List Grid

Blogs The Green Room

Low End Theory: Colin Stetson

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, filmmaker-writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Thursday night’s performance by Colin Stetson. Agree or disagree? […]

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, filmmaker-writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Thursday night’s performance by Colin StetsonAgree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

If Juliana Barwick opened the Walker’s Sound Horizon series exploring the higher end of the Perlman Gallery’s sonic architecture with her digitally layered soprano voice, Colin Stetson closed this year’s trio of performances by immersing himself in the lower end.  The four pieces he played Thursday night were split between the conventional alto saxophone and the very unconventional bass saxophone, which, weighing in at about 30 pounds, made the alto look like a toy.

Colin Stetson. Photo by Justin Schell

Stetson is clearly a master of what’s lamely known as “extended technique” on the saxophone, things like overblowing, which produces harmonics and overtones beyond the usual range of the instrument, and multiphonics, singing and playing at the same time. When he sang through the bass sax, however, it sounded more like howling.

Stetson took advantage of the theater-in-the-round seating, circling as he played so everyone could get the full effect of the instruments. And when Stetson hit the right resonant frequency, the room seemed to erupt in overtones; I hadn’t heard anything that loud at the Walker since Keiji Haino played the McGuire a few years ago. Stetson wasn’t using any kind of looping or digital processing, and though he was amplified, I don’t think this made too much of a difference in terms of volume.

While the first piece’s long tones reveled in these harmonic possibilities , the other three pieces featured roiling 16th note figures throughout the entire range of the instrument (along with his howling multiphonics). The speed of the arpeggios seemed almost Glass-like (think Einstein on the Beach), but it’s very different playing them on a bass sax as compared to a soprano sax in terms of air capacity. Even more amazing was that, through the magic of circular breathing, he would do most of these pieces in one breath. In a parallel example of his complete control of the instrument, Stetson effortlessly peeled away the contrapuntal layers and the volume, finishing on a soft major 3rd interval, an ironically simple harmony to conclude a  performance that featured so much exploration through the land of Hertz.

No posts