The Wire, Will Montgomery
Butcher and Durrant's acoustic trio with guitarist John Russell produced music of incredible delicacy, their sounds darting around like tadpoles in clear water. For this duo Durrant forsakes his violin and participates through his live electronic manipulation of Butcher's saxophones and 'modular feedback'. Butcher is in mercurial form, spraying out beautifully honed smears of sound. As with their excellent Secret Measures album, the duo is more likely to generate looming clouds of noise than to home in on the granular. Although more sophisticated textures could undoubtedly be generated by applying the treatments more slowly in the studio, the duo's intensely kinetic music depends on its development in real-time. Butcher responds to his own sounds put through the electronic mangle, and Durrant responds to the responses. This way of working brings a different kind of reciprocity to improvisation. Durrant is good at varying the intensity of his treatments, so Butcher's saxes sometimes play alongside electronic bloops and scratches, and sometimes they are subsumed in the manipulations. The closing "Japanese Square Lashing" offers a particularly marked separation of voices. Butcher's saxophones, of course, sound tremendous au naturel and there's no doubt that the imperious force of the duo's noises is down to the richness of the acoustic source sounds he produces.
Requests and Antisongs lies in the border territory between conventional Improv and abrasive digital sound production. A stretching is applied to the ears: at the same time as they habituate themselves to the nuanced sounds coming from Butcher's instruments, they are pulled away again by the buzz and hum of Durrant's treatments. The music never drifts into sheer static. On the contrary, the results are rough-edged and uncompromising, continually wavering between precise articulation and speaking in tongues.<%=xfbody%>
Opprobrium, Nick Cain
On the Requests And Antisongs follow-up (released this year), Butcher and Durrant retain a fairly similar mode of interaction, whilst paring down their range of sounds over the course of more (11, all named after types of knots), shorter and quieter pieces. The disc is weighted more towards the trademark scrabbling and squeaking of the English improv idiom than that of modern electronics: tracks like 'Float Stop', 'Sliding Chinese Crown', 'Flemish Eye' and 'Eye Splice', in which Durrant subjects Butcher's extended sax technique to careful electronic slippage and buffeting, make much of Secrets And Measures sound positively demonstrative. 'Palomar', 'Bimini Twist' and 'Prusik Loop' gradually build layers of thickening drone-throb (the last in particularly magnificent style) which recall some of the first album's more intimidating moments, and 'Kreuzklem' allows some impressively deafening harmonics and frantic dialogue, but otherwise Requests And Antisongs affords the listener a string of low-volume miniatures of bubbling, squeaking improv interplay from this fascinating and quite singular duo. Butcher's abilities are well-documented, and his playing on both discs is as fine as one would expect. It's more Durrant who comes into his own: though perhaps better known as an improvising violinist, he's worked with electronics for some time (his solo debut CD Sowari [Acta] showed him active in both guises) and this duo, along with his membership in the MIMEO large group, should go some way to garnering him acclaim for his work in this context.
All Music Guide, François Couture
Saxophonist John Butcher and violinist Phil Durrant had been playing together on the English improv scene in various formations for 14 years when they decided to start a live electroacoustic project in 1997, a project not unlike Evan Parker's own unit at the same time. The Butcher/Durrant duo released a first CD, Secret Measures, on Wobbly Rail, recorded live at the beginning of the experiment. Requests and Antisongs is a studio performance taped in January and February 2000, over two years later. By then, the project had reached maturity. As John Butcher improvises on the saxophone, Phil Durrant processes the sound in real time through two unrelated electronic chains. The music is fed back to Butcher, allowing both players to interact with each other. The saxophonist's already varied palette takes humongous proportions. At times, Durrant only filters parts of the sound spectre, but he might also add overtones, decay or completely masquerade the saxophone's sound. It is fascinating to hear Butcher adapt as Durrant plays tricks on him: he always seems to find a way to exploit the electronician's ideas and use the perfect phrasing to take advantage of the processes applied the second before. Requests and Antisongs opens a new form of dialogue in a duo setting.
Other Music, Tom Pratt
John Butcher and Phil Durrant are among the most forward-thinking improvisers working today who are testing new possibilities in improvised music through the incorporation of live electronics. On "Requests and Antisongs," the duo's second album, Durrant performs electronic manipulations of Butcher's trademark saxophone spattering in real time. What results is a wonderfully alien and surreal world of electroacoustic sound, ranging from the harsh and abrasive to quiet and delicate. This is a perfectly-realized coming-together of free jazz and abstract electronica and one of the freshest things to tickle my ears this year. Superb.