February 16th, 2014 |  Published in Blog

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Tarab Cuts is a new concert-length work by John Butcher working with Mark Sanders, combining composition and improvisation layered over 78rpm archival recordings of traditional Sufi music.

John Butcher – composition, saxophones, sound files, feedback

Mark Sanders – drums

“In Arab culture, the merger between music and emotional transformation is epitomized by he concept of tarab, which may not have an exact equivalent in Western languages” [1]

In 2011, John Butcher was commissioned by Performa to compose a 15 minute piece inspired by this concept. This was for part of the 5-hour performance, Visiting Tarab, conceived and programmed by the Lebanese musician Tarek Atoui as a modern day response to the classical Arabic music in the enormous private collection (7000 78s dating from 1903-1950) of Kamal Kassar in Beirut.

Butcher wrote Tarab Cuts for soprano and tenor saxophones, plus a multitracked recording derived from some of these shellacs. The live playback reworked elements of solo ney, oud, violin and Sufi drumming and singing. He has performed this piece as part of Atoui’s project, in New York, Sharjah (UAE), The Serpentine Gallery (London) and as a separate piece at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Out Of The Machine have now commissioned Butcher to expand the work into a full concert presentation, and he has invited drummer Mark Sanders to join him.

The notion of tarab is rooted in a pre-1930s repertoire of Arabic classical music, largely thought to be thereafter diluted and diminished (although it has been argued [2] that it’s essence remains alive in Egyptian Sufi chant). Tarab Cuts takes its inspiration from these qualities, but is not an attempt to copy this music. It is an interaction across decades and cultures that throws an intriguing light on the contemporary musical practice of Butcher and Sanders. A meeting of distant voices with their own, in pursuit of both common and unfamiliar ground.

Sanders’ and Butcher’s paths have been crossing for almost 25 years. In 1993 they performed and recorded in Steve Beresfrod’s sextet, Fish of the Week – and in 2011 began working on Christian Marclay’s Everyday.
Recent collaboration has mainly been in duo – and two live CDs have resulted. Their duo is represented on two CDs; Daylight, on Emanem; and Treader Duos, on Treader.


[1] The Culture and Artistry of Tarab, Dr. A. J. Racy.

[2] Tarab in the Mystic Sufi Chant of Egypt, Michael Frishkpf

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February 16th, 2014 | by | Published in Blog