On one of the hottest days of an indifferent London summer, I was one of about 20 people who sweltered in the basement of 323 in Highgate to hear John Butcher and Phil Minton play a short concert to launch their new CD release Apples of Gomorrah (GROB 429). Minton was as remarkable and disconcerting as ever, a constant magnet for the eyes and ears with his bodily and musical contortions. Butcher was less compelling visually, but his playing was a perfect foil for Minton's vocal pyrotechnics, employing a vast array of techniques, many pioneered by Butcher himself. The following day, August 18, I interviewed Butcher about that duo, as well as many other aspects of his career.
AAJ: As it's fresh in my mind from yesterday, can we start by talking about the duo with Phil Minton. That is quite an old recording, isn't it?
JB: It only came out two weeks ago, but we recorded it in 1999, I think. It took forever selecting the material. Phil's travelling a lot. I'm travelling more these days. We could never get together, so it just dragged on and on. Actually, I first played in a duo with Phil in the mid '80s. We have probably only done it about half a dozen times since then and he suggested doing this duo recording. What I'm involved in more with Phil is the quartet with Roger Turner and Veryan Weston. It mainly does this piece based around extracts from Finnegan's Wake; at one time it had some tunes attached to the different sections, which Phil will manipulate, go with, or not go with, and we improvise around that structure. That performs about five times a year.
It operates in the way I like, which is that you know the musicians very well, but you don't actually play together very often. So when you get together you are not just regurgitating things, formulae; it feels like quite fresh improvising, but you have all that background knowledge that you are working with as well. The trio I have with John Russell and Phil Durrant is a little like that. If it was lucky, it would probably play half a dozen times a year. But because it has a 15-year history, there is an awful lot of shared experience to play off of.
AAJ: So that is your favoured method of working '- long-standing groups who meet only occasionally.
JB: Usually, yes. I have maintained a lot of musical relationships over a long period of time. Like with Chris Burn, we go back to Surrey University in the mid '70s. And John Russell, Phil Durrant and I go back to the early '80s; we put in a lot of non-public work, playing round at John Russell's house for about a year before we went out and started doing gigs. Those kinds of backgrounds are what keep me in England. It is not a great place for working in this area of music, but there have always been musicians here whom I admire and want to work with. But because everything is happening in the cracks of musical life, in London, there is a lot of opportunity to experiment and operate in a less - how shall I put this? You don't feel that you have to "present your music; it is much more a "work in progress way of operating. If you play a festival in France or whatever, there is a tendency to put on more of a presentation, as it is a bigger event and maybe the only time that year that those people will hear you. In London, as you know, there is this community of enthusiasts who follow it and you do gigs where it might be the fifth or sixth time that someone has heard you that year. And you recognize people and that affects the playing; there can be a much more exploratory nature to the playing in London.
AAJ: So you take more risks?
JB: I notice it particularly with solo playing. If you recognize faces in the audience from a few months before, you owe it to them as well as to yourself to really try and find a few new directions, a few new corners, in that evening there. It keeps the thing developing, rather than playing more finished music.
AAJ: So, in solo playing, what is the balance between prepared stuff and improvised stuff?
JB: There is almost nothing that I prepare, expecting to play it in a particular concert. But because I have done a lot of solo playing, certain areas will suggest themselves in the course of the music, and sometimes I will allow them to move along in a way that I am familiar with and other times I will deliberately react against that and say "I know that this will work if I push it along that line but I will try and push it along this line instead.
AAJ: Can that reaction then take you down another well-trodden path?
JB: It's like having a pool of music that is your history of previous concerts, and you follow a line which means that at different points you will dip into that pool at different places, but the details of where you are going are unknown. I suppose what keeps it fresh is that it is a lot more than re-permutating material; it is a case of making new connections, if you can, in performance. Some of those connections will be with familiar material and others, hopefully, will be with new areas. Then again, if you are working on things that are technically quite at the edge of the instrument, in terms of control, there will always be things that don't quite go as you are intending and that is often a stimulus for heading off in a different direction. Like yesterday with Phil, the room was small and resonant, so it was hard to play in a way that allowed him some transparency for the voice. It was the kind of room where just breathing through the instrument could cover up what Phil was doing. So that throws you a lot of technical challenges. It is a mixture of responding to those and to the music of Phil, in that case. What he is doing creates how you operate then. And it was very, very hot, which affects how you play. The great strength of improvised music is that it responds to the situation, a situation the details of which will probably never be repeated. You try to make music that makes some sense of those situations. Sometimes you hear groups and you feel that they are just trying to implant their music into a space; this is what they do and they are going to do it in that space regardless of what the conditions of the space are like. It never feels a very comfortable experience like that in improvised music.
