John Butcher

John Butcher's own site at is also available

Photograph copyright Brad Winter, Portland, Oregon, 2001.

Audio samples

Six mp3 John Butcher audio samples are available, including one piece unavailable from anywhere else.

QuickTime video samples

Other photographs

Photographs copyright Susan O'Connor; click on a thumbnail below for a larger image:

A range of other photographs can also be viewed by consulting the two full text articles on John Butcher by Rhodri Davies and Jon Morgan.


John Butcher lives in London and has played the saxophone for about 25 years. He began at Surrey university where he was studying physics. Here, he played in a number of jazz groups with pianist Chris Burn and first participated in group improvisation via some of Stockhausen's so-called 'intuitive' pieces. On moving to London, to begin a Ph.D on the theoretical properties of charmed quarks, his musical activities included a stint at Sadler's Wells Theatre (with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre), tours with the New Arts Consort, concerts with Burn's BBC-award winning big band, and a jazz quartet residency at the White Hart, Drury Lane. Since leaving academia in 1982 he has focused on improvisation and 'new' music, and his playing now ranges through free improvisation, various structurings, his own compositions, multitracked saxophone pieces, work with pre-recorded tape, and also live electronics. He has toured and broadcast throughout Europe and North America, and was featured, playing solo, in the BBC TV programme Date with an artist.

In the early 80s Butcher and Burn rehearsed and ran monthly concert at the Workers' Music Association in Notting Hill Gate. In 1984 they released their first LP Fonetiks, and also played and broadcast in Jon Corbett's Freelance (with Elton Dean and Joe Gallivan). The long term trio, with John Russell and Phil Durrant, formed in 1984 and has released a studio LP Conceits and two live CDs, Concert moves and The scenic route. Conceits was the first LP on Acta Records, a label Butcher continues to run.

This trio was joined in 1988 by Paul Lovens and Radu Malfatti to form News from the Shed. Embers (with Jim Denley, Marcio Mattos and Chris Burn) formed in 1986. Various ad-hoc work in the 80s included a Rome concert in a soprano 4-tet (with Evan Parker, Trevor Watts and Lol Coxhill) and a DDR tour with Alan Tomlinson.

Butcher continues to work with Burn in the group Ensemble (an evolution from the London Improvising Ensemble of 1985), which performs structured improvisations. His pieces Funforall, no stops only commas, and Southern Samba a go-go have been recorded on the Ensemble CDs Cultural baggage, Navigations and The Place 1991.

Other semi-compositional ideas appear in the 4 saxophone multitracked pieces on the 1992 solo CD release, Thirteen friendly numbers. Since then solo concerts have become a particular project. These sometimes include short pieces for improvisation plus multitracked saxophone on tape. One such piece, Shrinkdown, is on the 1996 solo release, London and Cologne. A further solo release, Fixations (14) collects live recordings from the USA and Europe over a four year period to 2000. The most recent solo CD, Invisible Ear, develops an ongoing exploration on close-miking and amplification/feedback possibilities.

Butcher has had a fruitful musical relationship with two singers: Vanessa Mackness whom he first performed with on Derek Bailey's 1990 London Company Week, and Phil Minton. Apples of Gomorrah is his recent duo CD with Minton, and other regular groups include a trio with German guitarist Erhard Hirt and Minton's own quartet with Veryan Weston and Roger Turner. This quartet has been playing and evolving Mouthful of ecstasy - based around texts from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake - for almost 10 years (the book took 17).

In 1991 he formed Frisque Concordance with Georg Gräwe, Martin Blume and Hans Schneider, and occasional projects still occur with Blume - most recently a trio with Wilbert de Joode. In 1992 Butcher joined what became the final version of John Steven's Spontaneous Music Ensemble; a trio with guitarist Roger Smith. A new distance contains their performance at the 1993 LMC Festival - the group's last recorded concert.

Opportunities to play with Derek Bailey have always been a pleasure, and range through duos, Company events, a trio with Orren Marshall and various ad hoc groupings. Two live duos with Bailey appear on Vortices and angels, along with duos with harpist Rhodri Davies.

