David Toop Interviews John Butcher

John Butcher. Photo via flickr.com/photos/the_photographer/
John Butcher. Photo via flickr.com/photos/the_photographer/


"I considered writing a book on improvised music some years ago but then took a very long time to make the final decision to go ahead. After that final plunge it was easy enough to plan the book’s contents but not so easy to start. In the end I decided that my way in to writing would be to record conversations with improvisers, to ask them what it is they do, why they do it and how they came to do it. This was a strategy to pin down the details of improvised music history but more important than that, an exploration of what motivates and sustains improvisers, what renews their approach and commitment to the music. In particular, I’m fascinated by the emergence of improvisation in an individual’s development, hence my focus here on the earlier stages of playing. Many interviews attempt to condense a whole life into a short conversation but this was an opportunity to dwell on these formative experiments. Beginning with John Butcher seemed logical. I first heard him play many years ago with John Stevens; since then he has become an extraordinary innovator on his instrument, the saxophone, as well as being thoughtful, versatile and highly active on the international scene. This interview was recorded at my home on January 17th, 2011." - David Toop


1.    First taste
2.    Blank page
3.    Your own rules
4.    To experiment more
5.    John Stevens
6.    Feedback system

John Butcher’s music ranges through improvisation, his own compositions, multitracked saxophone pieces and explorations with feedback and extreme acoustics. Originally a theoretical physicist, he left academia in 1982 and has since collaborated with hundreds of musicians, including Derek Bailey, John Stevens, Gerry Hemingway, Polwechsel, AMM, Toshimaru Nakamura, Phil Minton and Otomo Yoshihide. Briefer encounters range from large groups such as the EX Orkestra, to duos with Fred Frith, Matthew Shipp and Akio Suzuki. Recent compositions include “somethingtobesaid” for his own 7-piece group, and a work for 8 reconstructed Futurist Intonarumori. He is well known as a solo performer, both in concert settings and in situations that attempt to engage more with a sense of place. 2010 venues have included inside the enormous, hollow Oya Stone Mountain in Japan and “The Hill” installation in the isolated West Texas desert.


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