2.2 Step by Step (Factors, parameters and manipulations.)
Let us take a closer look at the different phases of my multiphonic exploration, listed here in three phases. As discussed in detailed in the former chapter, there are many considerations to be taken into account when approaching them, first and foremost the authority of the ear. What we might term as highly individual factors are the following:
Body and saxophone equipment :
1) Anatomy (resonant biology of the player; air, lungs, throat, oral cavity, lips, jaw, teeth etc.)
2) Instrument model (material, how parabolic conical is it – new/vintage, key system)
3) Mouthpiece model (material, exterior dimensions, chamber size, tip opening and facing)
4) Reeds (material, brand and strength/thickness)
In my experience the equipment one chooses to use will have considerable effect on how a multiphonic will respond and sound. As well as discussing this with several saxophone colleagues, I have play-tested different saxophone models, reeds, and mouthpieces during my research. Without trying to advocate a general theory here, each of these factors made some multiphonics accessible and others hard to unfold at all. The response, intonation and general ‘feel’ of these set-ups were remarkable divergent. Also, the slightest minuscule modifications on where the mouthpiece is on the neck will change the multiphonics considerably. Having a broad experience in both classical and jazz orientated playing, obviously using various instrument set-ups, I believe I might have a fair amount of flexibility to adjust to their differences. Still, these were obvious in my experimentations.
The instrument set-up I use now is the same as when I started my research. A lot of things can be said about saxophone equipment (and this is not the place for it), but let me just point out that I consider any changes in them as primarily an invitation to new compromises. One never gets entirely satisfied. Instead, a possible confidence in the selected equipment can occur (if it feels flexible enough to function applying a series of different playing techniques and present to you some timbral choices). Thus, replacing former doubts with a strong focus on what you actually can express through it.
Next phase will then be to work on the specific parameters of the anatomy – the whole embouchure apparatus so to speak:
Air: the amount, direction, speed and support.
Neck and throat: head position, opening or tightening the throat´s tract.
Vocal tract (or embouchure): In general: tight, normal, relaxed
Tongue: adjusting the oral cavity by tongue positions, usually the back of the tongue (e.g. voicing vocals a, e ,y i, o etc.)
Reed: take more or less of the reed or mouthpiece into the oral cavity
Reed pressure: affecting the the opening between the tip of the reed and the mouthpiece tip rail.
Jaw flexibility: intonation – stability of pitches
Lip: dampening/mute the reed (maximum contact with reed) or let it vibrate freely (minimum contact with reed)
All these elements work together. To be able to precisely ‘hit’ a specific multiphonic one is depended upon a corporeal memory of the positions. The work being done in this phase is at the core of how to achieve control over multiphonics – the fundamental factors of any manipulation of them is constructed here. All these parameters will enable one to monitor and expand the range of the multiple sonics and isolate the pitches being detected as well as to alter the timbre (e.g. dark, mellow, breathy, nasal/thin or harsh/squawky, woody, brassy etc.). It becomes achievable to produce leading notes or a melody line from a multiphonic - from the alteration of the embouchure and precise breath control one can cause a note to sound louder and clearer than the others, making it possible to work with a simultaneous creation of melody and harmony. It will also provide control over the sonic dynamically, from ppp to fff. Accordingly, the tone quality and balance in them will change drastically and propose a palette of textural possibilities.
Finally, what we can call further manipulation (or consideration of superimposed/additional manipulation), could include any added playing techniques and instrument preparations in the following list (and possibly more):
Articulations: staccato – tenuto, diaphragm breath instead of tongue, slap tongue (closed or open) , tongue ram, flutter tongue, ‘tremolo tongue’, ‘split tonguing’,double/triple tongue.
Durational stability: shortest = slap, longest = circular breathing.
Trills – regular, double, quarter tone/microtone, half-key trills, tremolo, bisbigliando as oscillator.
Vibrato (lip, tongue or diaphragm) regular, irregular, intensity, tempi.
Key- intonation of pitches – (slow, fast, big, small).
Glissando and portamento (with lip or with fingering).
Voice – singing simultaneously. Normal voice, humming, falsetto, distorted voice, growl.
Air/breath sounds (with minimal clear pitches – breathy white noise-like) Key clicks and and other percussive effects.
Teeth on reed.