Electronic music was an early influence on Butcher's approach to saxophone playing, and has become explicit in his electromanipulation duo with Phil Durrant. This has released Secret measures and Requests and antisongs. Some commentators have described his wind trio with Axel Dörner and Xavier Charles as electronic music by acoustic instruments. The Contest of pleasures records their performance at the 2000 Mulhouse Festival.

Since first visiting the US and Canada in 1994, various musical connections have developed with North American musicians. A number of duos, including with Michael Zerang, Gino Robair and Fred Lonberg-Holm, are presented on Music on seven occasions, whilst his trio with Robair and Matthew Sperry debuted on 12 Milagritos. Duos with drummers seem to have proliferated recently, and include Points, snags and windings (with Dylan van der Schyff), Shooters and bowlers (with Gerry Hemingway), and a session with Steve Noble which can be heard in Real Audio at the BBC web site.

In 1997 Butcher joined the Austrian new music group Polwechsel. The group works with composition and improvisation and has also collaborated and recorded with laptop player Christian Fennez. Thermal is a trio with Andy Moor (of the EX) and Thomas Lehn, and lies at the other end of the dynamic spectrum to Polwechsel.

For the last few years, Butcher has worked in duo with bassist John Edwards, and they are sometimes joined by Italian drummer Fabrizio Spera. Following a similar pattern, his duo with Steve Beresford was recently joined by Paul Lovens for a concert in Graz.

Some non performance work in 2003 included a commission to write a piece (The Knot Gallery) for the Rova Saxophone quartet, and research at STEIM, with Bill Hsu, in computer recognition of saxophone timbres.

As is the case for most improvisers, a lot of music has been made in occasional, sometimes once-only groupings. These include: Derek Bailey's Company (90, 92, 95); Fred van Hove's t'nonet; Gräwe's GrubenKlangOrchester; Radu Malfatti's Ohrkiste; Steve Beresford's Orchestra, the EX Orkestra, and Butch Morris' London Skyscraper. In addition he has played in duo with musicians as varied as Fred Frith, Jin Hi Kim, Otomo Yoshihide, Kaffe Matthews, Carlos Zingaro, Joe Morris, Jeffrey Allport, Veryan Weston, Paul Lovens, Toshimaru Nakimura and Martin Klapper.


Further information

Articles about/interviews with John Butcher
Clark, Philip (2008), Between thought and expression. The wire, no. 289, (March), pp. 28-33.
Couldry, Nick (1993), Freedom and Reason. Rubberneck, no. 13, (May), pp. 40-46.
Corbett, John (1994), Quick reeds from Europe. Option, no 55, (March/April), pp. 44-48.
Davies, Rhodri (2001). Inside the narrative. Avant, (March), pp. 34-35. The full text of this article can be read on this site.
Day, Charles (2000). From quarks to squawks. Physics today, (April), pp. 57-58.
Jung, Fred (2001). A fireside chat with John Butcher. Jazz weekly. Full text available from Millroth, Thomas (1999), Oanade akustiska möten och möjligheter. Gränslöst, no. 1/99, (Mars), pp. 28-32. In Swedish.
Morgan, Jon (1998), News from the shed: John Butcher. Coda, no. 278, (March/April), pp. 18-20. The full text of this interview can be read on this site.
Pfleiderer, Martin (1996/97), Saxophonic discoveries. Jazzthetik, no 12/1, (Dec/Jan), pp. 44-49.
Pfleiderer, Martin (2000), Herausforderung. MusikTexte, (November), pp. 57-62.
Prestianni, Sam (2001). Deep cuts. Jazziz, (July), pp. 24-25.
Raap (1998), John Butcher. Bronx Cheer, no. 4, (Summer).
Renaud, Philippe (2001). John Butcher. Improjazz, no. 76, (June), pp. 4-7
Rubolino, Frank (2002). John Butcher solo concert and interview, Houston TX, 20 March 2002. One final note, 10, Spring. The full text is available at:
Rusch, Bob (1998), John Butcher interview. Cadence, vol. 24, no. 5, (May), pp. 13-19.
Shoemaker, Bill (2000). Solo sax flights. Jazz times, (June), p. 55.
Warburton, Dan (2001). Interview with John Butcher. Paristransatlantic, March 2001. The full text is available at:

Articles by John Butcher
Butcher, John (1997), Freedom, improvisation - and bossing people about. Resonance, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 26-27.
Butcher, John (1998), Learning the weight of your ingredients. Rubberneck, no. 27, pp. 25-27.
Butcher, John (1998), Unplanned relationships. Resonance, vol. 6, no. 2, (July), p. 30.


