Introduction   1. Entering  the Landscape   2. Exploring the Territory  3. The Reed Trumpet  4. Influences  5. Solo  6. Trilogy  7. Epilogue  8. Appendix


   Introduction   1. Entering  the Landscape   2. Exploring the Territory  3. The Reed Trumpet  4. Influences  5. Solo  6. Trilogy  7. Epilogue  8. Appendix


Weiss and Netti furthermore facilitates a numeral list of each saxophone type’s multiphonic, in order to get an overview of which family they belong. Included is also a table of threshold tones ‘to designate those partials of the multiphonic with which one can enter or exit that multiphonic’. Their discussion of multiphonics identifies embouchure, dynamic, pitch stability, and the book consists of a little over hundred multiphonics for each of the included saxophone types (soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone). Furthermore, a chapter is devoted to the performance of multiphonics with a list of practice tips on how to unfold them. All of the presented multiphonics are recorded by Marcus Weiss to accompany the writings.

An interesting background to the genesis of this book is that it materialized after Netti and Weiss had been working on a substantial one hour long solo piece for soprano saxophone. Namely; Giogio Netti’s Necessità d’interrogare il cielo16 (1996/1999), which Marcus Weiss premiered and later recorded. While working on this piece, Netti notably started to practice soprano saxophone himself and investigated every possible and playable combination of fingerings


1.6 Other contributions

In addition to the significant inputs the aforementioned books have had to the understanding of saxophone multiphonics, there are some interesting PhD theses and other forms of research available.

From a scientific study on saxophone acoustics, there is a informative web-based research done on the measurements of saxophonist’s vocal tract as well as a very detailed and accessible insight into different aspects of the saxophone acoustics (including multiphonics) conducted at University of South Wales by Joe Wolfe and others17. Particularly the study of the vocal tract argues how acute effect this has on any sound production on saxophone.

Also, the thesis by Gary Paul Scavone18 offers a comprehensive scope of the design and performance issues of woodwind instruments from an acoustical point of view, using digital waveguide techniques. Especially interesting for me is his research into the mouthpiece geometry variations and their associated timbral effects as well as for woodwind tone-holes and different saxophones’ design. Prior to this knowledge my understanding was entirely pragmatic – testing different instrument set-ups guided only by the ear and ‘feel’ of it.

In a discussion concerning Adolphe Sax´s originally parabolic conical saxophone, Scavone writes:

“It appears that the parabolic conical bore prescribed by Adophe Sax produces negligible differences in resonance frequency placement versus a pure conical bore. The acoustic behavior of a woodwind instrument air column is greatly complicated by the presence of toneholes and a mouthpiece. Thus, it is likely that the unique qualities associated with saxophones of this shape (and era) are most attributable to other factors, as well as further possible bore deformities. In general, saxophones which have the parabolic conical shape also have a “darker” tone quality. Such behavior might be attributed to a misalignment of higher partials, preventing these harmonics from fully cooperating in the regime of oscillation and thus creating a sound which has less high spectral energy. It is difficult to determine the reasons an instrument might be considered to “focus” better, though this quality could be associated with proper alignment of the lowest and strongest resonances of an air column. In this case, an instrument design might sacrifice high harmonic alignment to achieve better alignment of the lowest resonances. Beyond such speculation, it is clear that the shape of the saxophone has evolved since its invention around 1840.”

It should be noted here that the saxophone design has not evolved dramatically, except for the above-mentioned shift from a parabolic conical bore to a pure conical bore. Throughout its history, few mechanical modifications have been made, thus, the modern saxophones facilitates a few extra keys for technical ease as well as for increased playability in the high end of the standard register. These extra keys naturally offer the saxophonist more possible multiphonic fingering combinations as well.

On the other hand, the saxophone’s mouthpiece design has radically changed. The interiour proportions of a mouthpiece (called facing) can be altered to favor most aspects of playing, such as high register, low register, brilliance, darkness, volume, easy of response, etc. (although any such favor comes with a proportionate decrease in some other characteristic.) Today there are a vast amount of models being produced, with numerous of different designs and timbral qualities.

Another acoustic research has been conducted by the Argentinian saxophonist Luis Federico Jaureguiberry19. He analyzed Kientzy’s alto saxophone multiphonics, using his own labeling method, encompassing concepts of ‘base’ and ‘induced base’, lower and higher components, components quantity. He categorized multiphonic sounds into two kinds: harmonic multiphonics (with conventional fingerings and harmonics of a fundamental) and polyharmonic multiphonics (non-conventional fingerings). The research clearly shows some tendencies in and classification of the harmonic partials of his own production of alto saxophone multiphonics and allow for a better understanding of this phenomenon and systematic practice whenever possible.


