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 John Butcher - biography 

John Butcher's work ranges through improvisation, his own compositions, multitracked pieces and explorations with feedback, unusual acoustics and non-concert locations. .
Originally a physicist, he left academia in '82, and has since collaborated with hundreds of musicians - Derek Bailey, John Tilbury, John Stevens, The EX, Akio Suzuki, Gerry Hemingway, Polwechsel, Gino Robair, Rhodri Davies, Okkyung Lee, John Edwards, Toshi Nakamura, Paul Lovens, Eddie Prevost, Mark Sanders, Christian Marclay, Otomo Yoshihide, Phil Minton, and Andy Moor - to name a few.

He is well known as a solo performer who attempts to engage with the uniqueness of place. Resonant Spaces is a collection of site-specific performances collected during a tour of unusual locations in Scotland and the Orkney Islands.
His first solo album, Thirteen Friendly Numbers, includes compositions for multitracked saxophones, whilst later solo CDs focus on live performance, composition, amplification and saxophone-controlled feedback.

HCMF has twice commissioned him to compose for his own large ensembles. Other commissions include for Elision, the Rova & Quasar Saxophone Quartets, reconstructed Futurist Intonarumori, "Tarab Cuts" (based on pre-WWII Arabic recordings, and shortlisted for the 2014 British Composer's Award), "Good Liquor .." for the London Sinfonietta and "Fixations and the Open Road" for CEPRO.
In 2011 he received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists.

Recent groupings include The Apophonics (+Gino Robair/John Edwards), Thermal (+Andy Moore/Thomas Lehn), Vellum (+Tony Buck/Magda Mayas) and trios with Okkyung Lee/Mark Sanders and Matt Shipp/Thomas Lehn.

Butcher values playing in occasional encounters - ranging from large groups such as Butch Morris' London Skyscraper and the EX Orkestra, to duo concerts with David Toop, Kevin Drumm, Claudia Binder, Ståle Liavik Solberg, Paal Nilssen-Love, Thomas Lehn, John Tilbury, Fred Frith, Keiji Haino, Ute Kangeisser, Matthew Shipp and Yuji Takahashi.


© john cameron
feedback soprano: smoo cave, durness, 2006.








© amalia pistilli
company week, london, 1990.













CANDY, chiba, japan, 2002.







© laurence svirchev
vancouver festival, 1999.

Butcher was born in Brighton but has lived in London since the late 1970s.
After school piano lessons he took up the saxophone at Surrey University and first performed, on keyboards, in the ‘avant’ rock group Habilis.

Seeing musicians like John Surman, Stan Tracey and Louis Moholo sparked an interest in jazz which he explored with pianist Chris Burn and his bass playing brother Phil Butcher.

In 1977 he began a Ph.D at Imperial College - published as "Spin effects in the production and weak decay of heavy Quarks". At the same time he was playing in Burn’s Jazz Ensemble (1980 BBC Big Band winners), and toured with London Contemporary Dance Theatre & New Arts Consort.

Monthly concerts at the Workers' Music Association in Notting Hill were an important laboratory, leading to his first LP Fonetiks and concerts in Freelance (with Elton Dean).


In '83 he formed an acoustic trio with John Russell and Phil Durrant ||. They started the label ACTA to release the LP Conceits and joined Paul Lovens and Radu Malfatti to form News from the Shed.

In '85 Butcher and Burn formed the large London Improvising Ensemble, which evolved into the long-standing Chris Burn's Ensemble ||.

Other collaborations in the 1980s included Soprano Compass (with Evan Parker, Trevor Watts & Lol Coxhill), a DDR tour with Alan Tomlinson and concerts with Embers, Vanessa Mackness, Phil Minton, Steve Beresford, and Derek Bailey.

Frisque Concordance, formed in '91 with Georg Gräwe, meant more regular visits to Europe - whilst in London Butcher joined what became the final version of John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble. A New Distance contains the SME's last recorded concert.


Butcher has explored solo performance in a number of ways, releasing over 10 albums.
The first, Thirteen Friendly Numbers, included pieces for multitracked saxophones, whilst later releases tend to focus either on live performance (often in unusual acoustic locations) or composition.
Invisible Ear structures amplification, multitracking and saxophone-controlled feedback.

The Resonant Spaces CD collects music from a tour of special enviroments in Scotland and the Orkneys. Others include performances inside the giant Utsunomiya stone mountain in Japan, Oberhausen's massive Gazometer, Houston's Dan Flavin Gallery, Brooklyn's Issue Project Room and the Hall Egg Farm, Fukay.


Electronic music was an early influence, becoming explicit in the electro-manipulation duo Secret Measures with Phil Durrant and the Austrian group Polwechsel.

Other electronic collaborators include lloopp player Christof Kurzmann, EMS synthist Thomas Lehn and no-input mixer specialist Toshimaru Nakamura. In Thermal Butcher specifically works with the possibilities of amplification.