1984, Fonetiks, Bead 24.
1987, Conceits, Acta 1.
1987/1992, Conceits, Emanem 5036. Re-issue of Acta 1 with additional material.
1988, Embers live, Acta 3.
1988, Bandes original du journal de Spirou, nato 1715/1774. Compilation album: one track with Steve Beresford.
1989, News from the shed, Acta 4.
1989, News from the shed, Emanem 4121. Re-issue of Acta 4 with additional material.
1990, Cultural baggage, Acta 5.
1991, Thirteen friendly numbers, Acta 6.
1991, Thirteen friendly numbers, Unsounds U07; re-issue of Acta 6.
1991, The Place 1991, Emanem 4056. Chris Burn Ensemble.
1991/1992, Concert moves, Random Acoustics RA 011. Butcher/Durrant/Russell.
1992, The same elephant, These 7 CD. Duo with Steve Beresford on a compilation CD.
1992, Spellings, Random Acoustics RA 001.
1992, Flavours, fragments, ITM Classics 950014.
1992, Ohrkiste, ITM Classics 950013. Radu Malfatti.
1993, Fish of the week, Scatter 05:CD. Steve Beresford Group.
1993, Apollo and Marsyas, Apollo Records ACD 090217/8. Trio track of Butcher/Minton/Hirt on compilation CD.
1994, Respiritus, Incus CD21.
1994, A new distance, Acta 8. Spontaneous Music Ensemble.
1994, Spellings, Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf. Frisque Concordance track on compilation CD.
1995, A slightly upgunned selection, Tomorrow's Classics TOCD 6004. With Chris Burn, Martin Klapper and Jindrich Biskup.
1994/1995/1996, London and Cologne, Rastascan BRD 026. Live solo recordings.
1995, Two concerts, FMP OWN 90006. Minton Butcher Hirt.
1995, Trio playing, Incus CD28. Derek Bailey/John Butcher/Oren Marshall.
1996, Mouthful of ecstasy, Victo cd041. Phil Minton Quartet.
1996, Suite for B... city, FMP CD 88. t'Nonet Fred Van Hove.
1996/1997/1998, Music on seven occasions, Meniscus MNSCS004. Selected duos and solos.
1997, Navigations, Acta 12. Chris Burn's Ensemble.
1997, Tinfizzer, Thoofa 1. One track on Kev Hopper CD.
1997, Secret measures, Wobbly Rail WOB 006. Duo with Phil Durrant, electronic manipulation.
1997, Memory constant, Unknown public 10. Solo on a compilation CD.
1997, Tangle, Meniscus MNSCS003. One trio track on Gino Robair CD.
1998, Composition No. 30: Compilation III, Bruce's Fingers BF 27.
1998, The scenic route, Emanem 4029. Butcher/Durrant/Russell.
1998, Three scenes for five tenors, RES 6.2CD. One track on compilation CD.
1998, Polwechsel 2, hat[now]ART 112. With Werner Dafeldecker/Burkhard Stangl/Michael Moser.
1998, 12 milagritos, Spool SPL 109/Line 9. Butcher/Robair/Sperry.
1998, Light's view, nuscope recordings 1004. Butcher/Graewe duo.
1999, Proceedings, Emanem 4201. London Improvisers Orchestra.
1999, Hit and run, FMP CD 116. Dunmall with Edwards with Butcher.
1999, Apples of Gomorrah, GROB 429. Butcher/Minton duo.
1999, Sextessense: a tribute to John Stevens and the SME, Balance Point Acoustics BPA 011. Aaron Bennet/Jerome Bryerton/John Butcher/Danielle DeGruttola/Henry Kaiser/Damon Smith.
2000, Scrutables, Weight of Wax WOW 04. Derek Bailey/John Butcher/Gino Robair.
2000, Requests and antisongs, Erstwhile 007. Electromanipulation duo with Phil Durrant.
2000, Liverpool (Bluecoat) concert, Limited Sedition LSO26. Duo with Gino Robair.
