Resits: “B” is for John Butcher: “Sprinkler” from “Invisible Ear”

Sometimes it’s the way music hits you, full in the face, or maybe gently tugging at you like a nagging toddler. As I turned on the car radio, this piece had already started, so I had no idea who was doing it and with what. It insinuated itself into the atmosphere, emerging from the low drone of tyres on tarmac, camouflaged as noise. Otherworldly is a word that comes up far too often in describing music, but this, for once, had precisely that impact…an unknown entity creating sounds governed only by each other. It seemed to vibrate not the air, but some other undiscovered gas, melodies only gradually revealing themselves, starting as a noise on the periphery of motorway hum, becoming gradually more miraculous.

Free improvisation often contains its own little symphonies, the human instinct for tension and release skirting the edges of the structure it wants to escape. This is not one of those occasions. The whole thing has, rather, the feeling of a cyber insect emerging from its metallic burrow, feeling out first the air, then the ground, tentacles and toes twitching with electrostatic curiosity. Like a clockwork toy, the charm is not in where this music is going, but how, wandering around in itself, walking sometimes over the same space to see if it feels the same, sounds the same – repeated sounds transform in unpredictable ways, a simple gesture revealing its hidden complexities. There’s a feeling of the music leading, the saxophonist following without judgement.

It’s the definition of magic, slight of hand, a combination of small things working together to produce one illusion. The noise of the keypads against the holes, resonating through a long tube and producing feedback through an amplification system. It’s a saxophone being re-purposed, re-examined…like a magnifying glass cast over the unused edges of a canvas. Pops and scrapes merge and separate in strange two part inventions, each seemingly of its own world and point of origin.

I don’t know how it’s done, and I don’t particularly want to know how it’s done. I’m hanging on, perhaps in vain, to that moment when the music, before I knew it was music, appeared of its own accord and washed away the memories of whatever gig I was driving home from. Perhaps it was a wedding, the happiest day of someone’s life. They chose the tunes and we dutifully played them.

“Sprinkler” was, on the other hand, uninvited, but most welcome.

Thank God for the radio. I don’t always want to choose.

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