Instrument preparation: e.g. mutes (knee, silver paper, water bottle, textiles, lengthen the bell etc.) or tone hole and/or mouthpiece manipulations with sticks, wax, paper).
All of these techniques will affect the ‘home’ multiphonic fingering and they will respond very variable to them. (On some (e.g. teeth on reed), the sonic result will be very far from the natural sound of the home’ multiphonic fingering). The outcome of this exploration will give strong indications on the sounds intrinsic quality and the possible plasticity in them. Needless to say, these can be juxtaposed, varied and morphed with endless possibilities of conventional and unconventional technique as well. In both these phases, I believe the multiphonics’ intrinsic quality seriously starts to create a dialogue with one’s artistic intentions.
2.3 Method – different levels of manipulation
Out of this comes a specific method of exploration that could be applied more or less chronologically. In this process there is a constant shifting between listening to the instrinsic quality and one owns artistic intentions.
1.The ‘home’ multiphonic (or ‘natural’ multiphonic) of a given multiphonic fingering: This will produce one particular multiphonic, so much easier than anything else, that you could call it the home multiphonic of that given tablature. In this phase it is about getting these possible pitches to vibrate, to investigate what’s there.
2. First level of manipulation:
a) Isolate different regions:
Next phase is about suppressing, let’s say the lowest frequencies or the higher frequencies, and select a specific frequency or frequencies inside the multiphonic that cannot naturally be reached at that level without further vocal tract manipulation.
b) Gateway multiphonics:
Not all fingering will have a sense of clear, easiest speaking spectrum, but some do. They are stable and reliable (can be used for punctuation really). The stable ones could act as gateways to the less stable ones – a potential for the stable ones to mutate into less stable ones. (Note here that they are sometimes only less stable because one’s ears do not know what to listen for or that the reed does not respond the way one want it to.)
3. The secondary level of manipulation.
a) Further Manipulation – consideration of superimposed/additional manipulation: To apply all possible playing techniques on the home multiphonic, consequently changing the multiphonic’s character and function. In some cases only creating a vague reference to the original home multiphonic as well as drifting away from it towards other multiphonics.
b) Juxtaposition and morphology: The home multiphonic (or its further manipulation) is juxtaposed with any other sounds (conventional or unconventional). Also exploring the multiphonics through a transgressing morphology ‘that allows one to gather together sounds with similar forms or functions in chronological or geographical sequence so that variations or evolutionary changes might become clear’, as R. Murray Schafer writes4. Thus turning one sound into another. Through mutation and variation procedures all of the mentioned manipulations then starts to create larger and larger events of musical gestures.
Any classification can give information to help discover connections, significant patterns, contrast or similarities. However, I have discovered that many of the multiphonics overlap into different classification categories depending on the effect the different levels of manipulation have on them. Although I have not classified my multiphonics systematically, I could at times group them for instance according to the aesthetic quality or pitch content. I might then use these in improvisations or composition that yields for a certain coherence in the material, that could be, let’s say a group of breathy/transparent sonics. Another example might be a group of multiphonics where the range and pitch content could be classified and used harmonically or melodically. If not directly classifying the multiphonics, my notations might include:
a) Tonal spectrums: pitch content and range i.e. similarities between multiphonics depending on whether the multiphonic is an unstable dyad (a set of two notes or pitches) or a more stable spread of notes, which typically involves the interval of a minor ninth or minor twelfth.
b) Mechanical consideration. Groups of multiphonics that can easily and at faster tempi be combined, with neighboring fingerings (close to each other).
c) Combinations groups: combinations of multiphonics regarding “harmonic”, melodic or aesthetic connections and/or the technical simplicity in executing them. Flexibility of combinations (isolating possibilities and combination with other monophonic and multiphonic sounds).
d) Dynamic spectrum: volume parameters and how the timbre and pitch content chances through these.
e) Perceptual level: e.g. harmonies, transients, noise.
f) The aesthetic typology of multiphonic sub-groups. (associations.) harsh, metallic, crispy, smooth, transparent, breathy, distorted etc..
g) Semiotic – The multiphonic used as a metaphor. Notions on purpose and meaning. (One thing is all the possible sonics one can reach for, another thing is for what existential purpose is it used in the music).
Correspondingly, some of these methods and considerations are documented in sketchbooks/notebooks and in the end found their way into what I call my ‘personal library of multiphonic findings’, manifested in a wooden archive box:
2.5 The Archive Box