AAJ: Yes. Sometimes you can see a group over a period of months and get an action replay of the same performance each time.
JB: Every room has a different acoustic and atmosphere. I'm not saying that you always play different music everywhere, but it is very subtle. You make little changes that are brought on by the circumstances of the playing. It is no good going into an improvising situation with too fixed an agenda. Maybe in the early days when you are doing it you tend to do that because there are certain things that you want to get happening. But after a while that becomes a very uninteresting sort of approach to take. Satisfaction has to come from making new discoveries yourself, through the performance. Beginning playing without a thought in your head is, for me, one of the most creative ways you can start a concert. Then something takes over, which is from the years of experience being brought to bear on that situation.
AAJ: Do you literally start without a thought in your head?
JB: I try to.
AAJ: But if you try to think about nothing, don't you inevitably think about something?
AAJ And in a duo, if you are both doing that, what kick-starts the proceedings?
JB: It is curious, that. But once it starts then something else does take over. You are facing this psychologically very strange space. There is incredible concentration, but a lot of it isn't conscious concentration. A lot of it is weighing up what you are hearing with a decision-making process. You are a decision-making machine during it. I really don't know how that works, because it really is another world where your focus goes beyond that which you have in day-to-day experience. But you would be very hard put to try and recollect afterwards exactly what was making you make this decision and that decision. Some of it is experience. Some of it is reflexive. One of the dangers is falling into patterns; sometimes they are just physical patterns to do with how you play the instrument '- physically you have got used to the fact that you always follow this with that. Sometimes in playing, your conscious mind is actually trying to break those connections. You know that you have a tendency that if you play this note then you'll move there or give it that attack, and you try to break away from those things, those ingrained physical mannerisms. Then there are other things that you know work well from past experience and in one situation you might go with them again. Another time you might know that works well and it is too much like acting to pull it out again, so you try something else. There is a mixture of honesty and dishonesty, spontaneity and reflection; it can change within seconds somehow.
AAJ: On the technical side, you have a vast array of techniques that you use. Are you constantly pushing at the boundaries of those?
JB: There have been spells where I have worked quite intensively on the technical side of things. More and more these days, little things will suggest themselves in performance. I know enough about the instrument to be able to develop those things in performance. Then sometimes they will have a quality that makes me want to explore more when I get back home and do some practicing. It is a long time since I sat down and specifically worked through these explorations. There was a time when I was quite methodical, and was cataloguing multi-phonics and notating them, for instance. That was partly a response to wanting to control them, to be able to work with these materials like you can work with the conventional sounds of the instrument. These days, certain groups will make me want to explore certain areas in more detail. For instance, a group I work in with Austrian musicians, called Polwechsel, tends to work at very low dynamics, quite slowly evolving, not particularly expressive, in the expressionistic sense. Through playing with them I've come to explore more material that has those sorts of qualities, and the way the saxophone is so connected to breath and physical exertion means it doesn't lend itself that naturally to this sort of approach. The technical difficulties often stem from me playing in groups where the saxophone is a different instrument to the others. I often work with string players who can work very quietly and, in particular, produce sounds that overlap and sounds that decay. You can make the physical gesture of plucking a string and then allow that sound to decay before you have to make another physical gesture. If I stop the physical action then the sound stops. So, technically, I try to work on ways that can integrate themselves with those aspects of playing. The saxophone is very much an on- or-off instrument, but once you start thinking about that as a difficulty then you start finding solutions to it. Some are psycho-acoustical solutions because you can never really get that sense of sounds decaying, but you can get a sense of sounds that have some transparency, that change in their colour as they progress, which is not typical of the saxophone; which is this linear typewriter that punches out notes.
