TARAB CUTS premiere. Bristol New Music, Arnolfini - February 2012
Several seconds of shellac static precede the sounds of oud, ney and violin with which John Butcher's Tarab Cuts begins. When Butcher takes over on soprano sax, he neither echoes nor exactly accompanies this recorded material, but rather uses cells of notes as jumping off points for spiralling melodic development. Such is the deftness with which the piece is constructed that when the records re-enter, it seems as if the Sufi musicians captured on 78 rpm more than half a century ago are responding to his playing likewise.
[For a shorter, solo, piece] commissioned by the Performa arts foundation in 2011, Butcher was given access to some of the 7000 shellac discs collected by the Lebanese music historian Kamal Kassar.
This hour-long performance with regular collaborator, Mark Sanders, takes a plunderphonic journey through this extraordinary archive. The Arabic word tarab which gives the piece its name refers to the close interrelation between music and emotion. It is to the piece's credit that the union works to draw out and emphasise what was already modern and progressive in the Sufi originals, and what was already richly emotional in Sanders and Butcher's playing.