Although not directly informing my artistic practice, reading these scientific investigations has been interesting. They enable me to learn more intimately the inner workings of the saxophone, and how this can be objectively measured from a scientific viewpoint. This has certainly given me more to think about. In Gary Paul Scavone’s thesis, he also indirectly brings forth an intriguing thought of the possibility of constructing additional tone-holes on the saxophone to facilitate multiphonics. (An efficient digital waveguide system for implementing multiphonic tones, page 168). To my knowledge, this has not physically been done yet, but it would be interesting to see if anyone will follow up on that idea in the future.


Among several papers dealing with interpretation or pedagogical aspects of extended techniques in contemporary classical music, particularly the work of Ian Harrison20 will offer the classical saxophonist a valuable tool for the performance and context of extended saxophone techniques. His thesis investigates how the specific manipulation of these techniques can help the performer to highlight key aspects of the music and how they can be performed with varying levels of nuance through which the implicit thematic relationships within a composition can be emphasized. Consequently, Ian Harrison’s thesis contributes to putting the other multiphonic resources in this area in a pragmatic light and help to fill the gap of needed pedagogic orientated material on extended saxophone techniques in general.


Another thesis try to apply a straightforward harmonic approach to saxophone multiphonics within the jazz context. Boyd Allan Phelps’s A Thesaurus of Saxophone Multiphonics and a Guide to Their Practical Application21 implies that multiphonics can be used as chords or double stops alongside conventional jazz harmony. The concept is mainly built on the artistic practice of saxophonist Bert Wilson who also contributes in the research. As I have touched upon earlier in this chapter; the multiphonic timbre is often complex and is the result of multiple harmonic spectra being produced, making this conventional harmonic approach problematic. They try to get around the problem by being willing to ignore ‘nonchord tones’ in order to outline the harmony indicated, suggesting that these multiphonics are more timbral in nature than requiring exact tuning. The vast majority of multiphonics will have intonation problems in equal tempered music situations, making the amount of multiphonics that can perfectly fit into this conventional jazz harmonic context few. However, the paper offers an attractive look into how some multiphonics could provide some harmonic possibilities (in solo or ensemble settings) and might work for some saxophonist in the conventional jazz context.


Yet another contribution deals with a very pragmatic approach to saxophone multiphonics: Thomas Bergeron’s Saxophone Multiphonics - A Scalar Model22, where he uses ‘scales’ as a metaphor for ways in which series of multiphonics can be related. The Scalar Model tries to provide a concise code for identifying multiphonic fingerings, and a means of defining and classifying multiphonic scales. It is hard to detect any considerations on the aesthetics of saxophone multiphonics from this thesis, so it will perhaps merely act as a practical and mechanically orientated classification of the saxophone multiphonics. Either, this thesis might be a helpful guide to saxophonist, if not for me, in the methodical approach to structuring the notation of the multiphonics or to be able to remember large amounts of fingering combinations.


1.7 So where are we now?

“Traveller, there is no pathway, there is only traveling itself”23


No doubt all the highlighted resources, particularly the ones by Bartolozzi, Kientzty and Weiss/Netti, acts as solid contributions to the field. But, in my opinion, they are probably meant to be used as inspirational catalogues for further personal and creative investigation and not as a definitive source for neither the composer nor the instrumentalist. For me, it mainly lacks the consideration of the individuality of execution, the singularity of the sonic material and the further manipulation possibilities that can spark one’s creative imagination. (With further manipulations I mean considerations of superimposed/additional manipulation of the ‘natural multiphonic’ (e.g. different attacks, tonguing, circular breathing, vibrato, trills etc.) In other words: a multiphonic fingering combined with different playing techniques will reveal new aspects and in some cases allow the multiphonic to ‘mutate’ into entirely new sonics (wich I will return to in the next chapter).

