The challenge of language, in today’s musical world, is probably the hardest to overcome. Some composers of the last hundred years have chosen linguistic experimentalism: the quest for an idiom has become the true “artistic” aspect of their research, and crafting their own language coincides with the purpose of composition. At times, this can be liberating, and may pave the way for novel understandings of the musical fact. At times, however, this confines music within the walls of self-referentiality: the composer, proudly, is the only one who can “understand” his or her musical language. In time, this has created a chasm between the larger audience and contemporary music.
There is also a third way: to seek a personal, original language, but to maintain it firmly within the boundaries of what can truly be communicated to the audience. This is the way chosen, among others, by Barry Cockroft.
Cockroft is an Australian saxophonist and composer, whose music has been performed by the thousands throughout the world. As his website proudly proclaims, his works are regularly staged in more than 50 countries and are constantly programmed by many of the greatest saxophone soloists. In turn, he performs worldwide and with major orchestras, and has prompted the creation of new saxophone works by other composers. He commissioned works to 120 of his colleagues, resulting in an impressive output of about 15,000 new publications of contemporary works for the saxophone. This gives the feeling of how keen Cockroft is to promote his instrument, to keep exploring its potential, and to constantly enrich its repertoire with new works written both by himself and by others. It is not experimentalism for experimentalism’s sake, as in other cases, but rather the quest for new artistic forms. In the composer’s own words, his music is “captivating, quirky, and technically demanding”, whilst aiming at a “successful adoption into mainstream repertoire”. His language is neither simplistic nor popular, but “successfully integrates contemporary techniques into well-known genres, structures, and rhythms”. In the statement which best encapsulates his aesthetics, “The combination of familiar sounds with new ideas has allowed audiences of all kinds to appreciate his music”.
Composition has always come spontaneously to Cockroft: indeed, virtually as soon as he could play the saxophone he started composing. His works are born out of his performances and improvisations, and he considers performance, improvisation, and compositions as… “three faces” of the same coin, seeking a complete integration among these three processes.
To this end, a very close relationship with an instrument is foundational. If one’s works spring from one’s performances, frequently this means that they are conceived for the improviser’s own instrument. (The obvious exception is the piano, since many composers write at the piano but later orchestrate the textures thus produced). A distinctive trait of Cockroft’s style is a pronounced tendency to humour and irony. He is inspired by funny events in real life, and holds fast to the advice he received from his teacher Peter Clinch: “If you can’t play fast, play funny!”. Of course Cockroft is more than capable of playing fast, but he does not renounce being funny. Another source of influence for his works is constituted by pieces by other composers which are, at a given time, part of his repertoire. He frankly admits that he cites some of the works that are on his mind and in his fingers when creating his own pieces. Moreover, he considers “composition” as the fixation of the definitive version of his improvisations. He keeps improving and revising the ideas built in his improvisation, until they reach a point of stability and need no further modification: then they turn into “compositions”.
Cockroft’s quest for the best ways to express his musical intuition also comprises the investigation of new processes of sound production; still, he professes that he will “never use an effect for the effects’ sake”. Artistic exploration must never be a narcissistic virtuosity; rather, it is functional to the audience’s experience of music. As Cockroft writes, “The audience comes first in my motivation and they must leave a performance of my music fulfilled after hearing something new within the context of something they already know. I like taking an audience from the known to the unknown, without them realising they are on a journey of discovery”.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
It often happens that the enthusiasm generated by the discovery of a new musical idiom leads a composer to ignore a basic question: how can his or her idea of music be transmitted to the world? The results frequently become a musical language devoid of emotions, so that modern “cultivated” music is enjoyed by a very small number of people.
I was led to the creation of One-Man-Band Show by the recognition, in Cockroft’s compositional gesture, of the right mediation between the need for a novel language, dictated by the principal events characterizing and unavoidably influencing twentieth-century music, and the need to listen to the audience’s viewpoint. The existence of kind of music must be meaningful for both “artists”, the performer and the listener.
