Aram Shelton is an improviser and composer who performs on saxophone, clarinets, and live electronics. His writing and playing is grounded in avant-jazz and free improvisation and is documented through more than two dozen albums to date. He's been an integral member of the creative music communities in the Bay Area and Chicago, and has recently relocated to Copenhagen.
Shelton creates music aesthetically guided by the musicians he works with. In Oakland (2005-2016), he developed music for the avant jazz quartet Gold Age; the creative free jazz Ton Trio II; his solo electroacoustic project Tonal Masher; the chamber improv group Broken Trap Ensemble; the electroacoustic Stratic; the collaborative quartet Cylinder; his sextet Marches; and the Oakland Active Orchestra. In Chicago (1999 - 2005) he created music with his Quartet, the cooperative sextet Fast Citizens, Jason Adasiewicz’ Rolldown, Dragons 1976; Arrive; the electroacoustic duo Grey Ghost, and others.
Recently Shelton has performed with Håkon Berre, Ole Mofjell, Henrik Pultz Melbye, Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Matthias Müller, Jasper Stadhouders, Martin Blume, Simon Camatta, Robert Landfermann and Kyle Bruckmann's Degradient. In the past he has been fortunate to perform with many exceptional musicians from the Bay Area, Chicago and New York scenes including Larry Ochs, Jordan Glenn, Kjell Nordeson, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Frank Rosaly, Cory Wright, Kristina Dutton, Tim Daisy, Mark Clifford, Safa Shokrai, Britt Ciampa, Theresa Wong, Jason Adasiewicz, Josh Berman, Keefe Jackson, Matt Bauder, Alex Vittum, Michael Coleman, Lisa Mezzacappa, Darren Johnston, Henry Kaiser, Jon Raskin, Steve Adams, Bruce Ackley, Jacob Felix-Heule, Jacob Wick, William Winant, Mark Dresser, Weasel Walter, Mary Halvorson, Josh Sinton, Jason Ajemian, Ken Vandermark, Audrey Chen, Tony Buck, Magda Mayas, James Fei, Damon Smith and many others.
Photo by Jennifer Dunn
Shelton studied electroacoustic music and recording techniques at Mills College in Oakland, California. He continues to improvise and compose electroacoustic music focused on the concepts illustrated in his graduate thesis Sound Extended: Replication of Acoustic Material and Phrase Modification.
He has performed in Europe, Canada and the United States including appearances at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the Switchboard Music Festival, Soundwave, the Monterey Jazz Festival, Chicago Jazz Festival, the Suoni per il Popolo Festival, and the Krakow Autumn Jazz Festival. He has led workshops at the Evergreen State College, the Luzern Jazz School, through NEXMAP and at UC Santa Cruz. As a curator he founded the Active Music Series and Active Music Festival. His playing and music are available through Delmark, Clean Feed, Cuneiform, 482 Music, and his own Singlespeed Music.
Tonal Masher is the solo electroacoustic project of Aram Shelton. By removing the mouthpiece and reed, Shelton explores a different aspect of a 1937 Conn alto saxophone. Starting with feedback generated via saxophone, microphone and amplifier, Shelton uses nontraditional fingerings to coax an instrument specific set of tones from the vintage horn. He then uses a self designed Max patcher to create music that features patient polyphony from a generally monophonic instrument, and highlights the percussive aspects of the saxophone via key clicks and pad thumps.
Since 2001, Shelton has been using computer based live sampling via Max/MSP in a variety of setting to process and extend acoustic instruments. In 2002 he formed the duo Grey Ghost (482 Music) with the drummer Johnathan Crawford. The Wire found their music to be a “focused symbiosis of breath and circuitry”. In 2007 he received his MFA in Electronic Music from Mills College where he studied with John Bischoff, Maggie Payne and Chris Brown. His thesis focused on the use of live sampling to extend and rearrange the sounds of acoustic instruments in a live performance setting. Since graduating he has taught at the Oakland School for the Arts and has led improvisation and electroacoustic music workshops in San Francisco, at UC Santa Cruz, Evergreen State University and the jazz school in Luzern (CH). From 2010 to 2012 he joined Michael Coleman and Alex Vittum in the trio Stratic. All About Jazz compared their music to “a waking dream memory of music”. In the past year, Shelton has focused on solo electroacoustic music, based on explorations of the resonant feedback frequencies that are unique to the saxophone. Due to the ongoing concept of sonic rearrangement, Shelton has chosen the anagram Tonal Masher as an apt moniker..
Photo by Geert Vandepoele