AAJ: And you have consciously developed those solutions?
JB: There was a strong element of conscious choice in the musicians I first started playing with in free improvisation. Early on I found myself involved with Chris Burn, who was working very much on the inside of the piano, and later John Russell and Phil Durrant, two acoustic, quietish string players, and playing the saxophone in a more conventional way would have just covered everything they were doing and would have been stupid because we were all interested in working in this world which takes you away from the idea of one instrument by its nature being a solo voice, or any instrument by its nature having a particular role in the music. We wanted to be able to choose what we played moment by moment. So it was necessary for me to find ways where, like a string player can bring out different overtones of the notes, I could try to do the same thing on a wind instrument. You play one sound and manipulate the different colours that are hidden in it. Chris Burn worked very diligently at the washes of sound that are available from playing directly on the strings inside the piano. I tried to find a way of getting inside those washes of sound rather than sounding like I'd been stuck on top of them.
AAJ: So what sorts of things would you do, what sort of techniques?
JB: When I really started exploring this sort of thing with Chris, we had been playing various areas of jazz together for about four years, and we made a conscious decision not to use any of the methods we had been using there. So that was why he left the keyboard and went inside the instrument. For a while I worked without anything that related too closely to pitch. Basically, that was a requirement. But once you start off on that road you soon start hearing the incredible pitch content of nearly all sounds and you work with that, as an element at least. Anyway, we weren't really performing in public in those days. It was exploratory work. One thing I tried to do was to get away from the idea of playing lines. You play a sequence where every sound on the instrument has a distinctly different quality to the preceding one. I was a little bit influenced by early electronic music, where you could cut and splice the tape, and go from a sine wave to white noise to a tone. It is a mental and physical effort on the saxophone to do it, to try and think your way through a sequence of events where each sound almost sounds like it comes from a different instrument. ... If you do that, it breaks you away from that idea of playing a conventional line, and you find that you can then work that into what the string players and suchlike are doing. Another thing is dynamics; another is putting space between sounds. I used to play a lot of trumpet exercises because I always liked the way that brass players would articulate notes. You would get a clean start to a note, whereas most saxophone players tend to run notes together. Once you think about putting more daylight between notes, or in between your sounds, it adds extra possibilities. There is always the danger that you throw the baby out with the bathwater, so sometimes the musical results were not that interesting, but it was a necessary thing for us to go through, to make a break with what we had been doing before. And then slowly other elements started getting reintroduced into the music. I started reintroducing notes and became more interested in making connections between material, rather than just looking at one area of sound. Overall, that is my main area of interest. Some people have said that I deconstructed the saxophone, but I always think it is a case of reconstruction, of expanding it, adding to the instrument things beyond what most people expect of the saxophone.
AAJ: Beyond the technical stuff, you have said in the past that the end result must be music not sound.
JB: Every musician thinks about the technical things, particularly playing these instruments that are so connected with your body. There are a lot of hours you have to put in to control it. You have got a piece of wood vibrating in your mouth that you are controlling with your breath and lips; and it's resonating an air column that you can manipulate. Basically, that is all it is. Technique gets a bad name when you hear players who, in the conventional sense, have remarkable technique but who produce very bland music. In improvisation and "experimental" music the whole notion of virtuosity has been re-examined. Quite rightly, a lot of people shied away from that obvious virtuosity. Although, I think, most of the players who really delivered something in the early days of improvised music were true virtuosos. Very little of long-term consequence came from the more anarchic approach that was running parallel at the time. A lot of energy went back to instrumental skill put to the service of the kind of music that it made sense to play in those days. The whole question of things like virtuosity is very coloured now there is so much electronic music around. You are reassessing the notion of what "skill means. People's ears have changed as a result of that. There was a time when someone might come up to me after a performance and say, "That was an incredible sound. I've never heard anything like that. Basically, nobody does that anymore. People have heard so many sound possibilities from electronic sources that a lot of them don't pay much attention to the fact that that a piano or saxophone wasn't meant to sound like that, and that quite a lot of years of research and work have produced it. But that's healthy, as the "how" is not the important thing.
AAJ: And also, improvised music is now far more established. It has been around long enough to have impinged on most people.
