A saxophone: thought through, taken apart, rattled, blown through, a beer can vibrated in the horn, a chance signal from a clockwork radio vibrating the keys. Handheld fans. Shrill squeaks. Splutters, gargling. Agricultural thrumming. No nonsense: just an incredible diversity of sounds, intensely focused by an inventive musician.Read
Seymour is a young British saxophonist. He’s not particularly interested in releasing CD’s and so perhaps hasn’t had the recognition he should have by now, as one of the most interesting saxophonists and improvisers in the UK and Europe. From his approach to music (and writing), he seems like a very humble, dedicated, considered guy.
What is he doing?
Maybe you thought the potential of the saxophone was all worked out (Mind you, in 1906 or thereabouts, the US patent office allegedly thought they would soon run out of things to patent; everything (they thought) had pretty much been invented.). But I put it to you that Seymour very effectively works to extend that potential through an ongoing process of testing out ideas, following different paths, reflecting on other artists/ people obliquely while working with your music. A measure of his respect for ideas, past generations (their achievements) and how they can inform future development, as well as of Seymour’s apparent dry sense of humour, can be guessed at by looking at who he’s dedicated improvisations to recently: Biz Markie: everybody’s favourite beatboxer. Collaborates with the Beastie Boys, infamously lost a court case with Gilbert O’Sullivan, (which sadly ushered in the need for all samples to be cleared with their owners). Pepper Adams: ‘the knife’ – super influential baritone sax player. Trevor Baylis: British inventor of the wind-up radio. And I’m not sure if I’ve got this right but maybe also Ferran Adrià: chef/ owner of the El Bulli restaurant in Spain, ‘best chef in Europe’, famous for his molecular gastronomy and culinary foam. What does thinking about these people and their achievement while playing let Seymour do? Maybe try and apply ideas of breath and voice, radios and clockworks, foam and molecular detail to the saxophone? Why not ask him yourself?
Why is it interesting?
Seymour has written extremely lucidly on his music, but there isn’t room here for any of that writing. So I’m going to try and summarise it. Seymour, I’m sorry if I miss anything (obvious or subtle) in paraphrasing! So firstly, improvised might not be the best way to think about this music. In a sense life is improvised, but you’d never classify it as that above anything else. Music is a part of life, to which you bring previous experience, thought and approaches but only to inform continued enquiry, reflection and growth. But so improvisation isn’t an end, it’s a process through which to grow, develop and learn. Something is experimental if it creates and asks questions, if it tries to find answers to those questions and in the ongoing process creates new questions and so on and etc… it’s something to do with the audacity of free thought, and the joy of discovered knowledge. Isn’t that refreshing.
It makes a clear distinction from the finality of a commodified (As an aside; does anybody else’s copy of Microsoft Word for Mac not recognise commodified as a word when spell checking? (!)) object, from any need to succeed; it’s simply about artistic enquiry, a movement towards some kind of truth, about process (Here’s good quote, this time from Walter Benjamin: “The work is the death mask of its conception.” Conception as an ongoing process as opposed to definitive statements that stand in for experience: that’s more like it. ). But then secondly: that enquiry is into potential: the potential of existing ideas, techniques, the saxophone; what these are and what they can be; the actual saxophone explored through the potential of the saxophone. And so lastly, a direct quote: “It is only potentially music until you the listener act upon it and through listening make it music. Your relationship as listener to it is also about the endless actual and potential ways of listening to and engaging with this music.” Without telling you how to listen, Seymour makes a very interesting suggestion, listen through a process of doing, maybe even working in the sense that Seymour does and works at the music: engage in options, follow untaken paths, allusions, think about choices made and things discarded; improvise.
The recording of this performance was included in Seymour’s 4CD set Seymour Writes Back.