Cockroft’s works for solo saxophone spring forth from his deep need to unite the act of performance with that of composition, through moments of improvisation spontaneously arising from practice. A clear example is his first-ever composition. Foreign, a work for solo saxophone, had been created during a study residence in France. As the musician was facing, for the first time, the contemporary repertoire, he felt the need to explore the still-unknown potential of his instrument. This took the form of a research on the possible timbral nuances deriving from the various fingerings, combined with continuing dynamic contrasts and sounds in the highest register.
Cockroft’s quest for new sounds led him, just one year later (in 1994) to the creation of Gorge. Here the saxophone becomes the means for acoustically reproducing electronic sounds, thanks to the repetition of rhythmical cells on terraced dynamic levels. They are repeated in time through the use of circular breathing. This technique allows the performer to play without stopping for breathing. Thus the listener will receive, as time goes by, the sound’s echo, as if the performer were, at the same time, both the origin of sound and the obstacle against which sound bumps.
In 1995, his music changed radically because of his idea of the “One-Man-Band”. A saxophonist must no more be merely a “saxophonist”, since their instrument can be turned into a drum set and perform real solos by energetically hitting the keys; or into an electric bass, through the use of slaps in the low register; or into an electric guitar, by distorting the sound through the use of multiphonics and growls. In Black & Blue, Beat Me, Ku Ku, Bo, Salamanca and Rock Me!, the “One-Man-Band” takes life in all of its form, through the piercing and cutting sounds of the soprano sax, through the power of the tenor sax’s slaps, and through the impetuous energy of the alto sax. Slap Me and Black & Blue are strongly related with each other, since Slap Me was commissioned to the composer by Michael Duke, another Australian saxophonist, who had been very impressed by Black & Blue. The musical protagonists of composition are the blues style, and the saxophone technique of slap tonguing. Black & Blue is the perfect example of Cockroft’s idea that his compositions arise from hilarious situations of daily life. He was demonstrating the saxophone for a group of very small children, two of whom would not listen to anything he was doing. So he played the loudest note he could, and of course silenced them… but then “the little boy turned to the little girl and punched her in the face! Needless to say”, affirms Cockroft, “it was a memorable moment”. Beat Me is conceived as a “sequel or big brother” to Black & Blue and Slap Me. It was the first example among Cockroft’s works requiring the performer to do more than one thing at the same time. These techniques also feature prominently in Rock Me!, simulating the energetic drive of many of the best examples of rock music. Salamanca is built on a captivating ostinato, over which the iridescent sounds of the saxophone harmonics slowly emerge. Gorge was created during a holiday on a houseboat, and is reminiscent of the echoes of Cockroft’s saxophone playing heard among the steep gorges surrounding the channels. Ku Ku merges excerpts from Luciano Berio’s extremely complex and “unfriendly” Sequenza VIIb with melodic elements which are entirely extraneous to Berio’s perspective.
In order to introduce the public to his compositional style, he wrote the collection Zodiac. This is a collection of twelve graded pieces, ranging from the easiest works for beginners to more challenging pieces. Each one is dedicated to one of the Zodiac signs, and the number 12 is frequently employed. Here – albeit in a simplified form – the founding idea remains the same: tile after tile, it takes life as if the generated music were a sudden improvisation. Barry Cockroft creates a true show, of which the performer is, at the same time, the director, performer, and instrument. In this show, the listener – attracted by captivating and known languages, such as those of jazz, blues, funky and rock – can get to know an entirely new reality. Here, what is known is lost in what is unknown, form is lost in improvisation, and the individual is lost in the multitude. This is a true One-Man-Band show!
