Tarab Cuts

Dutch premiere

John Butcher, Mark Sanders

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Last year, the virtuoso saxophonist John Butcher performed at the Holland Festival in Christian Marclay’s Everyday. This year he will stage his own production in Amsterdam, together with drummer Mark Sanders. The title of the show, Tarab Cuts, refers to an Arab concept which describes to the merger between music and emotional transformation. Butcher and Sanders combine their own compositions and improvisations with reworked multi-track recordings of classical Arabic and traditional Sufi music which Butcher took from a multitude of 78 rpm records from the early to mid 1900’s. The result is an exciting encounter of two very different worlds, an adventurous exploration of new terrain.
Programme Icoon

‘John Butcher and Mark Sanders delivered a terrific, fully engrossing set of the first order.’

The Jazz Man over Freedom of the City (2010)

Background information

In 2011, John Butcher was commissioned by the curators of New York’s live-art biennial Performa to compose a 15 minute piece inspired by the concept of Tarab. His composition was to be 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 from 1903-1950) of Kamal Kassar in Beirut. Butcher wrote Tarab Cut for soprano and tenor saxophones plus a multi-tracked 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, as part of Atoui’s project, in New York, Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), The Serpentine Gallery in London and as a separate piece at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Out Of The Machine commissioned Butcher to expand the work into a full concert presentation, and he invited drummer Mark Sanders to join him. Tarab Cuts premiered on 21 February 2014 in Bristol. 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 that its essence remains alive in Egyptian Sufi chant.

Butcher has taken his inspiration for Tarab Cuts from these characteristic qualities of the Tarab concept, but it’s 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. John Butcher is one of the most prolific and versatile performers and creators today. His commitment to the development of the saxophone has genuinely extended the instrument’s voicings and range. Tarab Cuts sees him exploring further the methods of improvisation in relation to ancient compositional and devotional qualities found in Sufi music and Tarab. 


Born in 1954 in Brighton, John Butcher is an English tenor saxophonist who has lived in London since the late 1970's. The musical work of the former theoretical physicist includes improvisations, original compositions, multi-track saxophone recordings and explorations with feedback and extreme acoustics. He is well known internationally as a solo performer who attempts to explore the acoustics of unusual locations. Butcher has collaborated with many musicians, including Derek Bailey, John Stevens, Gerry Hemingway, Gino Robair, Rhodri Davies, John Edwards, Toshimaru Nakamura, Paul Lovens, Eddie Prevost, John Russell, Mark Sanders and Christian Marclay. He has released various solo albums and has toured Europe, Japan, North America and Australia. He appeared as a solo artist on the BBC programme Date with an Artist. Butcher plays with the trumpet player Peter Evans in the Anemone Quinte and with Axel Dörner and Xavier Charles in The Contest of Pleasures. Recently he also formed a trio with Gino Robair and John Edwards. In 2011 Butcher received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists. His compositions include pieces for the Austrian group Polwechsel, the Australian Elision, and the Rova and Quasar Saxophone Quartets. Two larger scale commissions premiered at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival - somethingtobesaid (2008) for the John Butcher Group and Isola (2012) for Cranes & Freighters. Butcher has given many workshops, seminars and masterclasses on improvisation and the saxophone.

Percussionist Mark Sanders has played with leading performers of improvised music in Great-Britain, including Derek Bailey, Paul Rutherford, Lol Coxhill, Phil Wachsmann, Elton Dean, Howard Riley and Keith Tippett. He has also worked with many other musicians: he has toured Great-Britain, France and Brazil with Ken Vandermark, Barry Guy and Luc Ex; and he's given concerts in Europe, the US and Canada with Evan Parker. Sanders plays in a range of different formations: in duos with John Butcher, dj Sniff and Gail Brand; as a member of The Deep Whole Trio with Paul Dunmall and Paul Rogers; in a trio with Myra Melford and Chris Batchelor; and with Christina Marclay in Everyday. He and John Edwards play as a rhythm section for many groups. Mark Sanders has released more than 120 CDs. He is a guest lecturer of free improvisation at the Royal Academy of Music and for the music therapy course at the Guildhall School of Music.


composition, saxophones, sound files, feedback
John Butcher
Mark Sanders
produced by
Out Of The Machine
commissioned by
Bristol New Music
supported by
PRS for Music Foundation
thanks to
Tarek Atoui, Kamal Kassar