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This album documents guitarist Fred Frith and saxophonist John Butcher's first head-to-head encounter in a recording studio, two titans of their instruments playing without overdubs in a single session for remarkable creative and sonic results.

Frith, Fred / John Butcher
The Natural Order

Frith, Fred / John Butcher: The Natural Order (Northern Spy)

Label: Northern Spy    
Released in: USA    

"Guitarist Fred Frith and saxophonist John Butcher are titans within the world of improvised music. Over the last four decades, each of these two men has permanently altered the way in which his instrument is heard: Frith with his (at times literal) deconstruction of the electric guitar, and Butcher with his exploration of the physical properties of sound and extended playing techniques.

Though they've played live together a few times, The Natural Order, recorded in 2009 and mixed in 2012, documents Frith and Butcher's first head-to-head encounter in a recording studio. The album is as pure a document as possible: recorded in a single stretch, with no overdubbing, the 10 tracks appear here in the order of their creation.

Their goals were somewhat different-Frith says he wanted "to see what would happen. To have fun. To deepen the conversation," while Butcher had more specific results in mind: "A thing that's characterised a fair bit of my duo encounters with Fred is working at (for me) high volume. And I really wanted to get into, to go with, the energy of that-but without travelling to some of the overdone places where power often pushes a saxophone."

Indeed, some portions of The Natural Order do get quite loud; "Dance First, Think Later" may remind some listeners of Borbetomagus, while the album's longest track, the 13-minute "Colour of an Eye Half Seen," heads into territory somewhere between free jazz and drone metal. Other, quieter segments, like the middle portion of "Faults of His Feet," or the aptly titled "Butterflies of Vertigo," document the sensitive interplay of two men who've utterly mastered their instruments, yet continually seek to express something new and never before heard.

The Natural Order is as pure a document as possible: recorded in a single stretch, with no overdubbing, the 10 tracks appear here in the order of their creation. Butcher recalls, "It was a morning session, the day after I'd arrived from London. So I was a bit jet-lagged. It was good to be using a studio and engineer (Myles Boisen) I felt comfortable with. (I first went there in '97.) Everything was set up and we could, near enough, just start playing."

Listening to the music for the first time in five years, Frith says, "Recording and performance are so different to experience. In this case I can identify moments of discovery and self-discovery in the exchange that are really exciting to revisit. I think we both adjusted our vocabularies to accommodate what we were hearing, and did so in a spirit of absolute openness and freedom. Which is the way it's supposed to be."

The Natural Order is the perfect title for this album, which captures a single hour of unmediated interaction between two restless, creative spirits determined to make every moment with their respective instruments count. It's not jazz, it's not rock, it's not noise-it's pure music, the product of two men in one place at one time, unique and unrepeatable."-Northern Spy

"Though the point of reference for many remains the iconic band Henry Cow, which he co-founded in 1968 and which broke up more than 30 years ago, Fred Frith has never really stood still for an instant.

In bands such as Art Bears, Massacre, Skeleton Crew, Keep the Dog, Tense Serenity, the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, Eye to Ear, and most recently Cosa Brava, he has always held true to his roots in rock and folk music, while exploring influences that range from the literary works of Eduardo Galeano to the art installations of Cornelia Parker.

The release of the seminal Guitar Solos in 1974 enabled him to simultaneously carve out a place for himself in the international improvised music scene, not only as an acclaimed solo performer but in the company of artists as diverse as Han Bennink, Chris Cutler, Jean-Pierre Drouet, Evelyn Glennie, Ikue Mori, Louis Sclavis, Stevie Wishart, Wu Fei, Camel Zekri, John Zorn, and scores of others.

He has also developed a personal compositional language in works written for Arditti Quartet, Asko Ensemble, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Ensemble Modern, Concerto Köln, and ROVA Sax Quartet, for example. Fred has been active as a composer for dance since the early 1980s, working with choreographers Bebe Miller, François Verret, and especially long-time collaborator and friend Amanda Miller, with whom he has created a compelling body of work over the last twenty years.

His film soundtracks (for award-winning films like Thomas Riedelsheimer's Rivers and Tides and Touch the Sound, Peter Mettler's Gambling, Gods, and LSD, and Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow's Thirst, to name a few) won him a lifetime achievement award from Prague's "Music on Film, Film on Music" Festival (MOFFOM) in 2007. The following year he received Italy's Demetrio Stratos Prize (previously given to Diamanda Galas and Meredith Monk) for his life's work in experimental music, and in 2010 was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Huddersfield in his home county of Yorkshire.

Fred currently teaches in the Music Department at Mills College in Oakland, California (renowned for over fifty years as the epicenter of the American experimental tradition), and in the Musik Akademie in Basel, Switzerland."

-Fred Frith Website (

"John Butcher's work ranges through improvisation, his own compositions, multitracked pieces and explorations with feedback and extreme acoustics.Originally a physicist, he left academia in '82, and has since collaborated with hundreds of musicians - Derek Bailey, John Tilbury, John Stevens, The EX, Akio Suzuki, Gerry Hemingway, Polwechsel, Gino Robair, Rhodri Davies, Okkyung Lee, John Edwards, Toshi Nakamura, Paul Lovens, Eddie Prevost, Mark Sanders, Christian Marclay, Otomo Yoshihide, Phil Minton, and Andy Moor - to name a few.

He is well known as a solo performer who attempts to engage with the uniqueness of place. Resonant Spaces is a collection of site-specific performances collected during a tour of unusual locations in Scotland and the Orkney Islands.His first solo album, Thirteen Friendly Numbers, includes compositions for multitracked saxophones, whilst later solo CDs focus on live performance, composition, amplification and saxophone-controlled feedback.

HCMF has twice commissioned him to compose for his own large ensembles. Other commissions include for Elision (Australia), the Rova (USA) & Quasar (Canada) Saxophone Quartets, reconstructed Futurist Intonarumori (USA), "Tarab Cuts" (based on pre-WWII Arabic recordings, and shortlisted for the 2014 British Composer's Award) and "Good Liquor .." for the London Sinfonietta. In 2011 he received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists.

Recent groupings include The Apophonics with Robair and Edwards, Anemone with Peter Evans, Plume with Tony Buck & Magda Mayas and a trio with Okkyung Lee & Mark Sanders.Butcher values playing in occasional encounters - ranging from large groups such as Butch Morris' London Skyscraper and the EX Orkestra, to duo concerts with David Toop, Kevin Drumm, Claudia Binder, Paal Nilssen-Love, Thomas Lehn, Fred Frith, Keiji Haino, Ute Kangeisser, Matthew Shipp and Yuji Takahashi."

-John Butcher Website (

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
European Improv, Free Jazz & Related
Frith, Fred
John Butcher
Guitarists, &c.
Recordings by or featuring Reed & Wind Players
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Shipping Weight: 3.00 units

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Product Information:

UPC: 703610875449

Label: Northern Spy
Catalog ID: NS 060
Squidco Product Code: 19768

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2014
Country: USA
Packaging: Digipack
Recorded at Guerilla Recordings in Oakland, California on October 11th, 2009 by Myles Boison.


Fred Frith-electric guitar

John Butcher-soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone

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Track Listing:

1. That Unforgettable Line 2:34

2. Delirium Perhaps 3:46

3. Dance First, Think Later 3:30

4. Faults of His Feet 6:29

5. Colour of an Eye Half Seen 13:31

6. Turning Away in Time 3:02

7. The Welts, the Squeaks, the Belts, the Shrieks 3:05

8. Butterflies of Vertigo 4:38

9. Be Again, Be Again 5:30

10. Accommodating the Mess 8:56

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