JB: Yes. I suppose I started 10 years behind the English pioneers of it. But for me, in my early days, we still got a lot of distrust and dislike because of the kinds of sounds we were working with. It almost never happens now. People coming across it now for the first time almost never get bothered by the sounds. People might get bored because the rhythmic elements of improvised music tend to be different to what they are used to; if you take away a regularly stated rhythm some people tend to get twitchy. But because of the kinds of sounds that are around everywhere, in dance music for instance, the sounds are hardly an issue anymore.
AAJ: On that issue of rhythm, what are your reactions to things like Derek Bailey's Ballads or John Bissett and Alex Ward's Pocket. You have worked in improvised settings with each of them before.
JB: I have heard a bit of Ballads but I haven't heard what John has been doing. I guess there are quite a few things lying behind all of that. From what I understand about it, if you look back to the '60s, with Derek Bailey and people, there was a sense of making quite a radical break. To make a radical break necessitates maintaining quite a dogmatic aesthetic, because you are doing something in opposition to something else. When I was getting involved in this at the end of the '70s, choosing what I was doing implied the rejection of lots of other things. I felt very strongly at the time that it was necessary to reject a lot of other ways of making music as less satisfactory, not only for me personally, but in some broader aesthetic sense. It is necessary to make the personal change and to have the confidence to pursue what you are pursuing, and to recognize that part of what you are doing means criticizing other things. But after a while the battles tend to be won (or lost, or irrelevant, or outdated) and, for me, it has become less necessary to be so exclusive. Anyway, Derek playing ballads seems a natural development because his thing has always been a lot about playing the guitar, rather than playing an idiom. And when you've got that history behind you, the commercial work in the '50s, it doesn't seem such a drastic step to revisit some tunes, in his own way. John Bisset I know less about. I think he came more from the rock world and has always had an interest in that. There have always been musicians around, like Steve Beresford, who have been working in the pop world alongside improvising. My natural disposition is towards a certain purity of approach. As a performer I'm not particularly interested in an eclectic approach. I was very drawn to all the early ideas of trying to reinvent music, which were around in the air in the '50s and '60s, I guess. A bit like the Darmstadt people were doing with total serialism after the war, starting again. I always found that rather attractive. That meant there was so much you didn't want to do. The problem was finding things that you did want to do.
AAJ: What is it like playing with Phil Minton in that duo? He is such a dramatic performer, isn't he?
JB: I know some people can't watch him.
AAJ: It was noticeable yesterday that some people looked physically uncomfortable. It is so much a performance. To experience it live is very different to listening to it. What is it like playing with him?
JB: I think it is, except he is not trying to put on a performance. I have worked with Phil a lot and people respond very strongly to his performances. People who have only ever heard him on CD often don't get what is really going on. That is like an exaggeration or an extreme of the whole nature of improvised music. In many respects you have to be there to get it. Although some stuff records better than others, and can be translated and you can put it on in your living room and enjoy it. There have always been discussions about whether it makes sense to record improvised music. You do get some kind of image of the event. With someone like Phil, it is not just watching him perform; there is something unique about vocal sounds. They have a particular emotional resonance; to him, he may be using it as an abstract sound, but it is built into our evolution that you recognize these sounds as having other meanings because they are connected with the human voice which connects directly with the emotional states of being a human being. Some people don't like that because it is too direct; a cry sounds like a cry, a whimper sounds like a whimper, even if they are acted or we disagree on interpretation. It's very rare for Phil to use those kind of sounds referentially. He is using them abstractly, but they still have that resonance. When you see someone performing like that, and there is no instrument between them and the audience, and you focus on their physical movements, it is a very powerful thing. We pick up so much from little body signs; we may not be consciously aware of them, but we are interpreting all the time like that in a performance. I have always liked working with singers.
AAJ: Yes, Vanessa Mackness has a similar sort of intensity to Phil. She produces sounds that can be interpreted in human terms.
