Saturday, August 16, 2003

Aulochrome - Antwerpen, 15/08/2003

Anthony Braxton & aulochromeThe aulochrome is an instrument recently invented by Belgian François Louis. François is well-known within the saxophone world, as he makes mouthpieces for the likes of Joe Lovano. A few years ago, he set out to create a wind instrument that would expand musical possibilities. His main desire was to extend the lower range of the instrument. On a regular saxophone, how high you can go depends on the player, whereas how low you can go is limited by the instrument itself. On the aulochrome, apparently, you can create notes so low as to be inaudible: there is effectively no upper- or lower- register limit.

For the last year, Fabrizio Cassol (best-known as leader of AKA Moon) has been practicing intensively on the aulochrome. As there is only one model in existence, he is the instrument's only practitioner. Early this year, he premiered a composition by Philippe Boesman written specifically for aulochrome and the night before this presentation played the aulochrome in an improvised music context for the first time.

Here, both François Louis and Fabrizio Cassol were present, along with pianist Fabian Fiorini, to talk about and give musical examples of what the aulochrome could do. I suppose that the goal of these presentations, of which there have been several, is to generate interest, both from musicians and potential manufacturers. Judging by the praise lavished on Fabrizio and François by Dave Liebman and the swarm of people around Fabrizio afterwards, along with prior interest shown by saxophonists as diverse as Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker and Anthony Braxton, the aulochrome has a possible future.

So, what does it sound like? Well, the aulochrome is essentially two soprano saxophones brought together by a double mouthpiece (with two reeds) and a common key mechanism. Each key is split in two, so the tubes can be played in unisson or separately at will. The double mouthpiece means that the saxophone player's mouth muscles get much more of a work-out than on a regular mouthpiece. Fabrizio said that he was observing trumpet and trombone players and asking them how they dealt with the demands of their instruments on their embouchure.

The instrument is quite powerful, somewhat overwhelming the small room we were in. The fact that one is playing two instruments at once poses not only a technical challenge to the performer - of which there seem to be many, as Fabrizio even claimed that "It's not a saxophone, it's another instrument" - but also a harmonic challenge: the two tones generate at least one (and often more) differential tone, which is the low note mentioned earlier. Such acoustic effects mean that the aulochrome generates a very dense, but harmonically ambiguous sound(s). These differential tones tend to be major, making it difficult to truly sound minor. Fabrizio said that Charlie Haden, listening to the aulochrome, kept on saying "Can you play it in a minor key?"

Of course, the ability to play absolutely perfect unisson lines as easily as on a regular saxophone would seem to make it a natural bebop instrument. However, once counter-point, independent articulation and other techniques are employed, the instrument comes into its own to produce a truly orchestral range of sounds. Thus, as Fabrizio said, the aulochrome should be at home in any context, classical, contemporary, jazz or other.

Check out this article for some more info.

(photo credit: Jos L. Knaepen)