Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
"Voyage to the Interior of the Saxophone" could well be a sub-title for this piece. But before we start considering the work itself, we must first ask: what is the saxophone?
A metallic conical tube, with holes topped by leather pads, propelled by human breath, making a single bamboo reed vibrate. It could also be seen as a cross between an oboe and a flute, capable of producing an extraordinary variety of timbres, from very quiet and delicate sounds to extremely powerful and penetrating multiphonics. The flexibility of sound producing techniques on this instrument makes it of unique interest, for we can isolate quite convincingly different actions primarily thought to work in conjunction. For instance, we may want to explore breath sounds through the tube, filtered by ordinary fingerings, but without generating pitches; we can, however, extend the pitch producing techniques by arranging special throat and finger positions in order to produce richly irregular harmonic sounds; or we may want to explore the more percussive side of the instrument by exaggerating key clicks.
This experimental approach is tackled in conjunction with the electronic part, where not only did I use saxophone sounds (transformed or not), but also other reed instruments. Further sounds on tape were chosen as extensions of the saxophone materials, for instance: metallic tube --> cymbals resonance, breath sounds --> filtered white noise, key clicks --> drums and other percussive instruments. The computer was used to analyze source sounds and create transformations between these various sources through several filtering processes. It was also used as the environment where all electronic sounds were mixed down and transferred onto a digital tape.
The piece is divided into three movements, exploring different expressive capabilities of the saxophone family. The first (on the soprano) is assertive, the second (on the tenor), a cantabile, and the third (first on the tenor and then on the soprano), a toccata-like game. Echoes of different styles are hinted, but never used as overt quotations. It is as if I wanted to create a voyage through a very personal world. Some elements in this world we share, others, you are invited to discover.
Multiple Reeds is dedicated to the saxophonist Stephen Cottrell, who first performed it in May 1994 at the Sainsbury Centre of the University of East Anglia.