Marco Mancini © 2022
Born in Foggia in 1998. He began his musical studies under the guidance of M° Loredana Rita Berlantini at the Secondary School “Leonardo Murialdo” in Foggia. He obtained his postgraduate degree in Music with top marks and honours at the Conservatory “Niccolò Piccinni” in Bari under the guidance of M° Valter Nicodemio. In 2012 he was awarded First Prize in the Winds Category at the Torneo Internazionale di Musica (TIM) in Paris. He won prizes also at the following national and international contests: “Premio Nazionale delle Arti-XIII edizione”, “Luigi Nono” in Venaria Reale (TO), “Curci” in Barletta, “Concorso Nazionale di Esecuzione Musicale“ in Riccione (RN), special distinction at the “Società Umanitaria”(2012-2014) in Milan, “Premio Niccolò Piccinni” in Bari, “V. Martina” in Massafra (TA), “D. Sarro” in Trani, “A. Zinetti” in Sanguinetto (VR), “Giulio Rospigliosi” in Lamporecchio (PT), ”A.M.A. Calabria” in Lamezia Terme (CZ), “Mirabello in Musica” in Mirabello Sannitico (CB), “Rovere d’Oro” in San Bartolomeo al Mare (IM). He performed in concerts at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, Teatro Van Westerhout in Mola di Bari, Istituto Pontificio di Musica Sacra in Rome, Amici della Musica in Foggia, in Lucera and in Caserta, “Società Umanitaria” in Milan, Accademia Filarmonica in Rome, French Institute in Naples, Tempietto in Rome. In December 2012 he performed for RAI within a series for young talents from Italian Conservatories. He performed as a soloist with the orchestra of the Conservatory “Umberto Giordano” performing Jacques Ibert’s Chamber Concertino. He attended master courses with Maestros J. M. Londeix, E. Rousseau, M. Marzi, J. Y. Formeau, A. Bornkamp, C. Delangle and O. Murphy. Recently he was awarded first Prize at the “17° Concorso Internazionale di Musica per Giovani Interpreti Città di Chieri”, where he performed an unpublished Concerto by composer Andrea Damiano Cotti con l’Orchestra “Sinfonietta Città di Chieri”.
Saxophonist and composer, Barry Cockcroft’s music has received thousands of performances throughout the world and is played regularly in more than 50 countries. His music is repeatedly programmed by some of the world’s finest musicians.
Barry has been concerto soloist with groups including the United States Navy Band and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and he has performed his composition the ‘Melbourne Concerto’ with groups in Australia, Slovenia, Croatia, Costa Rica and Colombia. He has played with major Australian orchestras for 20 years has been a regular guest with the Malaysian Philharmonic. Barry has appeared at major events including the Melbourne Festival, the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival, the Brisbane Festival and continues to attend international saxophone events throughout the world.
He is a Selmer Artist and a D’addario International Artist (Reserve Reeds) and since 2009 has been a member of the International Saxophone Committee, supporting the triennial World Saxophone Congress.
Barry has given masterclasses at the Paris Conservatoire (France), George Mason University (USA), Trinity Laban Conservatoire (UK) and major universities across Australia. He has adjudicated for The Adolphe Sax International Competition (Belgium), the Gisborne International Music Competition (New Zealand) and the finals of Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards (Australia).
Barry studied in Australia with Dr. Peter Clinch for 5 years and for 2 years in Bordeaux France with saxophonists Jacques Net, Marie-Bernadette Charrier and Jean-Marie Londeix.
Captivating, quirky and technically demanding, Barry’s compositions have seen successful adoption into mainstream repertoire. His music successfully integrates contemporary techniques into well-known genres, structures and rhythms. The combination of familiar sounds with new ideas has allowed audiences of all kinds to appreciate his music.
Since 1996, Barry’s close association with over 120 composers has led to the publication of around 15,000 works. Barry has rallied composers writing the most advanced concert music to remember also the developing players who require a stimulating and original repertoire of their own. Barry encourages musicians to perform not only the newest music, but also the best new music. His own pedagogical books help to guide thousands of developing musicians each year and his 120 published works are available exclusively from Reed Music.
An enthusiastic traveller Barry has visited around 80 countries and continues to compose and perform. He is host of The Barry Sax Show podcast.