John Butcher (musician)

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John Butcher on sax.jpg

John Butcher (born 1954 in Brighton, England) is an English tenor and soprano saxophone player who has lived in London since the late 1970s. He was originally a physicist.[1] He began playing at the University of Surrey where he was studying physics. He received his PhD in theoretical physics with his thesis published as Spin effects in the production and weak decay of heavy Quarks. After that he left academia to focus on music. He began by playing conventional jazz (he has spoken of his initial skepticism concerning free improvisation), but quickly converted to a freer approach. He has taken the concern with the manipulation of multiphonics (split tones and false notes) bequeathed by earlier improvisers such as Evan Parker in new directions: though his earlier albums could be busy at times, he has come increasingly to focus on creating rich, slowly changing strata of sounds (layers of hums, buzzes and brittle metallic noises). He has also experimented with the use of amplified saxophone and overdubbing (most notably on the solo album Invisible Ear). That said, he is also capable of playing quite lyrically: on soprano, especially, he will sometimes leaven a passage of abstraction with bursts of pennywhistle-like melody.

Butcher worked with Elton Dean, Chris Burn, and Jon Corbett at first. Later he formed a trio with guitarist John Russell and violinist Phil Durrant, which recorded three albums and also served as the nucleus of News from the Shed, a shorter-lived quintet with Paul Lovens and Radu Malfatti. Another key relationship has been with singer Phil Minton, which included Butcher's participation in mouthfull of ecstasy,[2] Minton's setting of texts from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. More recently he has become centrally involved in the form of rarefied, minimalist improvisation that has been dubbed "electroacoustic improvisation" or "lowercase", most notably as a member of the pioneering Austrian group Polwechsel. Other playing partners have included John Edwards, Simon Fell, Gino Robair, Georg Gräwe, Gerry Hemingway, Akio Suzuki and Dylan van der Schyff. A recent, self-released album, Cavern with Nightlife, included a duet with no-input-mixing-board specialist Toshimaru Nakamura. Butcher's octet "John Butcher Group" debuted in 2008 at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.


  • 1989 News from the Shed
  • 1995 Concert Moves
  • 1999 Lights View
  • 2000 Requests and Antisongs
  • 2001 The Contest of Pleasure
  • 2001 Thermal with Thomas Lehn & Andy Moor
  • 2001 Vortices and Angels
  • 2002 Apples of Gomorrah
  • 2003 Invisible Ear
  • 2003 Optic
  • 2004 New Oakland Burr
  • 2005 Albi Days
  • 2006 Concentric
  • 2008 Buffalo Pearl
  • 2009 Resonant Spaces
  • 2009 Somethingtobesaid
  • 2012 Bell Trove Spools (Northern Spy)
  • 2017 Immediate Landscapes with Akio Suzuki
  • 2017 Light never bright enough with Keiji Haino
  • 2019 At The Hill Of James Magee with Joe McPhee


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