, where there is now a closed reed. The same process occurs now in reverse, as the closed reed sends a negative pulse traveling to the open end and a subsequent positive pulse coming back start, pushing the reed open and letting in more air. This cycle of positive feedback is what produces continual sound as long as an air stream is supplied. In contrast to a brass instrument, which produces a frequency largely depending on the player’s vibrating lips and pressure, the reed has little control over the specific frequency produced. This is taken care of by keys along the entire length of the horn controlled by the player’s fingers. The more keys that are closed, the longer the tube becomes, until all keys are closed and the sound travels all the way to the saxophone’s bell. As a conical bore, the saxophone’s harmonic spectrum includes both even and odd-numbered harmonics. When a woodwind instrument produces a note perceived as a single pitch, a spectral analysis of the note will reveal several partials. The frequencies of these partials will be regularly spaced and will form part of a harmonic series. That is to say; the frequencies of the partials will all be integer multiples of a ‘fundamental’ frequency (only pure sine wave tones lack these overtones). With a multiphonic, however, the sonority is perceived as several pitches. The multiphonic is caused by a combination of specific fingerings, oral cavity adjustments, embouchure alteration and air stream velocity. The result of these external manipulations is the sounding of two or more distinct pitches at the same time from a single resonator. The modern saxophone usually has 23 keys available. Consequently, the number of possible combinations of open and closed tone-holes is far larger than the number of combinations for the standard fingerings. It should be noted that with the use of oral cavity and embouchure adjustments, standard fingerings can also produce multiphonics. But, the vast majority of multiphonics are conceived by unorthodox (‘cross’ or ‘non-standard’) fingerings that will distort the resonance spectrum of the instrument. This distortion produce tones of very contrasting quality and they will not have a single definite pitch, but be composed of multiple pitches sounding simultaneously. They may also have a strong oscillation between two or more prominent bordering pitches, causing a beating quality. In this case, the ear cannot discriminate the partials that are very close together. However, the ear does perceive an overall periodic fluctuation in amplitude of the sonority interpreted as a beat. To fully understand what role the air column and the reed have in this process, the American physicist and acoustician John Backus offers a scientific explanation of the production of multiphonics in woodwinds in his paper ‘Multiphonic Tones in the Woodwind Instruments’2
“They [Multiphonics] are produced by the simultaneous vibration of the air column at two frequencies that are not harmonically related. One of these frequencies is generated by the lowest resonance of the air column; the other frequency is generated by a higher resonance such as the third or fourth. The reed maintains both these vibrations, oscillating at the lower frequency with the higher-frequency vibration superimposed. During part of the low-frequency cycle the reed aperture is partially or completely closed and can maintain the high-frequency vibration less well or not at all. Hence the high-frequency air column vibration is modulated to greater or lesser degree by the low-frequency vibration. As a result there are produced also two more air column vibrations (sidebands) whose frequencies are, respectively, the sum and the difference of the two original vibration frequencies. The multiphonic tone is thus composed of two main components plus two sidebands. In addition, there may be other smaller components such as harmonics of the two main components and combinations of these harmonics with the main components.”
In addition, a multiphonic effect can be created by singing in the instrument while playing a normal saxophone pitch. This technique is often referred to as growling, where the vocalization is not pitch specific. Or simply as the act of sing and play, where the vocalization pitch is specific in order to create an intervallic relationship – opening up for contrapuntal or homogenous lines between voice and saxophone. Both these techniques will alter the timbre of the instrument. Rigorously, one could argue that this technique does not belong to the literal definition of a multiphonic since the multiple sonics are created by two separate resonators (voice chords and the saxophone’s reed) and not from a single resonator – the saxophone’s reed only.
1.2 Interlude – personal note
This leads me to what I regard as a multiphonic. As I mentioned in one of my dogma for the project (introduction page 9): “The definition of a multiphonic is used in a broad sense and contain all possible multiple sounds on a monophonic instrument.” This then, will include all acoustic sounds that contain multiple sonics. Whether these are perceived as white noise, breath sounds (including traces of pitch), added percussive key noise sounds, abruptly ‘split-tones’ or active ‘quasipolyphonic layers of sounds.’ As outlined above, growl and ‘sing and play’ technique would fit into my definition as well. Also, in the most rigorous sense, sonorities not involving the saxophone reed or mouthpiece (playing on the neck like a brass instrument) and different kind of instrument preparations – as long as it produces multiple sounds. Furthermore, I have included one more sonic phenomena, which is actually a monophonic sound yet arrived at by using multiphonic fingerings and isolating a single tone. Strictly speaking, I am talking about bisbigliando really – a timbral alternation. But, because this will radically change the pitch’s sound color and is a direct consequence of my multiphonic explorations, I have also chosen to include these sonics into this research project. Although this definition is perhaps controversially broad, one soon understands by listening to the music created in my project, that my overall focus as been on what would fit into a standard definition of a saxophone multiphonic.
