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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

John Butcher - The Very Fabric (Hitorri, 2023)

By Martin Schray 

In his wonderful new book Pick Up The Pieces - Excursions in Seventies Music, John Corbett writes that it’s “a common conception of the function of music is that it is to communicate with others, that it comes from an urge to express so that fellow humans can feel what the musician feels.This impulse is familiar. And no doubt in the main it is true: people make music for each other. We recognize the magnetic way that music calls forth a community.“ But this is not the only way to understand music or to interpret its motivation. It may be conceivable - especially for musicians recording a solo album without an audience - that you don’t want to engage in immediate conversation with listeners (in this case this happens only after the release), but that you want to explore the location, the musical material, or your personal state of mind. It’s certainly a different kind of intimacy than the one Corbett describes; depending on your interpretation, you can call it self-referential or, as in the case of John Butcher’s new album The Very Fabric, curious and adventurous or meditative.

The British reedist has possibly been the most consequent sound explorer in freely improvised music in the last 30 years. He has recorded music in the most various places like a giant gazometer, a hollowed-out Japanese mountain, an underground reservoir, a Victorian mausoleum and a massive World War II oil tank. Now, The Very Fabric is the result of a session in the Brønshøj Vandtårn, an almost 100-year old concrete water tower, located in the suburbs of Copenhagen. Its characteristic is a large, lingering reverberation. In the liner notes Butcher says that “some sounds seem to float away as if through liquid, others acquire a shifting haze, and some just prefer to sit around.“

In detail, this means: “Shimmers of Connect 1-3“, the trilogy that opens the album, begins like an even darker version of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks, only to rely completely on the single saxophone note again and again, trailing it. A sharp vibrato, well-placed crescendi and circular breathing support and structure this approach. The tones seem to creep into the cracks of the walls. Butcher also uses various saxophones (tenor and soprano) and once even a flute for his sound exploration, to better gauge the space. Also important is the fact that he takes time for pauses and very long notes. This is especially evident in “Sympathetic Magic (concrete)“, a piece that resembles a slow-motion version of György Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna“. The piece doesn’t even sound like created by a saxophone, it sounds like electronic music. But The Very Fabric has melodic moments as well (“Elusive Sidestep“), foghorn sounds and minimal music riffs (“Signs and Symptoms“), at one point it seems as if Butcher has birdcalls rising through the tower, then right after that you think you hear distant fireworks (“Far Flung“). The Very Fabric is a cornucopia - not only sonically, but also musically.

To come back to John Corbett, who I quoted at the beginning: John Butcher does communicate - with the walls, the concrete, the various angles and hidden corners, the sounds themselves that he produces. Here he rests completely in himself, relying also on his masterful playing technique. The excellent mastering of the recording supports Butcher’s quest to find what actually defines the place: its very fabric. The sound of his instruments penetrates the tower like a laser beam, like cosmic noise the universe or like the wind a forest before a thunderstorm. In the process, the water tower absorbs Butcher’s music, but it doesn’t chug it, it returns it, reinventing it.

The Very Fabric is a fascinating album that definitely has transcendental and psychedelic qualities. Heard in a concentrated way it’s definitely a gem.

The Very Fabric is available as a limited CD (300 only) and as a download.

You can listen to the album and buy it here: