Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy



Sam Newsome Quartet @ Smalls Jazz Club

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sound Composition: Mixing and Matching Sonic Sources

We're often told how we should develop our sound from a technical standpoint: long tones, breathing, correct embouchure, etc. However, we're rarely instructed on how we should work on our sound from a conceptual standpoint.  And by conceptual,  I'm referring to the aspect of our sound that reveals a personality or voice. For clarification, "personality" and "voice" do not have to necessarily have to mean original.  

How do we compose a sound?

Typically when we think of composition, when think of composing with notes, chords, and rhythms. However, with sound composition,  you're  creating something by combining different types of sound concepts.  And symbolically speaking, a sound concept could be thought of as a color.  

My sound composition is made up of the sound concepts of Wayne Shorter, Steve Lacy, Keith Jarrett, and a dash of Sidney Bechet. And let me add that in no way do I try to clone them. But  I do, however, use their sounds as strong points of reference. This consequently helps me to establish some type of sonic clarity. The more defined our points of sonic reference, the more depth and clarity we hear in our sound's character. 

Skeptics feel this poses the danger of us sounding like a clone. And yes, it is true that many who have been very singular in their approach to sound composition do sound like clones. This kind sort of thing results for two reasons: (1) the player is only drawing from one or two sources, (2) the player has failed to take the most important step, which is to interpret these sound influences in a personal way. 

If it's originality that you're looking for, it should come from the way you put together different sound concepts in an original way, not from trying to create something from thin air.

Often times when we think we have something original, what we actually have is something very bland and without depth. In fact,  unskilled players are probably the most original sounding people I have ever heard--especially if you equate originality with playing things that are unrecognizable. It sounds as the thought I'm being sarcastic, but it's true.

When it comes to sound composition, there are in fact two types of originality: (1) the type originality that comes from cleverly interweaving notes and sounds from disparate sources; and (2) the originality that comes from having few or no points of reference.

Sounding like someone else is not as easily accomplished as we are led to believe. It's rare the somebody's casually doing their thing musically and wake up one day to find that they gave become a clone. Becoming a copy of someone is a very deliberate and conscious effort, and painstakingly tedious. It's not something that happens casually. Trust me.

 So don't let the fear of losing yourself keep you from studying and fully embracing the sound concepts of others.  You probably couldn't do it if you tried.

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