To me, the standard definition of multiphonics is nevertheless one of the main cases of acoustic phenomena directly affecting the sound production for the saxophone. Acoustically speaking, unorthodox fingerings produce air column resonances that are not harmonically related, but which are strong enough to effect simultaneous inharmonic reed oscillations. Because most multiphonic fingerings involve an open tone-hole high on the air column and several closed holes below it, the resulting sounds can often be analyzed in terms of two simultaneous bore lengths. I have personally come to understand the multiphonics as an intricate dialogue between my body and mind’s sensory intentions, and the vibrations of the saxophone’s reed. With the use of a flexible embouchure and fingerings, the instrument starts to suggest more or less simultaneous sounding partials of a fundamental. This dialogue can to some degree be controlled. Thus, creating a captivating conflict between two or more ‘overtone series’ in the saxophone tube – an inner battle or dialogue between them, one might say. Some multiphonics are highly complicated to achieve; others unfold more effortlessly. The pitches created vary in volume and intensity; from the very prominent to the barely audible. The textural quality ranges from massive and harsh distortion (with lots of beating quality) to transparent and faint wisps.
The multiphonics have been widely referred to as chords, but this is not an accurate explanation on how we perceive them. Instead, I think these sonics should be defined, quite literally, as many sounds. Our perceptual experience of them is more about a harmonic event – containing unique tone color qualities. Not to say that one cannot isolate certain pitches and use them both harmonically or melodically. But, there are challenges in the use of them in an equal temperament musical setting, since most multiphonics contain complex timbres with multiple harmonic spectra being produced simultaneously. Thus often indicating harmonies more related to just intonation or other forms containing microtonality. In equal temperament contexts, the intervallic relationship in many multiphonics will, therefore, feel out of tune. As a consequence, few of the saxophone’s multiphonics will offer an intonation that will fit in traditional harmonic (equal temperament) chords. Although many multiphonics can be slightly altered by raising or depressing adjacent keys, it is impossible to intonate the pitch of a single tone within the multiphonic, with lip or tongue bending, without affecting the entire multiphonic. (It should be noted, that it is possible to alter the speed of the beats in some beating multiphonics by adjusting the embouchure: a relaxed embouchure will produce slower beats, and a tighter embouchure will produce faster beats.) Nonetheless, the saxophone multiphonics have an inherent multiplicity occurring in them that seems never ending and inspiring.
1.3 Historical Survey
Simultaneous sounds on woodwind instruments have been used by musicians since ancient times (e.g. the Egyptian zumarra, the Greek aulos, the Sardinian launeddas, and the Arabian mijwiz.) In Western music, there has however been a more recent development – from the 70’s in the contemporary classical compositions and earlier in free jazz/free improvisation. The first classical musical work of major importance for saxophone using multiphonics seems to be the Sonate for saxophone alto and piano3 from 1970, by Edison Denisov. Nonetheless, the use of multiphonics was explored by numerous saxophonists within the improvisational music field a decade before that piece was written. (e.g. John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Pharaoh Sanders during the 60’s and later in the same decade by Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker). The multiphonics for woodwinds, academically introduced in 1967 by Bruno Bartolozzi in his book New sounds for woodwind4 , function as a hugely attractive technique for saxophonist and composers alike, and represent a major instrumental technique for further development of the saxophone as an acoustic instrument. The saxophone multiphonics are now fully integrated within the Western musical discourse, and there are many different approaches to using them.
In his book (79 pages with text, musical notations, and accompanying vinyl single record), Bartolozzi does not go particularly deep into the instrumental technical areas. Few multiphonic fingerings are offered, and it is not very informative regarding the performative aspects. I believe it is rather meant to function as a visionary inspirational tool for the understanding and use of these multiple sounds – mainly directed towards classical composers wanting to include them in their scores. The book investigates the multiphonic possibilities of the flute, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon. Even if the saxophone is not included, it arguably stands in close relationships to the other woodwind instruments in question. Hence, Evan Parker (one of the foremost authorities in the development of post-modern saxophone techniques), has empathized the importance of this book in his early experimentations with multiphonics. I suspect he was not the only saxophonist that has been inspired by it?
