Playing solo is one of my favorite ways of making music. Demanding, challenging and rewarding. It has the possibility of communicating an experience of singular intensity. To me, performing a full set of solo music has always been filled with both excitement and anxiousness. Luckily, the latter has more or less taken the role of being a positive energy that enhances the concentration and the creative flow in a performance. The moment when one suspends momentarily one’s own needs, a flight away from habits, not to rush but find time, and to open space, to become receptive.
When entering into the project I was particularly attracted towards finding a new path for my solo saxophone playing. After having solo experiences both as a classical saxophonist and as a creative improviser in that field, sometimes even intertwining the two approaches, I was interested in finding a more stringent focus and at the same time be able to work with the format extensively in order to enrich and enlarge my vocabulary. Working with multiphonics allowed me to have both wishes fulfilled.
However intriguing the freedom and space available to one while playing acoustic solo saxophone or trumpet may feel, it also presents two considerable musical problems. Leaving a side that the saxophone and trumpet is constructed with standardised keys and valves which obviously represent a clear restriction in itself (i.e. to the intonation and fingering combinations), the limitation of the possible music I can create in this format has to do with the physicality of the saxophone and trumpet, and again how that consequently affects my own physical restrictions.
1. The lacks of sustain.
In comparison to what one might consider as the more standardized used solo instruments (e.g. piano and guitar), the saxophone and trumpet lacks sustain, in the sense that you can play a note, create a sound, and it carries on without having to maintain the physical input. With wind instruments, if you stop blowing, there’s no sound. There’s no getting around the inability to produce a sound while another sound is decaying. The only exception to this is in spaces with very long reverb, thus making it possible to overlap the sounds to some degree (see chapter 6 for more on this).
2. Physical restrictions
The consequences of the lack of sustain is that it can be quite demanding to blow the saxophone in lengthy solo performances. One has to consider what kind of musical material one can use in these circumstances. Playing long multiphonic passages with circular breathing can be particularly exhausting. This again can affect what kind of instrumental equipment one choices to use. A wide opening on a mouthpiece with a strong reed might drain you very quickly. Furthermore, the consideration on what saxophone type one uses might be taken into account during the performance, since different mouthpieces types will increase or decrease the pressure on the different embouchures muscles groups.
Consequently, a major part of the preparation for a solo performance goes into being physical (and mentally) ready to face the demanding situation. There are of course all kinds of composition/ improvisational concerns that are an important part of the preparation for a performance as well and in the next chapter I will reveal what they might be.
Although the plan at the beginning of the project, was to mainly focus on solo saxophone, I also thought about involving some ensemble activity into the project, by doing some concerts with my multiphonic material used in combination with other instruments – possible also record a trio or quartet album. For most musicians, even if they do enjoy playing solo concerts, the main focus is on ensemble activities and all the explorative interaction between players this involve. For the improviser in particularly, it is both a vehicle for self-expression and an exploration of relationships between players of similar or different background, aesthetics and musical thinking. To me, any ensemble activity represents a collectiveness and a conducive opportunity to learn from others – to be inspired by them and often as a consequence to be forced to rethink the musical language one uses and the way your are shaping it. There is a feedback loop that enables one to go back and forth from ensemble activity to solo activity and distract various musical ideas and material out of these experiences. Eventually the knowledge of these processes finds its place into one’s solo playing and affects the pace and balance of one’s music, sometimes also affect tiny details of pitch consideration and timbral characteristics.
Five months into the project, after involving a few ensemble activities into the project, I decided that it did not feel right. It just had to be within the solo format only that the music should be realized. Although, not excluding group playing altogether, I decided not to make an ensemble recording or not speculate too much on how my multiphonic findings possibly could work in that context. I needed to concentrate completely on generating material and structuring it within the solo and gradually, also being concerned about how I could let these sonics take on a more principal role in my ensemble music. The sonorities simply asked for the possibility to grow and be expressed in a place that was not filled with other instrument’s inputs. The space and all the frequencies in it should be empty and filled with my sound particles only and raise the spirit of them. Consequently, to give the level of focus on details in the sounds textures that I felt the music would need to be able to express my ideas clearly and personally. This concern just felt too important to ignore, and the fourth rule in my dogma was articulated and put into practice (see dogma.pdf) →
Being an active and curious musician occupied with activities in numerous ensembles meant that I did not want to isolate myself for three years. I have of course been involved in group playing during the time span of the project, and also tried to integrate multiphonics whenever the context allowed me to. Especially the involvement in a series of duo collaborations, because of the very close interaction one can achieve there, has given me lot of things to think about. Eventually these thoughts find its way into my solo playing someway or another.
I was in doubt whether I should include the use of electronic manipulation into the project at all. Here, as well, I had been absolute in my intention from the very beginning of the project; the investigation should mainly be about the acoustic sounds. I was not interested in all the opportunities that electronic software and hardware could offer regarding the manipulation of my sound to the unrecognizable. However, using loop-pedals (for overdubbing) or to trigger samples of my acoustic multiphonics might present some interesting possibilities–both live and in studio. If not to include an ensemble, I wanted to be able to make an ‘ensemble of me’i by putting together layers of multiphonics from my instrumental arsenal. Allowing larger blocks of multiphonic sounds to be superimposed into orchestral proportions. Furthermore this also makes it possible to bypass the mentioned problems of ‘lack of sustain’ and the physical restrictions, enabling me to produce a sound while another sound is decaying. It led me to experimentations with electronics in the first year of the project, and included building my own loop program in Max msp and in Ableton Live connected with a midi foot-pedal, as well as using hardware loop-pedals and samplers. My experience applying this in live performance, was that it lacked intimacy in the communication. Even if it functioned to a certain degree, musically speaking, it took away the sensation of one man’s interaction with the acoustic instrument, something I found to be very central to the overall attitude of the project. Even more importantly, it took away my detailed focus on the timbre and textures. When there was a microphone in front of me, cables and hardware on the floor and speakers at each side of me, something precious to the project got lost. I believe that the participants had a greater distance to the details of the musical material, possibly confused and too focused on where the sounds came from and how they were produced. Furthermore, using electronic equipment and sound systems made it harder to explore the pure acoustic potential of the concert spaces – and it is important for me to draw inspiration and interact with room’s acoustic and the people in it. Hence the dogma rule 6 was manifested: No electronic manipulation is allowed - only use the pure sound from the acoustic instruments.
The idea of creating larger layers of multi-tracked instruments did not leave me, but instead found its place in one of the trilogies albums and not in my live performances.