He has researched at STEIM and ZKM systems of interactive software with Californian professor William Tsun-Yuk Hsu.

Some commentators have described his wind trio The Contest of Pleasures as electronic music played by acoustic instruments.


Beginning with visits to the Vancouver Jazz Festival in the early 90s, collaborations with North American musicians developed fruitfully. In particular duos with drummers Gerry Hemingway and Gino Robair and Way Out Northwest.

Other longstanding duos include with John Edwards, Mark Sanders, Rhodri Davies, Andy Moor and Eddie Prévost.

Occasional encounters range from large groups such as:
Fred van Hove’s t’nonet | Radu Malfatti’s Orkestra | Butch Morris’ London Skyscraper |
EX Orkestra | Richard Barrett's fORCH | ELISION
to duo concerts with:
Fred Frith, Akio Suzuki, Max Eastley, Claudia Binder, Tony Buck, Angharad Davies, Matthew Shipp, Otomo Yoshihide, Kevin Drumm, Sophie Agnel, David Toop, Keiji Haino, John Coxon, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Ute Kangeisser, Paul Lovens and John Tilbury.


More recently:

2008
"somethingtobesaid" for the John Butcher Group at HCMF.
"Asymptotic Freedom" || - a response to the theories of Gustav Metzger.

2009
"When we return you won't recognise us" for David Sylvian.
"Amplified Gesture", interview in Phil Hopkins' film.
AMM with Christian Wolff.
"Penny Wands & Native String" || - for Futurist Intonarumori and saxophone.

2010
Solo (with Joe McPhee) in the Texas Dessert at Jim Magee's The Hill.
Whitney Museum week, interpreting Christian Marclay pieces.
A chapter of the book Aspekte der Freien Improvisation.
Solo at All Tomorrow's Parties.

2011
"Beneath the Skies" in New York. Commissioned for Tarek Atoui's project based on Kamal Kassar's archive of classical Arab Music.
Three USA tours - playing with Gino Robair, John Shiurba, Jason Roebke, Lou Mallozzi, Denman Maroney, Ellen Fullman, Tom Dill, Jim Black, Thomas Lehn and Peter Evans.
Collaborating in Aldeburgh on the music for Christian Marclay's Everyday.

2012
"Beneath the Skies", in Sharjah, UAE & The Serpentine Gallery, London.
The Apophonics - on tour || and a BBC broadcast.
"Balance" - composed for the Quasar Saxophone Quartet.
John Cage Night Prom at the Albert Hall.
"Isola" - A HCMF commission for Cranes & Freighters.
A driving tour in southern U.S.A. with Thomas Lehn and Gino Robair.

2013
Live music for Sylvain George's "Vers Madrid" documentary and Caroline Strubbe's feature film "I'm the Same, I'm Another".
Yoko Ono's Meltdown, South Bank, with Thurston Moore.
Duo concerts with Andy Moor.
Tarab Cuts - Expanding my work with Arabic and Sufi recordings.
A fourth tour of Japan organised by Hisashi Terauchi - who releases Nigemizu.

2014

Tarab Cuts in Bristol, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Ipanema . Shortlisted for the British Composer Awards.
Routing Lynn - AV Festival with Rhodri Davies.
Solo concerts: McGill University, Montreal - Dunston Staithes, Gateshead - Newhaven Fort, Sussex - Sibelius Museum, Turku, Finland - Cafe Mir, Oslo - Queen's University, Belfast - Amersham Arms, Deptford.
60th birthday concerts at Cafe Oto.
The film "Taking the dog for a Walk" by Antoine Prum.

2015
Good Liquor Caused my Heart for to Sing - London Sinfonietta / Christian Marclay.
Routing Lynn in Athens.
Concert recording with Fred Frith and Theresa Wong.
Jazz em Agosto in Lisbon with the Red Trio.
Revisiting the Paal Nilssen-Love duo in Riga.

2016
Duos with Keiji Haino in Hong Kong and London.
Trio tour with Okkyung Lee and Mark Sanders.
Common Objects "Sonorous Matter" tour.
hcmf// in Philadelphia - Bailey, Rutherford, Butcher.
hcmf// in Mexico - "Fixations and the Open Road" - the hum.


From 1993 - 1997 Butcher was a director of the London Musicians' Collective, helping to organise their annual festivals Around this time he also organised, with flautist Nancy Ruffer, two SoundArt festivals - programming contemporary composed and improvised music.

He has also given many workshops/lectures/master-classes on improvisation and the saxophone.
Royal Academy of Music, Vancouver Creative Music Institute, Barcelona Conservatory, Newfoundland Sound Symposium, Middlesex University, Princeton University, Parthenay Festival, Montreal University, Goldsmiths College, Dartington College, Stanford University, Queens University Belfast, Musik Akademie Basel etc.


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