While I, for the time being, feel content with this mouthpiece solution, I will probably not put my ‘holy grail’ mouthpiece search to a rest - after all, I’m a saxophonist. But I feel that I now have constructed a mouthpiece that has both the timbre qualities I strive for, the needed flexibility and feel. My attention the last year has been on learning more of the technical side of the trumpet itself, with less focus on the materials in use. Obviously, the learning curve as been steep, and I have to admit that a lot of the research time has been devoted to practicing and getting to know some basic trumpet skills. Some energies of inspiration and pure joy can’t be stopped, and this is just how things sometimes go about. Maybe I’m not a researcher, but rather an adventurer? Nevertheless, it is a wonderful and cutting edge challenge trying to master this hybrid instrument. I feel that my trumpet playing is slowly improving day by day, helping me to fulfill my visions of what it can do for me musically. It constantly contribute to fresh approaches and inspirations in my music and is now naturally integrated into my instrumental arsenal.
3.5 Why involve a trumpet in a project about saxophone multiphonics?
You could say that my work with the trumpet constitutes an entirely different approach to multiphonics than that of my main instrument, the saxophone. It felt like doing the saxophone multiphonic study backward: With the trumpet I first achieved the multiple simultaneous sounds, then tried to cultivate the instrument and control single pitch activities. From uncontrolled unconventional sounds to conventional controlled sounds. It has articulated some important aspects of the projects overall attitude and aesthetic considerations.
Particularly, it resonates strongly with the creative energy that arises from venturing into deeper and deeper waters of instability as an improviser. To lose control and incorporate the ‘mistakes’ in the process. Although I try to master the instrument (as I certainly also strive for in my work with the saxophone multiphonics) I’m not interested in having full demand over it. In my opinion, a complete determination of the sounds would leave the music drained of friction and possible poetics. Hence, the reed trumpet, in particular, functions as a gratifying obstruction in my research project. I could argue that the reed trumpet just organically grew into the project’s landscape, making the decision to include it obvious – both from a methodological and artistical perspective. I have come to think about its role as an epilogue of the exploration of my acoustic instrument’s sonics.
It came about in the intensive work with saxophone multiphonics where I tried out different preparations, yet still missed some sonics and technical feasibilities. It has to with imagining a specific sound and not so much with looking for the intrinsic quality (as discussed in paragraph 2.2). There were sounds I heard and tried to reach for that just could not be produced on the saxophone. This then was partly the reason that lead me to the radical reed trumpet concept.
Gravitating towards the trumpet might be understood as a result of almost wanting and demanding too much of the saxophone?
With the saxophone, one of the problematic, yet at times inspiring things, is that the sound is popping out from all the keyholes along its tube. Ergo, spreading the sound all around. Only when all of the keys are closed, the sound comes straight out of the bell. (Sound engineers knows this all too well, when for instant recording a saxophone and piano duo live in the same room; there is frustratingly much of the saxophone’s sound leaking into the piano’s microphones). So, to be able to work with an one-directional instrument like the trumpet has been a totally new experience. Because the sound comes from one place, it facilitates and makes it easy to use mutes and other objects (e.g. metal plates, fabrics, water bowl) for preparation and manipulation of the instrument. (Even though it is not a part of this acoustic project, naturally it also makes working with electronic manipulation convenient). To be able to alter the sound of the instrument in this manner opened up a range of sonic possibilities I have not had before. For instance, it is possible to alter the multiphonics with objects in front of the bell, and by using the instrument’s slides for glissandi and microtonality. Furthermore, applying different mutes on the instrument creates an illusion of the sound coming from separate rooms. Consequently, this expands my spatial and textural potential in performances. Despite the contrasting timbre the option of using a trumpet instead of a saxophone naturally gives me, it also makes new musical gestures available. It includes the possibility of:
a) circular breathing on loud distorted multiphonics.
b) a series of bass-heavy, yet soft multiphonics as well as moving between them with ease.
c) amplifying breathing and whistling into the tube by the bell (making them more distinct).
d) the before mentioned manipulation/preparation possibilities.
The reed trumpet furthermore highlights the focus and detailed work on embouchure issues, that is also such a paramount factor regarding playing woodwind instruments and particularly working with multiphonics on them. On the reed trumpet, tiny movement and adjustments in the embouchure has a large effect on the control of the pitches and the chances to isolate and sustain the intended pitch. Especially, the pressure on the reed and how much of the reed that is covered by the under-lip are important concerns. You have to be very active and flexible, yet extremely precise. It would be possible to argue that the trumpet is a more overtone-based instrument than the saxophone. Brass instruments use valves to help direct air in and out of the instrument, creating different pitches. Woodwind instruments require the use of keys alongside the body of the instrument to vary air flow to create different notes.
