In Session: Sam Torres
TROY – Sam Torres, saxophonist and composer, just released his album, Still, this week! A record filled with meditative sounds – the saxophone was but a mere tool in an extremely creative and innovative project – Still takes you to places without you having to go anywhere. The lush and ambient environment provided by Troy Music Hall, where it was recorded, brought the record to an even higher level.
After hearing this album, I know I had to get ahold of the artist himself to discuss his unique process. To check the album out for yourself, please click here. What follows is our conversation!
Lucas Garrett: Hello, Sam, and thank you for taking the time out of your afternoon to sit down with us.
Sam Torres: Sure! Thanks for having me.
LG: I love what you’re doing with your record, Still. Tell us a bit about the album, and how it came to be.
ST: It came to be over a pretty long process, although I didn’t know I’d be making this album for most of that process. Haha. The music started out as what I thought would be a one-off project in 2015. I was looking for a way to make larger sounds and more textured sounds than is typically possible with a single saxophone.
ST: So, I wrote software that would let me layer the sound in what I thought was a more compositionally unrestricted form than what regular looping was doing for me at the time.
LG: Elaborate on that. The way the record sounds isn’t like your normal looping at all. How did you write the software for this?
ST: A lot of experimentation. I was tweaking it from the first time that I performed it in 2015, all the way up to the day of the recording, getting it to act differently. One of the things that I spent a lot of time tweaking was how I interacted with the program. I really wanted it to feel like I was still playing an instrument even though I was interacting with a computer program.
What the program does is it takes a little chunk of sound I’m making with my saxophone, and loops it in slightly randomized ways. That’s how I can create these drone textures, sometimes, or tell the program to make it sound smaller, and rhythmic, so you get these bubbling sounds. It’s like looping with randomness on a microscopic level.
LG: That explains what I hear on my end. It sounds like organized chaos; every time I thought I knew where it was going, it didn’t go there.
ST: Yeah, it definitely feels like organized chaos when I’m performing it, too. It can be difficult to rein it in sometimes. All of the music is improvised – I’m coming up with it on the spot – and I discovered that even if I had a little bit of a plan, once I started playing, I really had to go with what the program gave me. Because of the randomness, if I don’t go along with it, it just doesn’t work.
LG: When you were making the album, did you know “Alright, I’m at the Troy Music Hall; I’m doing this right now and we’re going to make an album out of it?” Or, did you not know what was going to happen?
ST: It was a little bit of both, honestly. I did go to the Troy Music Hall in the summer of 2020 with the plan to record a lot of this material. I was certainly hoping that it was going to turn into an album, but it was hard knowing what I was getting in the moment; I was engineering and recording myself. It was hard, at the end of the day, to know if I had enough material that was good to be released, or not. It was definitely a bit of both.
LG: That was recorded during the beginning months of the pandemic. What does it feel like to release music from that time, now that we’re not in that time as much as we were? At certain points in the music, I can almost feel the uncertainty in the overall feel.
ST: That’s definitely true; there was a lot of uncertainty in the world at that time. For me, it was one of the first things I’d done out of the house. I’d been almost exclusively working in live-sound at the time. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to do now. There’s definitely part of that in there, but, for me, there was also the part of this material, this music that had been leading up to that for five years. So, I think that in a way, the pandemic feels like a small part of this project. I certainly feel like I’m ready to release it; I’m very happy the album is out.
In a funny way, it definitely informs the performance, but kind of like a zoomed-out perspective.
LG: More in the abstract?
LG: You’re obviously great at what you do, as far as playing the saxophone…
ST: Thank you.
LG: But what I really enjoy about you, Sam, is what you did with the instrument. When it comes to being a musician, you have your performers and your innovators. You’re definitely an innovator: I’ve never heard someone take a linear, melodic instrument like that and do this; it’s very interesting.
ST: Thank you, I really appreciate that.
LG: What was the genesis behind all of that? What made you say, “I want to do this like no one’s doing in a loop, and make chords out of saxophone?” I mean, you just don’t do that! What’s going on there?
ST: When I first started working on this, I was looking for something that I could do as a solo performer. Like you said – unless you’re playing classical solo saxophone, which I wasn’t doing. I had a jazz background. Solo saxophone felt almost impossible to me, but I wanted something that I could dive into; in a deep way; on my own. I felt I needed something else that I could use to not fill the space, but make the sound bigger. Also, I think aesthetically, I really liked electronic music for a very long time – I was making beats in Ableton, occasionally, and doing stuff like that. I wanted to find a way I could use the saxophone – which I’d been practicing since I was 9 years old – into the mix. Hahaha.
ST: I was working on a lot of improvised music at that time. I wanted to be able to improvise by myself – but not really by myself.
LG: It’s a great meditative record that all flows together. But, in my opinion, I think it’d be even more amazing to see the process performed live. Do you have any plans to perform live in this manner?
ST: I used to perform this quite a lot, especially before I moved up to Troy in 2018. From 2015 to 2018, I performed it quite a bit. My last performance, if I remember correctly, of playing saxophone before the pandemic hit, was playing this music at The Linda.
I thought I was done playing this, and then a week ago, I thought “I should do this again.” I haven’t performed saxophone stuff since the pandemic started; I feel like I have the distance now, that I needed from this. It felt like for a long time that it was the only thing I could do. As I’ve been promoting the album, I’ve been feeling like I should do more of it, though. No concrete plans but I’m thinking about it!
LG: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about while we have you?
ST: I really want to thank the Troy Music Hall for letting me record in there. I think it’s a crucial part of the sound of the album and I’m very grateful for their collaboration with it.
LG: It’s a wonderful venue, for sure.
LG: Alright, Sam. Thanks again for your time and best of luck with your endeavors!
ST: Thank you very much!