In a conversation with Evan Parker (in capacity of being my supervisor), we played around with the idea that there was probably one significant contribution to the field already in 1941. At least a contribution to the understanding of a productive method of working with multiphonics. Namely, Sigurd M. Rascher’s Top Tones for the Saxophone5 . The book is filled with explanations and exercises concerning tone character, tone-imagination, overtones and altissimo fingerings. He argues that the ability to control the saxophone’s tone production (uniformity and volume) within the standard range of the instrument, is essential to the development of a useful altissimo register. Rascher’s concept of tone-imagination, suggests that while playing a tone on the saxophone, one is to imagine the embouchure and the aural aspects of the following tone internally. This method is particularly useful in helping saxophonist to develop the oral cavity reflexes necessary to voice notes in the altissimo register. The desired effect of this is to enable the saxophonist to be more prepared to hear (imagine) the overtones, thus improving accuracy and quality. So here, already in 1941, we have an exemplary method of approaching the upper harmonics in a multiphonic, through what Rascher calls tone-imagination. It accentuates the important role the flexibility and accuracy of the oral cavity have, particularly when reaching for the instrument’s overtones. This notion is also of paramount importance in the study of multiphonics. It is only through the experience and understanding of how the physical manipulations of one’s body alters the sound of the saxophone that any attempt at playing individual, or collective partials of a multiphonic can at all be controlled.
Above all, the ear is the final authority in the production of possible multiphonics. The other factors are a) air stream b) the resonance of the vocal tract (throat/larynx and oral cavity/tongue position) and c) jaw position & over- and underlip pressure. I will elaborate on these issues later on.
To twist the original intention of Rascher’s book a bit, one could also argue that the fingering he suggests for the altissimo register could be treated as possible multiphonics ones. Hence, these fingerings are not specific to a particular member of the saxophone family and actually remind us of the typical unconventional fingerings that multiphonics often consist of. Furthermore, his fingering charts had probably not been tried out on more modern saxophones and other saxophone types or brands than his Buescher alto saxophone (Rascher argued that he only used this model since it was close to the original parabolic conical bore dimensions of Adolphe Sax’s patent). This then opens up for multiphonic interpretations of the book’s altissimo fingerings. Note here that multiphonic fingerings and altissimo fingerings, can not, like conventional fingerings, be directly translated from one saxophone type to another (i.e. a given alto saxophone multiphonic fingering will in most cases have a different frequency structure being executed on a soprano saxophone.) Several contributions, on both saxophone multiphonics and altissimo techniques, have not taken this problem into account at all.
Nevertheless, what makes Top Tones for the Saxophone a fantastic contribution to the study of the instrument (in my opinion the most important one) is first and foremost the philosophical approach of regarding the saxophone as a closed tube Containing a great amount of overtones, with the opening and closing of the different keys, in order to make the tube shorter or longer. Not then, what most books on saxophone technique deals with: Considering the instrument as an open tube - closing different keys in able to achieve particular tones. This is not directly stated by Sigurd Rascher himself, but is a notion Evan Parker has pointed out on a number of occasions.
In most cases, the relatively few books written on saxophone multiphonics unfortunately represent the dry and unimaginative (i.e. the books of Ken Dorn6 , Jean-Marie Londeix7 , and John Gross8 ). The existing literature has rarely dealt with the visionary ways of using these complex sounds, as being foreseen by Bruno Bartolozzi. Thus New Sounds for Woodwinds, represents, in my opinion, an academic landmark of the future of woodwinds sonic development. Particularly, his book contains a thorough reflection on the context of woodwind multiphonics, the problem of notating these sounds and it raises important questions on the instability, individuality and diversity of the multiphonic’s nature. Hence, he highlights the significance of a close collaboration between composer and performer. He presents a precise and visionary classification of ways to explore and develop the sonic possibilities of woodwinds. In his conclusion of the chapters dealing with the potential of these, he sums up9:
A The unification of the intonation of the natural scale throughout the entire compass of instruments
B The possibility of emitting that same sound with timbres of considerable diversity,thus permitting the performance of melodies of the tone colour either with single sound, or sounds of different pitch
C The possibility of emitting homogeneous chords and therefore of being able to organize, among other things, successions of chords with independent movement of each voice part
D The possibility of emitting chords containing sounds of different tone colour, that is, chords with compromise up to three different kinds of sounds - harmonies, broken sounds, and differential tones
E The unification of monophonic and multiphonic possibilities (through linking sounds, passing from single sounds to chords and vice versa) to give a completely effective polyphonic movement.
