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The Electric Saxophone: Sampen And Bunce Add Dimension To Contemporary Classical Music


“I enjoy the combination of saxophone and electronics. I think it is part of our age, the development of electronic sounds,” said Dr. John Sampen, a professor of saxophone at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Sampen has played classical saxophone for 55 years, and although he’s well-versed in the traditional style, the music he’s performing is anything but conservative.

Sampen and sound engineer Mark Bunce start their California tour at 8 p.m. Monday, presenting a free multimedia performance of live saxophone playing and electronic accompaniment in the Sacramento State Music Recital Hall.   

Sampen and Bunce began their musical collaboration in 1992. At the time, Bunce was working as Bowling Green’s sound engineer and technology specialist.

 “John was looking for someone to go on the road with, to do tech,” Bunce stated. “I was the person.”

Sampen explained how their musical relationship came about.

“I was, at that time, becoming interested in the possibility of combining live instrumentation with electronic orchestration. Basically it’s a duo.”

When they started touring, Bunce and Sampen typically carted around three to four racks of electronic equipment at a time.

Bunce said he used to work with “a lot of bulky equipment."

"You didn’t move very swiftly through the airport," he said about those early days. "Now everything is in the box, in my laptop and a tiny little interface.”

Their new, streamlined equipment not only allows the duo easier airport mobility, but gives them the ability to add more effects to the performance.

Sampen -Bunce -Greece

Bunce and Sampen in front of one of the laptops that supplies the effects for the saxophone. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“We’ll be doing a lot of things with overhead projections,” Sampen stated. He said the visual effects include art pieces, poetry, and voices. "We use poetry, we use the voices of the composers…I think it enhances the idea that they’re real people,” he explained.

Sampen also uses a foot pedal. Hooked up to a laptop computer, the pedal controls Bunce’s electronic instrumentation.

“We can get effects, we can get delay happening, I can alter the volume,” Sampen said. “We hope to create an experience, more than a recital someone might have to sit through.”

Sampen and Bunce start their California tour at Sac State, then will travel down the coast to Stanislaus, San Jose State, Whittier College, and finishing up at Cal State Long Beach on September 22.

They’ll be performing pieces by John Cage, Marilyn Shrude, Morton Subotnick, and other contemporary classical composers.

You can catch Bunce and Sampen at 8 p.m., Sept. 15 in the Sacramento State recital hall. Admission is free.

 Sacramento State University

Jackson Levin

CapRadio Music Intern

Jackson is preparing for his third year at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studies both English and Music, with a focus in classical trumpet performance.  Read Full Bio 

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