Sunday, October 27, 2019

More Tube Talk: Exploring the Hookah Sax Technique

Extending the range of my soprano saxophone by attaching plastic tubes to my instrument's neck has become somewhat of a regular thing for me over the past three to four years. In fact, I recorded an entire CD centered around this idea. Please check Chaos Theory: Song Cycles for Prepared Saxophone. The music explains it much better than I ever could here.

I'm happy to say that there are other like-minded saxophonists exploring this idea of extending the lower range of the instrument. As much as I like being a lone wolf, tirelessly carving out my own niche, I do, however, love having company!

The first person I'd like to discuss is soprano saxophonist Kayla Milmine, an important figure on Toronto's improvised music scene. This is an excerpt from a performance with the Mark Zurawinski ensemble at the Tranzac Club in Toronto. The piece is "Something Sweet, Something Tender" from Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch recording. Kayla favors the upper partials over the lower sonorities on this performance. This is not necessarily out of choice. In many instances when playing on this set-up, one has to learn to work with whatever comes out--something Kayla does very well.

Next, is saxophonist Zachary Kenefick. This piece is titled "Solo No.1 for Prepared Saxophone," performed at the Art Exchange in Long Beach, California. Zachary's approach is more drone centered, utilizing circular breathing as a way of creating a drone-like effect. There's very little rhythmic or tonal variation--the minute or so introduction using the mouthpiece, being the exception. The focus here is on creating a trans-like state, something he does very effectively.

 This excerpt is from the Ken Ueno piece "Babbling," which features Splinter Reeds, a woodwind quintet with Kyle Bruckmann on oboe, David Wegehaupt on saxophone, Dana Jessen on bassoon, Jeff Anderle on bass clarinet, and Bill Kalinkos on Bb clarinet. On "Babbling," David is using the technique to create more of a gurgling effect--similar to how Kayla played in the earlier example. Ken Ueno also refers to preparing the saxophone in this way as "hookah sax." The hookah sax part begins at 4:20.

Check out this clip of David getting used to the sound of the tubes before performing "Babbling."

Keeping within the Ken Ueno theme, here an excerpt from Zach Shemon of the PRISM Saxophone Quartet, preparing to play Ueno's "Future Lilacs." What's interesting about this clip is how Zach is using what appears to be a baritone saxophone mouthpiece on a tube extension attached to an alto saxophone.

In this clip, I'm demonstrating a wide range of sounds: gurglings, noise, a drone, the Doppler effect, and implied grooves. Here, I'm to exploit the many varied timbres that exist within this prepared horn configuration--the highs and the lows, the abstract and the grooving, and all that's in-between.

Conclusion: One thing that all of these examples have in common is that the players are forced to work within a micro-range; 12TET is not an option. This approach gives both the listener and the player a more centralized listening sphere, where the improvisation is more about micro-texture manipulation than harmonic and technical displays of mastery. Improvisation should not aim only to intimidate those around us. Inspiring and lifting others is probably a more effective and long-lasting means of musical communication.

Thanks for checking this out. And a very special thanks to everyone featured in this blog post for their continued inspiration.

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