Also, except for Weiss/Netti’s book, concrete, practical guidance on how to physically produce multiphonics also lacks in the existing literature (yet, as mentioned, Sigurd Rasher’s Top Tones for Saxophone ‘unintentionally’ fills this gap). Particularly, an emphasis on the importance of being able to adjust the embouchure and train the auditory awareness is missing. In the saxophone resources that I have come across, it is furthermore hard to detect any serious attempt in taking on the aesthetic qualities as a guidance for creating music. What I’m indicating is that all the critical comments I have raised here point to one paramount notion: Unfolding the saxophone’s multiphonics is to be considered as a highly personal activity. As a consequence, I’m skeptical to all the catalogs of multiphonics published. Let me elaborate on this matter.

As already discussed, conscious precision is required to unfold these complex sounds and to get the vibration of the reed to respond in exact ways. Hence, it cannot be found in a set of fingering numbers or the facing curve and tip opening of a saxophone mouthpiece. It is only uncovered and discovered in the act of making it. (What I also understand as being the origin of art: the activity of making things).

Vast numbers of multiphonics are difficult to recreate exactly or transfer from one player to the next, due to minute differences in the instrument model’s design and material, the mouthpiece’s interior and exterior dimensions, the reed’s cut and strength, and the resonant biology of the player. In addition, the temperature and the acoustic of the performance space they are performed in might as well be a factor. I also have to stress the fact that even for the individual player it’s hard to reproduce the same multiphonic sonic precisely.


Both for the creative improviser and for the contemporary classical composer working with notated music, this diversity in performing multiphonics becomes problematic. I have discussed this dilemma with several composers working with notated music (Karsten Fundal, Maja S.K. Ratkje, Barry Guy among others), only to be confirmed in my notion. The only way they can see a successful use of multiphonics in their music, is by letting the interpreter have room for personal flexibility and ideally work in a close relationship with them. One such piece is the before mentioned Necessità d’interrogare il cielo by Giogio Netti, written for saxophonist Marcus Weiss. This piece is obviously exceptional because of the composer’s unusual insight into the saxophone techniques applied and the very close collaboration he had with the performer while composing it. Another example is Neuf études pour saxophones24 by Christian Lauba, created for saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix (between1992-94), with his guidances into several unconventional saxophone techniques, including multiphonics. Also, in my humble opinion, two pieces written for me, Jexper Holmen’s Oort Cloud (2008)25 and Maja S.K. Ratkje’s Sinus Seduction - moods two (1997)26, represents this gratefully close collaboration between composer and performer – taking into account the personal usage of multiphonics in the notation and the freedom of interpretation.

Still, all these pieces (as well as for other ones of course) are examples of pieces that will work for the performer they are written for, but not necessarily for another saxophonist. But they do at least represent an ideal musical model of exploring the reality of saxophone multiphonics, together with the performer (as Bartolozzi so correctly emphasized).

Here one should note the important difference in a typical classical saxophone instrument set-up versus a player more involved in creative jazz/improv settings. It is arguably inevitable that the classical instrument set-up (saxophone, mouthpiece, reed) is much more uniform in general than what can be considered a more individual set-up used by a jazz/improv player. Probably making the execution of multiphonics for classical players less diverse, but not to the extent that it should not be considered that a given fingering will yield different results – perhaps unpredictable results – from one performer to the next also in the classical saxophone context.


Clearly, there is a danger that a large number of contemporary classical composers are misguided by the existing multiphonic catalogs. The connection between multiphonic fingerings and the sonorities is not at all a simple one-to-one correspondence as some composers might think. The fact that they, to a large extent, casually use these existing catalogs in their work, makes me wonder if they might ‘confuse the map with the territory’? These catalogs are largely separated from the practical performative use of the multiphonics, the individuality in execution, and only reveal little about how further manipulation of them can change the aesthetic possibilities of these sonorities. Crudely, one can claim that ‘the territory never gets in at all’.


To bring attention to my research project’s title “The Poetics of A Multiphonic Landscape” for a moment, it should be stressed that what I regard as the poetic potential in these sonorities is not necessary the stable reproducible multiphonic, but the contrary; the unstable yet flexible aspects of them. Hence, the resistance to controlling them opens up an unforeseen path in my music. Working with these sonics in that manner yields searching, experimenting, sensitizing oneself to them, whether intellectually or intuitively driven. For me as a performer, it becomes an act of balancing between control and non-control. In turn, the music sometimes gets very physical and takes on a fragile quality that I find captivating. This balancing act also contains a kind of “doubleness” in my music – the point in a performance when one is both deep in the subjectivity of the moment and objective in the sense of listening ‘outside’ oneself. I tend to think of these occurrences as listening both in front of and behind the eardrum. Establishing technical control behind the eardrum, and then zooming outside the eardrum to further shape and see where the sound can bring one. This is a central notion of my practice of using the saxophone multiphonics in a performance, to such an extent that this dialogue informs my improvisation and organically shapes my music.

In my opinion, a major (if not the most important) contribution to the development of acoustic instrumental techniques comes from the creative improvising musicians (e.g. Derek Bailey, Axel Dörner, Barry Guy, Rhodri Davis and Han Bennink). From these individual artists, we can hear a broad expressive palette of unconventional techniques in use – often unique. By creating various contexts for experiments, exploration and discovery, these musicians have been focusing on specific instrumental techniques and ideas – exploring their implications fully, so that they begin to form a personal, yet flexible vocabulary of musical creativity.

From the first exploration of the multiphonic spectrum in jazz music by John Coltrane, to Albert Ayler’s waves of overblown tones, growling, and multiphonics with no definite pitch, the saxophone multiphonics usage have today been considerably expanded by individual saxophone players in the field. Most notably John Butcher, Evan Parker, Christine Abdelnour and Ned Rothenberg. In my discussion and meetings with these musicians, it is clear to me that we share the view that saxophone multiphonics are to be regarded as a highly personal research into very individual and detailed sound resources of our instruments. What separates us is first and foremost the singularity, in which musical contexts we apply the saxophone multiphonics, what kind of musical gestures we use them for and how we further manipulate the saxophone multiphonics, as well as for our general aesthetic preferences. I believe that the before mentioned saxophonists are suitable examples of musicians that demonstrate a personal path towards freedom – through discipline. They have all taken these multiple sounds to new territories and perspectives.

Exploring and creating music with multiphonics is naturally a deeply personal issue for the creative musician. To be able to continue to fascinate and inspire, one should only encourage this singularity. Luckily, one’s sources of inspiration and one’s motivation are so various, enabling new usage and new contexts for them to occur in. This is perhaps the very future of saxophone multiphonics? At least it is where my research project could be placed.


The amount of multiphonics that are possible to produce can feel overwhelming. Learning them from books with endless fingering charts, seems counterproductive on several levels. First, as I have explained, these fingering charts are other saxophonist’s findings and will work for them, but not necessarily for me. Secondly, I believe the only embodied solution is through an idiosyncratic exploration – to let one multiphonic finding naturally lead to the next one. Multiphonics that are possible for me to reach for and that sparks my imagination. It’s only through a curious, explorative and aural study that these sonics can be truly segmented in the artistic practice – acting as a reflected musical gesture and sculpting musical forms and ideas. Finally, since the nature of these sonics is so complex and mysterious, the feeling of discovering new multiphonics oneself should not be underestimated. After all, it is often in this amazement the music drifts to new places and perspectives. Not to say that one should avoid searching for possible multiphonics in books at any cost, but I would claim that this should only be done as a supplement to the above-mentioned methods.

I grasped early on in my research project that making yet another catalog and trying to work out possible new notation system for multiphonics, was not my quest at all. Nor did I want to focus on external composers’ needs, but only on creating my own music and in the process being ready to reveal my underlying reflections and methods. With this philosophy, I started my research by developing a personal library of saxophone multiphonics’ – a place to document my findings during hours of experimentations and listening. Thus, I have chosen to document them in a private wooden archive box (only showing parts of it publicly), rather than making an official book release or an online pdf document.

So, let me conclude this chapter by rewinding to my introduction text and the eight fundamental criteria for the project. In on of the dogma I stated: “No use of existing multiphonic catalogues/literature is permitted - all the multiphonics should be found in direct contact with the instruments and collected in a ‘personal library’ for further artistic exploration.” This then is only partly true. It should be clear by now that I do know of, and have previously been working with some available resources. (The Kientzy book, in particular – I discovered the existence of the Weiss/Netti book at the beginning of my research). Nevertheless I have abandoned making use of others’ multiphonic charts years ago. Instead, I have slowly started to collect my personal multiphonic findings since 2009, for all the reasons I have argued.

My philosophy has naturally developed towards an idiosyncratic approach, with heuristic learning and a sensory attitude to the multiphonics intrinsic qualities. To some extent, part of the previous knowledge extracted from the catalogs is, of course, integrated – consciously or unconsciously. But, it is my ideal, and furthermore feels like the only constructive solution, to find my multiphonics in direct contact with the instrument – with a clear vision and ear for what they can offer my music. In this way, I regard my research project as a step towards transcending the knowledge of the before mentioned resources and in the direction of my own poetical landscape of multiphonics.