JB: She is a visual artist, untrained as a singer, untrained as a musician. So she works very intuitively, whereas Phil has been a professional musician for 40 years; he started out as a trumpeter. Because voice and saxophone have the connection of the breath, it is always interesting for me. You always have to stop to breath. I know I can do certain cyclic breathing things but I don't use that very much with Phil or Vanessa. So things tend to fall into phrase lengths. There is a danger where everything starts happening together. (Sings.) Duddly-duddly-duddly-duuh, Duddly-duddly-duh. You are breathing together. You can play with that, going with or against that kind of thing. But I have worked with Phil in a lot of contexts, some straighter than others, so I think we know each other very well as musicians. But it is a tricky thing voice and saxophone; they don't blend particularly well. It sounds like two distinct things; it can be quite rough.
AAJ: When you play in duo settings, it seems that you are very different in different duos. I noticed it on the Vortices and Angels album, with Derek Bailey and with Rhodri Davies, and I noticed it again yesterday. Is that the result of going in with a clear mind and just responding to the stimuli?
JB: Improvising to me has always been about trying to play with people, perhaps that is the foremost thing. I think, generally speaking, that people will recognize it as me in the different situations, as there has been a lot of material released now. So I don't think I sound like different people. But I do definitely work in different ways. I don't want to come in and force anyone to play one kind of music just because I'm improvising with them. There is a slight tendency now for improvisers to behave a bit like visual artists, in wanting to get their copyright on one little area of sound or way of using sound, so that it is instantly recognizably them. Then they will bring that along to every improvising situation and just stick it in there. Sometimes that can produce quite interesting results, but if you are interested in doing a lot of playing, going out playing night after night, hopefully, I don't really see what is in that for the player. Playing with Derek, he has a very idiosyncratic style that he tends to stick to, but which he bends in a very musical way to whoever he is playing with. On the Vortices duos I wanted to get in with him at the level of the rhythmic drive. He is not the sort of musician where you will play a sound and let it hang in the air and wait to hear what he does; he'll have been through a couple of pages of his guitar vocabulary. You have got to try and get in there and work with his style, which, for me, means being as interactive as possible whilst keeping your own voice. Rhodri is more of a musician where you can play a sound and let it hang in the air and then see what the next consequence will be. But also those duets were in a church acoustic, which itself suggests different approaches to playing. Again, it's not so much about importing "my music" into each situation; each situation is unique.
AAJ: More than any other duo player I can think of, you seem to be accommodating to other players when you are in a duo setting.
JB: I like to interact and get inside the other player's work, so that we are both ... I suppose after all these years I should have come up with a good analogy. It is a bit like in a duo you are both supporting a third thing, which is going to collapse unless you are working very much together. It is not just the two voices; there is also this third thing that is being created that requires the two inputs to be very malleable. With Derek, I might start a phrase, then hear where he has gone '- the pitch he is playing, or something '- and I was thinking of going to A, but heard his input and think that it is better if I go to Z. This can happen in a flash, so you are continually modifying your intentions as you make the music, in terms of what you are hearing. So you end up somewhere that you really wouldn't have expected. A good improvisation is one where you produce music that none of the individual musicians could have imagined, in detail, before it happened. If it is too close to something that one musician could have said, "OK, let's play like that, then there has been some sort of failure in the improvisation. It still might still be good music, but it is not using what makes improvisation a unique method.
AAJ: When I interviewed Derek about a year ago, one of the things he said was that he thought solo playing was a second-rate activity compared to playing with other people. How would you feel about that?
JB: It is clear that he does quite often enjoy solo playing. And he has released some extraordinary solo music. It is always tricky because the individual musician is so familiar with their own work that it becomes very hard to judge things, whether it is good or bad. When you have the stimulus of other musicians present, it is exactly that, a stimulus. There is the shared sense of creativity and the mutual obligation makes things very different. I like both activities, but if you do too many solos you just become tired of your own sound. That may be what Derek means. You just can't judge it any more; am I just trotting it out or is something happening? Sometimes some magic will take over, but I think you have to ration it as an activity. For the listener, solos can be very involving, because then you can usually hear more clearly why things are happening. If you are new to listening in this area it is often best to listen to a solo musician, because the musician's intentions are comparatively clear, usually. I know when I was getting into it that the first things I really enjoyed were different people's solos, because you can really hear their voice.
AAJ: We have talked about solos and duos, but what about larger groups?