The saxophone normally has about 23 keys, making many fingering combinations possible. The trumpet has three valves, so there are obviously more overtone possibilities on each fingering. Nevertheless, if I may return to the aforementioned book by Sigurd Rascher; Top Tones for Saxophone, there is a strong analogy between the two instruments. The important notion this book gives me, is to regard the saxophone as a closed tube, rather than a tube with open tone. Evidently, working with the saxophone more as an overtone based instrument. Studying the methods of Rascher, with the many exercises in it (especially on fundamental embouchure and ear training tasks) naturally helps when turning the attention towards reed trumpet playing.
My findings on the reed trumpet, have not yet found its way into my archive box. But they are however embodied in my playing with the use of an experimental improvisation and memorizing attitude. I think I would like to keep it that way.
Have I become a better saxophonist during the intensive study of the reed trumpet? As with starting to play clarinet ten years ago, it brings another focus and perspective to the whole embouchure apparatus, which I feel has been enlightening to my saxophone work. But, still the most important thing for me has been that the trumpet is a strong catalyst of feeding different creative ideas into my music. I will deal with a more detailed insight into the music created with the reed trumpet music in the coming chapters.
I look upon my work with the reed trumpet as being part of my fundamental attitude towards sound exploration on acoustic instruments – constantly searching and discovering new vibrating molecules. There are, however, some particularly complex challenges I constantly struggle to work my way around. It particularly has to do with isolating and controlling pitches in certain registers (e.g. between Bb - C, Bb1-B1 & C1, F2-F#2 - concert pitch) It seems like there are some frequency areas that speaks less easily than others, and it remains a challenge to control them. Notably, this is an issue in ascending legato phrases and force me to slightly attack (tongue or diaphragm). Unfortunately, trying these problems out on different mouthpieces and trumpets, the difficulties remain the same. Using a reed makes tonguing more difficult, and there is naturally a slower attack response. The conventional trumpet mouthpiece will always be to be able to perform very fast, accurate and virtuosic staccato phrases. Furthermore, it is harder to reach for extremely soft and loud dynamics with reed, especially in the middle register. To fade down elegantly in that register is hard. In this manner, you could claim that the sound’s overall envelope works quite differently than on a saxophone, particularly the attack and the release.
Despite these challenges, it still amazes and puzzles me that all these things are achievable at all! Since this is such a new area, I don’t know to what extent it is possible to control the instrument further – what the real limits are. This suspense, and the fact that the horn opens up new paths all the time turns this fresh exploration into an exiting journey to be a part of.
3.7 A largely untapped area
To my knowledge, there are very few players that make use of trumpet with a single reed mouthpiece (whether you call it reed-trumpet, saxo-pet, prepared trumpet, extended trumpet or something else). Despite the previously discussed reed trumpet pioneers, the American trumpeter Nate Wooley suggested (in an e-mail correspondence) that both the trumpeters Leo Wadada Smith7 and Ed Harkens8 might have used a version of it on separate records with Vinny Golia and Betram Turetsky. (Even if the information about the recordings instrumentation do not reveal this use and furthermore it is sometimes hard to differentiate the trumpet and woodwind on this record, this might be true.) There is, however, some online documentation of Baikida Carroll using trumpet with saxophone mouthpiece on a series of AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) solo concerts in 19779 . Around the same period, Leslie Dalaba told me, in an e-mail, that she was exploring all possible sounds from the trumpet, and fooling around with different mouthpieces was one avenue. She ended up sticking to trumpet parts, not making hybrids.
Some years ago, I met with trumpet player Peter Knight from Australia when he was visiting Copenhagen as part of a longer solo tour in Europe. He regularly uses a clarinet mouthpiece on a flugelhorn and calls it prepared flugelhorn (e.g. on his solo album Allotrope10) I also have played with the Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen on numerous of occasions in Trygve Seim’s ECM ensemble. He sometimes uses a soprano mouthpiece attached to his Bb Trumpet to create bass - drones and high-frequency squeaks. Other than that, the only players I know of, who presently works with single reed mouthpiece and trumpet, is Mazen Kerbaj from Beirut in Lebanon and Liz Allbee – an American musician currently residing in Berlin. In an e-mail correspondence with Kerbaj, he revealed that his set-up consists of a cornet with alto or tenor sax mouthpiece, which he sometimes lengthen with a garden hose. This set-up can be heard on his “Songs for Evan” (Part 3 & 5) a solo trumpet track on the Beirut Incognito compilation from 200111. (The title might suggest a clear reference to Evan Parkers multiphonic universe, using circular breathing and chaotic fluctuations?) Liz Allbee works with all kinds of trumpet preparation, manipulation, and extensions. She sometimes plays the trumpet with a generic alto saxophone mouthpiece, with either a regular wooden reed or a reed cut out from standard plastic packaging, taped on about halfway. Outside the trumpet field, the American trombonist Dave Whitwell is working with similar ideas with an alto mouthpiece attached on his trombone and the French composer and trombonist Vinko Globokar have also been using single reed mouthpieces in some of his works. Finally, of the people I know of in this field, there is Jay Rozen from New York, exploring the possibilities of saxophone mouthpieces and tuba.
