WIRE review of somethingtobesaid

John Butcher Group

Somethingtobesaid was created by saxophonist John Butcher for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2008, an hour-long composition realised by musicians who mostly follow his instructions and at times are invited to improvise. Shortly before he joined the multinational octet for this performance, Californian percussionist Gino Robair told me how he felt strong affinity with Butcher's taste for generating electronic timbres and textures with purely acoustic means. Much of the musical action here takes place around that interface.

The group features Thomas Lehn's analogue synth wizardry, Robair's 'energised sufraces' and turntable input from dieb13, along with Butcher's saxophones, Chris Burn's piano and the sinewy springy double bass combination of John Edwards and Adam Linson. Some of the composer's directions took their bearings from sound now audible in the performance - ghostly vocal snippets retrieved from a disused answering machine; the frictional hum of multitracked wine glasses. Occasionally chains of acoustic events tumble together, swirl and disperse in ways that suggest the dynamics of studio-produced electronic music - there's a very good example about five minutes in from the start. But Butcher is guiding the instrumental cross-currents too, regulating combinations within the group, keeping the music shapely, cohesive and uncluttered without sacrificing vitality.

Wired and unplugged sound sources find common ground, but it's not a matter of mimicry or camouflage. Rather it's a means of focussing and concentrating the flow of energy from technique, and the outcome is singular and often strangely beautiful music. Substantial too - like the loaf of bread in Philip Butcher's splendid painting on the cover. Something said; something really worth saying.

© Julian Cowley - WIRE 306 (August 2009)