JB: I have been very closely involved with Chris Burns' Ensemble and we started that back in the days when there were a lot of strong feelings about what was working and what was not working. Both he and I felt that large group improvising was nearly always a disaster. Everything always ended up sounding the same. Things followed very clichéd patterns of dynamics and ways of interacting. We tried to find a different way of interacting in a large group. Ninety percent of that was choosing the right musicians to play with, who were interested in that kind of approach. We set up a few concerts. It had about 20 people in it at an early point, and then it got whittled down to eight. Instrumentally and personality-wise, that seemed to be a good number. We developed a way of playing that is very interactive but very maneuverable. It could do those changes on a sixpence that small group playing can do. I like that sense that at any time any one musician can change the structure of the music '- not by coming in and playing some really powerful statement, but by a little touch of something that would be just enough to cause it to go a different way. And it worked like that. Like any long-term group, it developed its own clichés after a while, but it was a deliberate break from the more jazz-oriented large groups that were playing, and from the heavy, really free-blowing groups like Globe Unity. Although I wasn't aware of it at the time, John Stevens had also been doing quite a lot of work in large groups, often in workshop situations. I think he was trying to find different ways of getting large groups of improvisers to work together. It often ended up with him working with less professional musicians who had less obvious strength of vocabulary to put into the music. That was a different way of working. We wanted people who had very strong personal voices, but still find a way that they could interact together in a chamberish way. I still like that group very much. Some other larger groups I have played in, for shorter periods, have mixed composition and improvisation, like Georg Graewe had a group called the GrubenKlangOrchester, which was about 15 musicians; we half played compositions half improvised. Radu Malfatti's orkestra and Fred van Hove's t'nonet had other ways of working.
AAJ: You were involved with Butch Morris London Skyscraper...
JB: It was quite a high-risk thing. Half the music we played was pretty disastrous and half was quite exceptional. Often the bits that were good had nothing to do with how I felt when I was actually playing it; my own contribution. I could be playing in a way that I thought was great and the music would be horrible, and vice versa. It was a strange dynamic. You very much felt not in control of what was going on. You were there to fulfil his wishes, which is tricky. For instance, you might play three notes and he would signal to you to keep repeating them. You might not want to keep repeating those three notes, but OK, that was what you were there to do. So you might be thinking, "Shit, I don't want to be doing this. But then, what he built around it might turn into a very nice piece of music. Or it might not. It was very hard to find people who agreed about what was happening and what was good in it. Some people didn't like the way they were treated more as orchestral musicians without personality. That is the dichotomy of the whole thing; he wants to work with improvisers, but he doesn't always take account of the fact that they are people with quite idiosyncratic techniques and tastes, and the strongest music will probably come from exploiting those, using those strengths of those musicians.
AAJ: The London Improvisers Orchestra has really done that, hasn't it, with concerto pieces for particular musicians that have played to their strengths.
JB: The LIO is interesting. I like it as an idea and, if I'm ever in town when it is playing, I go along and play in it. Again, my playing experiences in it have very often not reflected what I have thought when I have listened back to tapes. There have been things where I have thought that nothing was happening, and yet when it has been recorded and you hear the whole panorama of the instruments there is a good piece of music. It engenders a certain amount of humility playing in that group because nobody can really control it that well, from inside. So you have to put a lot of trust in the other musicians, which sometimes is misplaced. (Laughs) I think it is good for London to have a group like that. There are a lot of musicians here, and it is easy for the scene to get fragmented and for everyone to go off into their own particular corners.
AAJ: Future plans?
