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"fluid fixations" john butcher + 13 - weight of wax 2024

john edwards: double bass
pascal niggenkemper: double bass
stle liavik solberg: drums
pat thomas: electronics
marc sanders: percussion
sophie agneL. piano
john butcher: saxhophones, field recordings, composition
mathias mller: trombone
liz allbee: trumpet
dieb13: tunrtbales
aleksander kolkowski: stroh viola
angharad davies: violin
isabella duthoit: voice clarinet review:

It is quite unusual that a free improviser, even the most innovative and creative one, gets a chance to invite many of his past collaborators to perform a composition that relies on idiosyncratic improvisation qualities. But British sax player John Butcher was commissioned in 2021 by HCMF - the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival - to perform a composition, Fluid Fixations, where the ever-spinning oxymorons - fixed and fluid - may seem to present a conflict of interests, but eventually offer a kind of mysterious harmony.
Fluid Fixations was performed and recorded in November 2021 with Butcher + 13 trusted improvisers-collaborators from the last twenty years, some of whom never met before, and it reflects and refracts their distinct sonic palettes, instincts and energies - Viennese turntables wizard dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič), American trumpeter Liz Allbee, French pianist Sophie Agnel, cellist Hannah Marshall, violinist Angharad Davies, electronics player Pat Thomas, percussionist Mark Sanders, double bass player John Edwards and German-French Pascal Niggenkemper, Norwegian drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg, German trombonist Matthias Müller, French vocalist-clarinetist Isabelle Duthois, and stroh violist-musical saw player Aleksander Kolkowski. Twice as many improvisers as in Butcher’s previous HCMF compositions - somethingtobesaid (2008, released by Butcher’s label, Weight of Wax in 2009, with Edwards and dieb13) and Isola (2012, also with Edwards).

This hour-long composition was informed by what Butcher calls psychological orchestration, i.e. imagining how specific people might respond to particular ideas, and to the sonic company they find themselves a part of. The score was based on instructions (some were intangible ones), precise notation, text, and photographic imagery, mostly drawn from natural environments, all echo his faith in the transformative power environments have over music performance but suggesting spaces where the musicians can step away from the score to create their own sound worlds. dieb13 incorporated pre-recorded sax recordings that were cut earlier to vinyl, as the compositional voice of Butcher, and used close-miking to manipulate some of the “hidden” sound possibilities of the saxophone. Specified solos, duos and small groupings were woven into the piece.

Fluid Fixations takes the risk of enchantment, as one of its pieces is titled, and draws you immediately into its mysterious, multifaceted and detailed sonic ecosystem. It invites the listener to surrender to a kind of poetic dream state, its psychedelic logic, the swarm-like sounds of the 14 musicians, and allows it to flow and grow naturally into your mind. Often free improvisation, especially with so many individual voices, can become an arresting show of group psychotherapy. Here, with the wise compositional ideas of Butcher, it turned out to be a love letter to the deep relationships formed through improvisation. Pure magic, with so many sonic spells, secrets, wonders and inventions to cherish through many repeated listening.
-- Eyal Hareuveni
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