2000, Guerrilla mosaics, 482 Music 482-1013. John Butcher/Miya Masaoka/Gino Robair.
1997/2000, Fixations (14), Emanem 4045. Solo.
2000, The hearing continues..., Emanem 4203. London Improvisers Orchestra.
2000, Relay eight, 2:13 Music CD011.
2000, Vortices and angels, Emanem 4049. Duos with Derek Bailey and Rhodri Davies.
2000, The contest of pleasures, Potlatch P201. Butcher/Charles/Dörner.
2000, Points, snags and windings, Meniscus MNSCS010. Duo with Dylan van der Schyff.
2000, The first two gigs, Emanem 4063. Burn/Butcher/Davies/Edwards.
2000, Shooters and bowlers, Red Toucan RT 9318. Duo with Gerry Hemingway.
2000, Intentions, nuscope recordings 1011. Butcher/Durrant/Lee.
2000, The All Angels concerts, Emanem 4209. Butcher/Hutchinson duo on compilation 2-CD.
2000/01, Polwechsel 3, Durian 016-2. Polwechsel.
2001, Tincture, Musica Genera mg 004. Butcher/Lonberg-Holm/Zerang.
2001, Freedom of the city 2001: large groups, Emanem 4206. London Improvisers Orchestra.
2001, New Oakland burr, Rastascan BRD051. Duo with Gino Robair.
2001, Multitracks, Unreleased mp3 recorded August 2001.
2001, Freedom of the city 2001: small groups, Emanem 4205.
2001, Horizontals white, Emanem 4080. Chris Burn Ensemble.
2001, Grain, DotDotDot Music 003. One (very) short solo track on this compilation.
2001, Songs, between the lines btl 024. Gerry Hemingway.
2001, Thermal, Unsounds U04. Moore/Lehn/Butcher.
2001, Concentric, Clean Feed CF067CD. John Butcher/Paal Nilssen-Love.
2001, Clearings, ART.CapuccinoNet ART 008. Butcher/Irmer/Fernández
2001/2002, Optic, Emanem 4089. John Butcher/John Edwards duo.
2002, Wrapped islands, Erstwhile 023. Polwechsel/Fennesz.
1999; 2002, Invisible ear, Fringes 12. Solos with close miking, multitracking, etc.
1999; 2002, Invisible ear, Weight of Wax 03. Re-issue in 2010 of Fringes CD.
2002, Freedom of the city 2002, Emanem 4090. London Improvisers Orchestra.
2002, Ensemble at Musica Genera 2002, Musica Genera mg006. Chris Burn's Ensemble.
2002, Equation, Spool SPF303/FIELD 3. John Butcher/Mike Hansen/Tomasz Krakowiak.
2002, Cavern with nightlife, Weight of Wax WOW 01. Solo + duo with Toshimaru Nakamura.
2002/3, The big misunderstanding between hertz and megahertz, Potlatch P106. Butcher/Kurzmann).
2003, I shall become a bat, QBICO 18. Duo with Steve Beresford on one side of LP.
2003, Gathering, Spool SPF305/FIELD 5. Smash and Teeny featuring John Butcher.
2003, Freedom of the city 2003: small groups, Emanem 4212.
2003, Responses, reproduction & reality: freedom of the city 2003-4, Emanem 4110. London Improvisers Orchestra.
2003, Improvisations for George Riste, psi 08.06. London Improvisers Orchestra.
2003/2004, HHHH, Unsounds U10. The Cortet.
2004, Vario-41, Edition Explico 14. Baltschun/Butcher/Christmann/Griener.
2004, Freedom of the city 2004: small groups, Emanem 4215.
2005, Reed solos, Matchless MRCD63. Horn_bill: one solo on this compilation set.
2005, Interworks, Matchless MRCD66. Butcher/Prévost.
2005, Buffalo pearl, Auricle Records AUR-07. Duo with Gerry Hemingway.
2005, Albi days, Potlatch P205. The contest of pleasures (Butcher/Charles/Dörner).
