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Tony Oxley: Music from Knives and Egg Slicers

Hession, Paul (2016) Tony Oxley: Music from Knives and Egg Slicers. University of Leeds. [Dataset]

This item is part of the Alternative Histories of Electronic Music collection.

Dataset description

Tony Oxley occupies a unique position in the history of improvised music, but much of his more experimental work has been overshadowed by his skill as a jazz drummer and his position in the history of that music. He had a most coveted position in this country as the house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club from 1966 to 1972, during which time he played with musicians of the stature of Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Johnny Griffin and Joe Henderson. This paper seeks to draw attention to Oxley’s work with electronics from 1970 onwards. As an artist who was not satisfied to rest on his laurels, he was moved to find ways to expand the sound-world at his disposal. In 1965 he was inspired by hearing a gong glissando on Cage’s First Construction in Metal (1939) that was achieved by submerging the gong in water immediately after being struck. He was unaware of the use of water and conducted experiments putting cymbals under tension to try to achieve a similar sound, before realising that it could not be achieved by mechanical means. This led him to investigate the possibilities of electronics as a way to achieve what he was hearing in his imagination. By 1970 his desire to incorporate electronic sounds into his instrumental set-up led him to construct a Dexion frame to which he attached sound-sources, including clamped knives, taught strings and springs, domestic and industrial egg slicers, toy motors and inverted cymbals. At first two contact microphones, and later three were attached to the frame and their outputs were combined into one channel that was fed into a series of devices that were hand built for Tony by Alan Willey, an electric guitarist in Liverpool. Tony described the sounds he would like to achieve to Willey, who then built the boxes and transported them to London by train for Oxley to collect. The first device was a Dynamic Compressor followed by a Ring Modulator and an Octave Divider. These were connected in that order to a volume pedal and finally a stereo amplifier and two loudspeakers. The frame was positioned to Tony’s left as an integrated part of his instrumental set-up, alongside his unique drum set, which challenged orthodoxy by dispensing with the snare drum and incorporating a wide timbral range, borrowing heavily from orchestral percussion. This combination of acoustic and electronic percussion foreshadowed contemporary hybrid kits by at least forty years and he was one of the very few players of live electronics active in improvised music in the early seventies. In 1977 he was invited by composer Martin Wesley-Smith, founder of the Electronic Music Studio, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Australia to be artist in residence for three months; specifically in his capacity as a player of electronics. For this project Tony played his Dexion frame with the compressor, ring modulator and octave divider and eschewed his usual percussion set completely, thus confirming his commitment to the use of live electronics within improvised music.

Subjects: W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music
W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music > W310 - Musicianship/performance studies > W316 - Electronic/electro-acoustic music performance
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures > School of Music
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Date deposited: 27 Jul 2017 19:32



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