JB: I have this weekend just sent off a CD that I have recorded for an Italian label called Fringes, which focuses on some stuff I have always dabbled in but never put to the front, things like very close-miking techniques and amplified techniques and feedback techniques for the saxophone. Back in 1984 when I recorded Fonetiks with Chris Burn there was one track using these feedback effects that you can get with a very close-miked saxophone and an amplifier. I've started digging a bit deeper into that and recorded a series of pieces that I am very pleased with. Now I am looking at ways that I can bring this into performance more. It is a tricky technique because controlling this kind of feedback depends so much on the acoustics of the room you're in. I have had this problem before; you set it up in a sound check, and then the audience comes in and the acoustic of the room changes and you can't really control the feedback, everything needs different settings and positions. Instead of the beautiful filigree effects that you got in rehearsal, you just get howling, screaming. So I've been looking at some of the technical issues involved in trying to transfer that into live performance. Apropos of that, a friend of mine who is a computer professor in San Francisco is interested in developing further some of the live processing things that I have been doing in the duo with Phil Durrant. He wants to actually write some software that will analyze much more the natures of my input and have algorithms that will produce responses that depend on categorizable saxophone qualities. For a few weeks we are going to go to this place in Holland, called Stein, which is an electronic music research facility. We will look at two sides of the thing; one is more my side; amplifying the instrument, dealing with feedback effects and so on, and the other, for him, is the software side of processing. It might bear fruit and appear in some live performance at some time. Then the rest of it is a mixture of groups familiar and unfamiliar. I have got a duo tour of the UK coming up with Rhodri Davies. We were talking earlier about the benefits of long-term playing relationships. Although he is a relative newcomer to the scene '- he has been playing for about five or six years '- we both know each other well as musicians and have played in many groupings, but rarely duo. There are some concerts with Polwechsel, the Austrian group, and in collaboration with Christian Fennez, with whom we've just released a CD. And then something quite a bit different from my usual playing. The Ex are a band from Holland who started off as a sort of punk band, 20 years or so ago. They have always been too radical to fit fully in that scene, and have become involved with improvisers in Holland. They have built it up into an occasional orchestra of about 20 musicians, mainly Dutch although they asked me and Phil Minton to join them on the last tour. They do their own songs and a whole mixture of things such as a Captain Beefheart instrumental, a piece from 1928 by the Russian composer Mossolov, some Ethiopian pop music from the early '70s. But it's not eclecticism in the negative way I was talking about earlier. I think it really coheres. Then there is a tour with the bassist John Edwards and drummer Fabrizio Spera, and I am going to Japan for a solo tour in November, the first time I have been there.
1984, Fonetiks, Bead 24.
1987, Conceits, Acta 1.
1988, Embers live, Acta 3.
1988, Bandes original du journal de Spirou, nato 1715/1774. Compilation album: one track with Steve Beresford.
1989, News from the shed, Acta 4.
1990, Cultural baggage, Acta 5.
1991, Thirteen friendly numbers, Acta 6.
1991, Thirteen friendly numbers, Unsounds U07; re-issue of Acta 6.
1991, The Place 1991, Emanem 4056. Chris Burn Ensemble.
1991/1992, Concert moves, Random Acoustics RA 011. Butcher/Durrant/Russell.
1992, The same elephant, These 7 CD. Duo with Steve Beresford on a compilation CD.
1992, Spellings, Random Acoustics RA 001.
1992, Flavours, fragments, ITM Classics 950014.
1992, Ohrkiste, ITM Classics 950013. Radu Malfatti.
1993, Fish of the week, Scatter 05:CD. Steve Beresford Group.
1993, Apollo and Marsyas, Apollo Records ACD 090217/8. Trio track of Butcher/ Minton/Hirt on compilation CD.
1994, Respiritus, Incus CD21.
1994, A new distance, Acta 8. Spontaneous Music Ensemble.
1994, Spellings, Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf. Frisque Concordance track on compilation CD.
1995, A slightly upgunned selection, Tomorrow's Classics TOCD 6004. With Chris Burn, Martin Klapper and Jindrich Biskup.
1994/1995/1996, London and Cologne, Rastascan BRD 026. Live solo recordings.
1995, Two concerts, FMP OWN 90006. Minton Butcher Hirt.
1995, Trio playing, Incus CD28. Derek Bailey/John Butcher/Oren Marshall.
1996, Mouthful of ecstasy, Victo cd041. Phil Minton Quartet.
1996, Suite for B... city, FMP CD 88. t'Nonet Fred Van Hove.
1996/1997/1998, Music on seven occasions, Meniscus MNSCS004. Selected duos and solos.
1997, Navigations, Acta 12. Chris Burn's Ensemble.
1997, Tinfizzer, Thoofa 1. One track on Kev Hopper CD.