2005, Archives of the North, hatOLOGY 633. Polwechsel.
2005, Spin networks, psi 07.05. fORCH.
2005, Equals, psi 08.02. FURT plus.
2006, Slur, Emanem 4140. Phil Minton Quartet.
2006, Strokes, Clean Feed CF082CD. Sten Sandell Trio + John Butcher.
2006, Vario-44, Edition Explico 15. John Butcher/Roger Turner/John Russell/Thomas Lehn/Dorothea Schürch/Günter Christmann.
2004/2006, The geometry of sentiment, Emanem 4142. Solo.
2006, Tempestuous, Another timbre at01. The contest of pleasures (Butcher/Charles/Dörner).
2006, Resonant spaces, Confront 17.
2007, Way out Northwest, Drip Audio DA00272. Butcher/Muller/van der Schyff.
2007, Field, hatOLOGY 672. Polwechsel/John Tilbury.
2007/2011, Plume, unsounds 35u. John Butcher/Tony Buck/Magda Mayas/Burkhard Stangl.
2008, Treader duos, Treader TRD013. John Butcher/Mark Sanders + Alex Ward/Roger Turner + John Tchicai/Tony Marsh.
2008, Trinity, Matchless MRCD71. AMM/John Butcher.
2008, A brush with dignity, Clean Feed CF154CD. Weightless.
2008, The white spot, Relative Pitch Records RPR1006. Way Out Northwest.
2008, somethingtobesaid, Weight of Wax WOW 02. John Butcher Group.
2008, The catastrophe of minimalism, Balance Point Acoustics bpa017. John Butcher/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter
2008, Under the roof, Nuscope Recordings CD1023. John Butcher/Claudia Ulla Binder.
2008/9, Carliol, ftarri-220. John Butcher/Rhodri Davies.
2009, Quintet, Sextet, Duos, Otoroku 009. Otomo Yoshihide/Sachiko M/Evan Parker/Tony Marsh/John Edwards/John Butcher.
2009, Sounding music, Matchless MRCD77. AMM.
2009, Apophenia, Rastascan BRD065. Duo with Gino Robair.
2009, The natural order, Northern Spy Records NS 060. Duo with Fred Frith.
2010, Empire, NoBusiness Records NBLP37. Red Trio + John Butcher.
2010, At Oto, Fataka 2. Duo with Matthew Shipp.
2010/11, Daylight, Emanem 4024. Duo with Mark Sanders.
2010/11, Bell trove spools, Northern Spy Records NSCD 032. Solo.
2011, Winter gardens, Kukuruku Recordings LP. Solo.
2011, The Laycock duos, Comprovise 201304. Christian Asplund.
2011, Meetings with remarkable saxophonists volume 2, Matchless MRCD83. John Butcher/Guillaume Viltard/Eddie Prévost.
2012, On air, Weight of Wax WOW 05. The Apophonics.
2012, Shortening distance, L'Innomable. John Butcher/Leonel Kaplan/Christof Kurzmann.
2012, Spukhafte Fernwirkung, Treader TRD020. fORCH/FURT.
2012, Live at Cafe OTO - 'And so say all of us', Ex 142V. The Ex plus guests.
2013, Live in Morden Tower, mikroton cd 29. Common Objects.
2013, Experiments with a leaf, unsounds 48u. Andy Moor/John Butcher.
2013, Nigemizu, Uchimizu 01. Solo.
2015, Cold duck, Monotype Records Mono 896. S4: John Butcher/Christian Kobi/Hans Koch/Urs Leimgruber.
2015, So beautiful, it starts to rain, Clean Feed CF390CD. Duo with Ståle Liavik Solberg.
2016, Last dream of the morning, Relative Pitch Records RPR1056. John Butcher/John Edwards/Mark Sanders.
Acknowledgements mp3 clips Bibliography Home page
Distributors and Retail outlets Full text articles/interviews Links to related sites
Non-European improvisors Organisations Scope of this site
Upcoming concerts Video clips What's new