F The emission of chords containing quarter-tones, thus augmenting harmonic resources.10
How tempting this sonic menu may seem to a composer, it is in the chapter Final Observation he seriously touch on the aspects that are crucial for the composer wanting to make use of these sounds in their scores to understand:
The evolution of instrumental music has always been brought about by reciprocal collaboration between composers and performers, so the statement that composers should avoid working in a vacuum is neither new or unusual. It has always been an essential condition for every real evolution of instrumental music. That composers and performers have sometimes in the past been one and the same person does not alter the problem in the least. Indeed, it would be more to the point if we asked ourselves just how much certain limitations in the development of woodwind technique do not depend directly on the fact that no composerperformer has ever done for woodwind what Paganini, Liszt, and Busoni did for their own instruments. The fact remains that true instrumental conquests have never been the fruit of abstract conceptions, but of toilsome direct experience.
Although this is a statement I strongly stand behind; it should be noted that Bartolozzi here excludes a significant contribution to the evolution of woodwind techniques: In the jazz and free improvisational realm, explorations on instrument technique and expression have always played a major role for the creative musician. In this music, more often than not, the composer-performer is one and the same person. A vast amount of new woodwind techniques has been developed in the pursuit of a personal vocabulary within this field of music. Perhaps most notably on the saxophone, since this instrument still has a predominate role here. Might not John Coltrane have done for his instrument what Paganini did for the violin? Considering that the book was published in 1967, it is obvious that he could not have foreseen the innovative development in this field that the postmodern jazz and free improvisational players have since given us, but these instrumental explorations were already happening by the time his book was written. (I do not mean to burden this text with all the critical baggage that often has accrued around the troublesome relationship between the contemporary classical music and the jazz/improvisation scene. But it is quite striking that the latter’s contribution to the evolution of music (e.g. composition/improvisation, concept, instrumental technique, and attitude) has largely been overlooked in parts of the academic music field and the bourgeois musical circles (e.g. as discussed by the composer and scholar George Lewis in his monumental book A Power Stronger Than Itself, where he documented, among others things, the history of how black composers have been excluded from experimental music).11
Following Bartolozzi, the most resourceful books on saxophone multiphonics, in my opinion, are: Daniel Kientzy’s Les sons multiples aux saxophones12 from 1982 and Marcus Weiss & Giorgio Netti’s The techniques of saxophone playing from 200813. The level of detail of how they portray the saxophone multiphonics publications is far beyond any other resources, such as the before mentioned books by Dorn, Londeix, and Gross, since the latter basically only consist of lists with multiphonics (with little or no information regarding possible interpretation, categories, usage, etc.) Therefore, I will concentrate on the former’s more comprehensive approach.
Although, both Kientzy and Weiss/Netti, take on an entirely different approach than Bartolozzi, their contribution to the field is indisputably important. But, as I will argue in a moment, there are no resources available that can fill the gap of what an idiosyncratic study of the multiphonics can generate for the creative musician. Besides, for the ‘non-saxophonist composers’ working with notated music, blindfolded use of these books raises some troublesome issues.
1.4 Daniel Kientzky - Les sons multiples aux saxophones
Kientzky’s book has, in the last decades, been the reference literature for contemporary composers and saxophonists alike. The book lists over one hundred multiphonics for each size of saxophone from sopranino to baritone, and the level of detail of his findings have been an important tool for composers who wish to use multiphonics in their work. To such an extent that composers have notated multiphonics in their scores solely by referring to a given number of a multiphonic in Kientzky’s charts. Les Sons Multiples Aux Saxophones presents tabulated multiphonics that includes: written and sounding pitches, ease of repetition, fingering, trill possibilities and possible separation within the sounds. His research was conducted at IRCAM in Paris using digital spectral analyzes. Consequently, the notation of the pitches is probably very exact. (Note here that it is exact for him and his instrument, mouthpiece, and reed set-up). Other than an indication to have more or less of the reed into the mouth, or that a sound in some cases can produce an airy tone quality, there is no other performative indication of how to achieve these sounds. Originally, the book came with a CD, containing sound samples of each multiphonic as played by Kientzty - unfortunately, this version is no longer available. Furthermore is should be mentioned that Kientzy has contributed with two other major publications on the saxophone sonic possibilities: Saxologie14 (1990, based on his doctoral dissertation) and L'Art Du Saxophone15 (1993).