1997, Secret measures, Wobbly Rail WOB 006. Duo with Phil Durrant, electronic manipulation.
1997, Memory constant, Unknown public 10. Solo on a compilation CD.
1997, Tangle, Meniscus MNSCS003. One trio track on Gino Robair CD.
1998, Composition No. 30: Compilation III, Bruce's Fingers BF 27.
1998, The scenic route, Emanem 4029. Butcher/Durrant/Russell.
1998, Three scenes for five tenors, RES 6.2CD. One track on compilation CD.
1998, Polwechsel 2, hat[now]ART 112. With Werner Dafeldecker/Burkhard Stangl/ Michael Moser.
1998, 12 milagritos, Spool SPL 109/Line 9. Butcher/Robair/Sperry.
1998, Light's view, nuscope recordings 1004. Butcher/Graewe duo.
1999, Proceedings, Emanem 4201. London Improvisers Orchestra.
1999, Hit and run, FMP CD 116. Dunmall with Edwards with Butcher.
1999, Apples of Gomorrah, GROB 429. Butcher/Minton duo.
2000, Requests and antisongs, Erstwhile 007. Electromanipulation duo with Phil Durrant.
2000, Liverpool (Bluecoat) concert, Limited Sedition LSO26. Duo with Gino Robair.
2000, Guerrilla mosaics, 482 Music 482-1013. John Butcher/Miya Masaoka/Gino Robair.
1997/2000, Fixations (14), Emanem 4045. Solo.
2000, The hearing continues..., Emanem 4203. London Improvisers Orchestra.
2000, Relay eight, 2:13 Music CD011.
2000, Vortices and angels, Emanem 4049. Duos with Derek Bailey and Rhodri Davies.
2000, The contest of pleasures, Potlatch P201. Butcher/Charles/Dörner.
2000, Points, snags and windings, Meniscus MNSCS010. Duo with Dylan van der Schyff.
2000, The first two gigs, Emanem 4063. Burn/Butcher/Davies/Edwards.
2000, Shooters and bowlers, Red Toucan RT 9318. Duo with Gerry Hemingway.
2000, Intentions, nuscope recordings 1011. Butcher/Durrant/Lee.
2000, The All Angels concerts, Emanem 4209. Butcher/Hutchinson duo on compilation 2-CD.
2000/01, Polwechsel 3, Durian 016-2. Polwechsel.
2001, Tincture, Musica Genera mg 004. Butcher/Lonberg-Holm/Zerang.
2001, Freedom of the city 2001: large groups, Emanem 4206. London Improvisers Orchestra.
2001, New Oakland burr, Rastascan BRD051. Duo with Gino Robair.
2001, Multitracks, Unreleased mp3 recorded August 2001.
2001, Freedom of the city 2001: small groups, Emanem 4205.
2001, Horizontals white, Emanem 4080. Chris Burn Ensemble.
2001, Grain, DotDotDot Music 003. One (very) short solo track on this compilation.
2001, Songs, between the lines btl 024. Gerry Hemingway.
2001, Thermal, Unsounds U04. Moore/Lehn/Butcher.
2001, Clearings, ART.CapuccinoNet ART 008. Butcher/Irmer/Fernández
2001/2002, Optic, Emanem 4089. John Butcher/John Edwards duo.
2002, Wrapped islands, Erstwhile 023. Polwechsel/Fennesz.
1999; 2002, Invisible ear, Fringes 12. Solos with close miking, multitracking, etc.
2002, Freedom of the city 2002, Emanem 4090. London Improvisers Orchestra.
2002, Ensemble at Musica Genera 2002, Musica Genera mg006. Chris Burn's Ensemble.
2002, Equation, Spool SPF303/FIELD 3. John Butcher/Mike Hansen/Tomasz Krakowiak.
2002, Cavern with nightlife, Weight of Wax WOW 01. Solo + duo with Toshimaru Nakamura.
2003, I shall become a bat, QBICO 18. Duo with Steve Beresford on one side of LP.
2003, Gathering, Spool SPF305/FIELD 5. Smash and Teeny featuring John Butcher.
2003, Freedom of the city 2003: small groups, Emanem 4212.