12 Moons Solo Saxophone Project Day 334
Instrument: Tenor saxophone
Location: Home studio in Clinton, WA (Whidbey Island)
While at a used bookshop this morning a book cover caught my eye that immediately brought me back to my childhood. It was a children’s book called “The Big Book of Cross-Sections,” and it had an image of the Titanic sliced up into five pieces, exposing all the compartments inside. I don’t have any recollection of having actually owed this book, but I remembered looking through it at a book store when I was a kid. I remembered being fascinated by the idea that tiny worlds could exist inside a much larger “body." This fascination never really went away, and music has always helped me give voice to this mystical concept. Today’s improvisation was directly inspired by this nostalgic memory.
When I finally began my practice session later in the day, I sat down with the aim of finding a quiet sound world that I hadn’t noticed before. After an hour or so I stumbled into an area that I remember discovering several years ago. When moving chromatically from the mid register G (with octave key) upwards to the high register F (still with the octave key), if I blow with a good amount of back-pressure and nearly no pressure against the reed, a second series of chromatic pitches emerges below. These pitches begin exactly a Major 6th below, and start slowly creeping downwards in their ratio of distance from the upper pitch, until the final interval, the fingered High F, has a tone a Major 7th below (F#). These lower tones are extremely muted and very difficult both to hear and to maintain.
After re-familiarizing myself with this second layer of chromatic pitches, I dug even further, and found buried within two of the fingerings a third layer. From the fingered middle octave G to A (again with the octave key), the lower tones C to D spring out. However, there is an octave key exchange from the main octave key to the lower octave key when moving between these two standard fingerings. I explored moving from the A to the G fingering very, very slowly, and was able to identify 4 distinctly different tones below. In order of execution, they were: C, C#, Bb, A. The C# occurs only at a slight moment where both octave keys are barely raised above their key cups. After working with these 4 pitches for some time, I recorded an improvisation that explored them melodically. Like the Titanic book from my childhood, I wanted this tiny world to be fully developed, despite originating from a body of traditional fingerings that begged to speak at all times. At the mid point of the improvisation, I began incorporating these "body” pitches–the A and G above the 4 melodic tones below, creating harmony above the melody.
This was by far my quietest recording yet during the 12 Moons project, and possibly the quietest recording I have done at all. Sticking with the spirit of the project, I did not manipulate the sound in any way besides increasing the volume for listening purposes. I tried to breath as quietly as possible during this piece and to move my fingers very fluidly to as not to distract from the music. A sense of just how quiet the actually music really is can be heard in its ratio of volume as compared to the volume of my breathing, and the occasional spongy sound of the key closing against the body of the horn.
The image accompanying today’s post is a cross-section blueprint of the hull of the Titanic.