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I am a fourth year saxophone major who is absolutely in love with extended technique and Colin Stetson. It is my dream to be able to play "The Stars in his head," this year if possible so I can perform it. It is such an insane cluster of extended techniques that I have no idea where to begin with transcribing, does anyone have a transcription of this or an efficient method of doing so?
Thanks
 

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Why not just get in touch with him directly and see if you can get a lesson with him in Montreal - or wherever he might be touring?
 

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Would starting with the first note and working very slowly to the last note be a viable option?
That's how my daughter transcribed a Gerry Mulligan solo when she was a sophmore in high school.
Maybe things have changed a lot since then, but I wouldn't know.
 

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And, my apologies if you already know, but he does use mics to get the sound of the pads, and he wears one around his neck for his screaming to come through. I would say a fair amount of time with a slow down program, that can slow down but not alter the pitch will be your friend. I would not think this will be incredibly difficult especially because the majority of the notes are mid range, and when they are slightly high, they're just overtones. So the circular breathing will not be extremely difficult with the lack of range. The key will be to keep a good constant tempo, although Stetson is certainly not constant with his tempo. I love his music as well, I personally enjoy the righteous wrath of an honorable man quite a bit. Good luck with your quest!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Why not just get in touch with him directly and see if you can get a lesson with him in Montreal - or wherever he might be touring?
I have contacted him but never heard anything back. I made sure to mention he was a massive influence to me and that I appreciated what he's been able to transform the saxophone into, but never heard anything back sadly. I'll give it another try, thanks for the reply!
 

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Maiaihii, I do know about his microphone atmosphere, I think he uses 24 mics in his average recording, but I have seen him play a 3am single microphone performance in a tunnel in Montreal. Somehow it's as close to the recording as that video cameras microphone will allow in terms of quality. Those are good suggestions for how to approach a normal transcription, but finding the overtones as well as the fingerings seems extremely difficult, could you possibly elaborate on how to approach finding these fingerings and overtones?
 

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In addition to overtones, multiphonics are essential part of nearly every Colin Stetson piece that I've heard. So some guidance with them might be helpfull. I do not know about other books, but I have one by Daniel Kientzy that has quite a lot of fingerings for different multiphonics for different saxophones (sopranino,soprano,alto,tenor,baritone).

this is the book i'm talking about: http://www.amazon.com/LES-SONS-MULTIPLES-AUX-SAXOPHONES/dp/B001C0WW80/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1
 

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I'm also a big fan of what he does and I've worked a bit on that tune. Not enough to be able to really play it, my circular breathing chops aren't so good. But I've played around with it enough to get a decent idea of what is involved. Before trying to think about what to transcribe, I would ask do you really need to write it down? People can mean many things when they use the word. If you had to, for college or whatever, I'd use at least two staves.

The most obvious part of the thing is the notes he fingers on the tenor. It's simple stuff, but the tuning is pretty sharp on the album version, which can lead to confusion. (perhaps as a result of recording straight to tape? Or maybe it was a really hot room) In any case, I'm pretty certain the first few notes are (transposed) :space3::line2: b:line1: The alternative, a semitone sharper, would mean that for parts of it you'd be holding low C# open for a long time while moving other fingers, not a nice thing to do on a Conn 10M, which he plays. I've tried!

While he plays these finger patterns, he keeps a pretty steady embouchure and throat voicing, not articulating or voicing any of the three notes as you would usually. I doubt he ever uses the octave key. In the first 13 seconds or so of the album version, you can hear him voice mostly the fundamentals, with a pretty loose jazz embouchure. If you're a classical player, you're going to have a hard time doing it. I have no idea where you're at as a player so some of this advice is pretty general and possibly a bit too simple. Anyway if you haven't done it already it would be a great idea to practice voicing overtones, slurring between them with no tongue. Particularly for Stetson's stuff it would be good to practice voicing two or more overtones at once, especially with big intervals between them.

He bases quite a lot of his pieces on this idea - a simple repeating pattern, and then voicing the higher overtones, making a melody out of them. I guess it would be best to notate these melodies, and the general area where he's voicing them (as there might be many pitches) on a separate stave to the one with the repeating patterns. Possibly in the same way that you would write a cluster for piano? On the "patterns" stave I would also notate the parts where he tongues notes, such as at 1.35 on the album version. The final part of the puzzle is the singing. Should be simple enough to write it on a third stave, I figure.