All of these players have a brass instrument as their main instrument, although Mazen Kerbaj played saxophone for a while. The sonics they reach for with the single reed mouthpiece is certainly interesting in their context, although I miss a higher degree of versatility in their use of the instrument. All of them are mainly working with pitch distortion of some kinds, as well as explorations in the bass register. They don’t make use of conventional pitches, and they all have a pretty restricted register range and little dynamic flexibility. Except for Kerbaj, they rarely touch on the more adventurous multiphonic potentials of the hybrid instrument. I assume it would require extensive single reed mouthpiece blowing skills be able to achieve that, which naturally from brass players is asking a lot. Add to that, my experience using a regular soprano, alto or Bb clarinet mouthpiece on the trumpet, suggest that it is not possible to get control over the middle register at all, and the possible multiple sounds you can explore are few.
So, turning the attention towards my reed trumpet peers, the possible inspirational sources is very restricted, almost nonexistent. However, there are of course fantastic trumpet players out there that have given me new perspectives and inspirations. First and foremost, Alex Dörner, Nate Wooley, Herb Robertson, Eivind Lønning, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Peter Evans have recaptured my attention and made me listen with a new awareness to the details of their playing, particularly their use of unconventional techniques. I also assume that I have picked up a lot of different trumpet approaches (e.g. sound colors and phrasing) while listening to trumpeters such as Don Cherry, Per Jørgensen, Jon Hassel, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Leo Wadada Smith and Sei Miguel.
A well-known method learning the jazz language, is to play along with records of some of the greats. Learning solos by ear and perhaps also transcribing them. I did this quite often when I started my autodidactic jazz saxophone education, and now I’m rediscovering this approach on my new instrument, the trumpet. Indeed, a fruitful way to learn about the expressive possibilities and my limitations as a player. Imitation, assimilation and finally innovation, as trumpeter Clark Terry presumably once said.
During the time of my research I have had the pleasure of playing a couple of free improvised duo concerts and having engaging “trumpet talks” with two of the most innovative and technical skilled trumpet players around; Peter Evans and Nate Wooley. Experiencing my reedtrumpet in these highly challenging settings has been truly rewarding and helped me immensely to work on further aspects of my playing, as well as to contextualize it. Too me, nothing can substitute the live performance in getting in touch with the instrument and to feed ideas for further areas to explore. The concert with Nate Wooley (at the Copenhagen Jazzfestival 2015) was recorded and will be released in autumn 2016. Furthermore, I also did a duo concert in New York (November 2014) with the before mentioned reed-trombone player, Dave Whitwell. The focus here was also on free improvisation, but since both of us also have a solid grounding in contemporary classical music, we have made plans to collaborate with different composers to write pieces for us with this rare instrumentation.
I have embarked on an exciting journey with the reed trumpet. Pure curiosity, passion and joy have driven me towards constantly developing my technical control over the instrument, constructing a useful mouthpiece and exploring the sound resources that it is possible to reach for. From the first peculiar sounds with a normal soprano mouthpiece to finding a solid mouthpiece solution and being able to control the pitches to a degree that I now have a broad palette of feasible sound. I can more or less control normal conventional pitches in 2 1/2 octaves and reach for a vast number of multiphonics and sub-bass sounds. All these sonics can be further broadened by different preparations, such as mutes, water bowls, and metal plates. Given the uniqueness of the reed trumpet, I’m intrigued to experience to what extent I can push this development further. Hopefully, other woodwind and brass players will join me on this path in the future.
The decision to include and explore this hybrid instrument is paradoxically the most truly inventive part of my research. It was not even part of the project from the beginning. I have personalized it, expanded the sound color and technical possibilities, and constructed my very own mouthpiece for it. The exploration has been a research into a largely untapped area and surely represents a captivating foray into the realm of the unknown.
Working with the reed trumpet sparked my imagination to such a degree that I decided to record a whole solo album with it. I believe my recording, The Reed Trumpet is a unique contribution to this instrument history and to my knowledge it is the first full-length solo album to feature it.