1.5 Marcus Weiss & Giorgio Netti’s The techniques of saxophone playing


Saxophonist Marcus Weiss and composer Giorgio Netti’s book The techniques of saxophone playing offers a new organizing paradigm of multiphonics as well as other extended techniques for saxophone. Their classification of the different multiphonics are ordered in families, working out of the concept that there is a kind of inner coherence within the material. As one can see below, there are two levels of families: First; five families from A-E. Secondly; in a sub-family (Ba, CE, Ce, Cb, C, D/B, Da, E, and Eb) that goes into the detailed character of the individual instrument. These letter symbols signify a logical structuring of the material. This categorization, the so-called topography, indicates both the timbre and sound of the multiphonic as well as giving specific notations for each. However, they stress that this is only an approximate structuring, and the main intention is to show the diversity encountered in the behavior of these complex sounds more than to establish classifications in absolute terms.

In comparison to the soprano multiphonic example taken from Kientzy book (Fig.1), this is how Weiss/Netti portray the same multiphonic fingering:

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.


 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).

16Giorgio Netti, Necessità d’interrogare il cielo:        Free score and description [ assesed 2015, November]

19Luis Federico Jaureguiberry, Conclusiones sobre el análisis de sonidos multifónicos de Base Bb3 - Proyecto de Investigación: Técnicas extendidas de ejecución Sonidos Multifónicos en un saxo alto en Eb: hacia una posible sistematización (La Plata: Revista Clang. Departamento de Música, Facultad de Bellas Artes UNLP, 2011)

1Grove Music Online, 2001, s.v. "Multiphonics," by Murray Campbell

2John Backus, “Multiphonic tones in the woodwind instrument”, in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 63(2) p.591-599 (1978).

3Edison Denisov, Sonata (Paris: Alphonse Leduc & Cie., 1970)

4Bruno Bartolozzi, New Sounds for Woodwind, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967)

5Sigurd M.Rascher, Top-Tones for the Saxophone. (New York: Carl Fischer, 1941)

6Ken Dorn, Multiphonics for Saxophone, (USA: Dorn Publications,1975)

7Jean Marie Londeix, Hello! Mr. Sax, ou Parametres du Saxophone (Paris: Alphonse Leduc & Cie, 1989)

8John Gross, Multiphonics for the saxophone - A Practical guide, (USA: Advance Music,1998)

9Bruno Bartolozzi, New Sounds for Woodwind, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p.58


17Joe Wolfe, Saxophone Acoustics: An Introduction. 
(The University of New South Wales, 2009) [ assesed 2015, November]

18Gary Paul Scavone, An Acoustic analyses of single- reed woodwind instruments with an emphasis on design and performance issues and digital waveguide modeling techniques (DMA thesis, Stanford University, 1997)

24Christian Lauba, Neuf Études, vol. 1-4 (Paris: Alphonse Leduc & Cie, 1992-1994)

25Jexper Holmen, Oort Cloud for S-sax, 2 acc, live processing (Copenhagen: Edition-S, 2009)

26Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, Sinus seduction : (moods two) : for tenor saxophone with two microphones and quadrophonic tape (Oslo: Norsk musikkinformasjon, 1999)

20Iain Harrison, An exploration into the uses of extended techniques in works for the saxophone, and how their application may be informed by a contextual understanding of the works themselves (England: Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield, 2012) p.35

21Boyd A. Phelps, A Thesaurus of Saxophone Multiphonics and a Guide to their Practical Application, (DMA thesis, University of Washington, 1998)

11George Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, (University of Chicago Press, 2008)



12Daniel Kientzy, Les Sons Multiples Aux Saxophones, (France: Salabert Editions, 1982)

22Thomas Bergon, Saxophone Multiphonics - A Scalar Model (Doctoral thesis, University of Oregon, 1989)

14Daniel Kientzy, Saxologie, (France: Nova Musica,1991-2002)

15Daniel Kientzy, L’art du saxophone, (France: Nova Musica, 1993)

23inscription on a monastery in Toledo attributed to Antonio Machado

13Marcus Weiss & Giorgio Netti, Techniques of Saxophone Playing / Die Spieltechnik des Saxophons, (Kassel ; New York : Bärenreiter Verlag, 2008)