Finally I think it's important to mention what a big part the engineering and production has in the whole thing. It's truly incredible what they did with the album, but some parts are pretty much impossible to do acoustically. First of all there's the recording itself - up to 24 mics were used at one time, and a lot of the stuff that happens on this track is just panning and mixing. The effect is that you feel like you're moving to different places around the room in time. Secondly there's tons of reverb on it. He sounds a lot different when recorded in a dry room with less microphones, like here. It's still pretty incredible all the same. I read somewhere that they ran some mics hot, as in enough gain to cause distortion. I think this also plays a big part in the sound - while it's an old school "effect" it's still a far cry from hearing him in a recording booth close up. You can hear it at its most pronounced starting at around 3.40 and then when it drops off after the big climax at 4.08.

Anyway, I hope that was clear enough, I'm still coming to terms with what he's doing on the instrument myself. I'd love to hear some better insights into it too! I should also mention that as far as I know none of the techniques he uses are completely new. He mentions this in interviews himself. He borrows a lot from the free jazz tradition, if there's such a thing, as you probably well know! He is the first to take the techniques and really play songs, with simple melodies, harmonies, and forms, as far as I know.
 

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In addition to overtones, multiphonics are essential part of nearly every Colin Stetson piece that I've heard. So some guidance with them might be helpfull. I do not know about other books, but I have one by Daniel Kientzy that has quite a lot of fingerings for different multiphonics for different saxophones (sopranino,soprano,alto,tenor,baritone).

this is the book i'm talking about: http://www.amazon.com/LES-SONS-MULTIPLES-AUX-SAXOPHONES/dp/B001C0WW80/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1
Matti, this looks like an incredible book, thanks! Have you heard about this one? It's an interesting approach to overtones I haven't seen elsewhere: http://www.scribd.com/doc/80153091/armonicos-saxofon
 

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I have found in a lot of watching him play, he will do the repeated playing and do the overtones on that same idea, no transition. He will change patterns, but he will do the overtones on the same pattern (this is so he can keep the sound of the pads hitting in the lower register while quietly playing the overtones).
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I'm also a big fan of what he does and I've worked a bit on that tune. Not enough to be able to really play it, my circular breathing chops aren't so good. But I've played around with it enough to get a decent idea of what is involved. Before trying to think about what to transcribe, I would ask do you really need to write it down? People can mean many things when they use the word. If you had to, for college or whatever...."

Very helpful and extremely thorough, thank you very much. And you're right, all I meant for transcribing was just being able to figure out the notes, I'm not sure I'd necessarily write it down.

I also contacted Colin, but sadly he had not done any transcriptions nor did he plan on doing them but he gave me this:

"One bit of info, though, each of these pieces is written and performed on specific instruments. That is to say, if I was to play Judges, say, on a make and model of bass saxophone different than the one that I wrote it on, the overtones (and some of the key mechanisms) would potentially not be the same, and so the music would be impossible to recreate, as it is all based in overtone and multiphonics.
Again, thanks for listening and good luck!"

I'm not giving up on this piece, despite that piece of information, I just thought it was something worth sharing that I did not know before.

I also knew Colin didn't invent the techniques, but I had never cared about them before. Multi phonics sounded like crap to me until I heard them in this way.

I will look into the books you and MattiL suggested.

Thanks everyone,
Keep suggestions coming if you have them,
Mike
 

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Oh yeah, one more thing - those books are both great but as far as I can tell there's no fingered multiphonics in "Stars in his head" like "LES SONS MULTIPLES AUX SAXOPHONES" is all about. I mean the kind where you would play a note and then open a key, such as low Bb without the low C key. The other book, by Pedro Iturralde, I'm still trying to understand, as it's only available in Spanish. But a lot of it is concerned with finding the best altissimo and alternate fingerings for notes, and where they come from.

The book that would be most beneficial, if you don't have it already, is "Top Tones" by Sigurd Rascher, or perhaps "Voicing" by Donald Sinta, (which I still need to check out.) But the important thing is to have a great command of the overtone series. Those books will probably be enough for a lifetime, there's no end to the practice of them. The start of the first track, "Awake on foreign shores" is a great example of what can be done just on a low Bb. Put it up an octave with software and you've got roughly what's possible on a tenor. It's all on the Bb until at 0.48, when he plays the Bb with some high overtones, slurs up an octave, and then plays a multiphonic, I think it's low Bb with low C# open. Only possible on an older horn that doesn't have selmer style bell keys of course.

Edit: Looks like I was wrong about that one, since checking this out:


He doesn't seem to be opening the C# at all, and also when I said he slurs up the octave, he seems to open the G key in the left hand to force the harmonic. There might be some kind of multiphonic where he's opening a key in his right hand maybe?
 
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