Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Recording and Perception

Artistic beauty is difficult to pinpoint. Being extremely subjective, it can vary from one end of a spectrum to another depending on the individual. Beyond that the individual's vision and perception of beauty can be a changing measure. As musicians we listen for particular sounds that attract us, and the evolving musician, the active and seeking musician, learns to hear new facets of sound and expands or refines his or her personal definition of beauty in sound. An evolving perception of sound enables the musician to overcome barriers and enter new soundscapes previously unheard by that individual.

Just as the rest of art and music, the sound of the saxophone is interpreted differently by different listeners. No matter the interpretation an evolving perception of sound enables the saxophonist to reach beyond his or her current capacity. A beginner player is not capable of hearing the nuances in intonation or clarity of tone that a more experienced player hears, and for that reason the beginner more often plays out of tune or with a muddied sound. Hearing sound more deeply enables progression and evolution as saxophonists and musicians.

This is where my personal journey comes in. The times I have made the most progress as a saxophonist have been two time periods following being recorded professionally. Each time during the session I heard my sound on the recording more honestly than I'd been hearing it while playing, and each time I heard a defect or something about my sound I didn't like. From there I was able to hear and identify that quality while I was playing and begin to address it. I've been writing this blog for a year, and that has meant a year of regularly recording myself. During this time period I have had many of those sound realizations on a small scale, and all together they've made a huge difference. I've made strides in the clarity, control, and nuance of my sound.

I think it's important to point out that I didn't just listen more carefully. I identified the problem in the sound, and then experimented using my knowledge of saxophone technique gained through private study and masterclasses, through studying great players' sounds and approaches, through my own experimenting, and, significantly, through studying the knowledge that survived Joe Allard. The process has been trial and error in many respects, but it has been a continuous and definite progression forward.

Just as an illustration, following are two clips. The first is a recording made about a year ago when I first started the blog, and the second is from my most recent blog post. I'd also like to mention that these recordings were made on the same horn, mouthpiece, and brand of reed.

Early Recording     Recent Recording