Tonal Masher: Resonant Saxophone Feedback

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.

Tonal Masher at Cycling ’74

Tonal Masher at Starline

Using a show at Oakland's Starline Social Club as a focus point, here's an article at the Cycling '74 site that goes in depth on the creative process I use for live performances with Max as Tonal Masher.