Photo: Peter Gannushkin

Michel Doneda

soprano saxophone, born in 1954, comes from the French South-West. He is a self-taught musician.

In 1980 he founded in Toulouse / France a reed trio: Hic et Nunc, a group that playing mostly improvised music. At the same time he founded with musicians, dancers and actors the IREA ( Institute for research and exchange between arts of improvisation).

In the following years, he participated in music projects with other artists and he became a regular guest of the Chantenay-Villedieu / France festival where he developed a very personal way with his music and his instrument in improvised music. During this period he played with musicians like: Fred Van Hove, Phil Wachsmann, Max Eastley, Steve Beresford, John Zorn, Eliott Sharp, Elvin Jones and many others. In 1985 he made his first record under his own name: Terra (nato record) and he started playing regurlarly with Lê Quan Ninh, Daunik Lazro, Beñat Achiary, Martine Altenburger, Barre Phillips, Paul Rogers, Tetsu Saitoh, Kazue Sawai.

During the years he developed his work with Keith Rowe, Günter Müller, Bhob Rainey, Giuseppe Ielasi and dancers like Masaki Iwana, Yukiko Nakamura, Valérie Métivier and poets and actors. Michel Doneda is very involved in the international improvised music scene, toured in Africa, Japan, Asia, Canada, Russia and with a lot of improvisers in Europe. In 1992 he founded in Toulouse with musicians, actors, poets, dancers the association: La Flibuste. As of today he recorded almost 45 records for European, American and Japanese labels.source


Michel Doneda on Potlatch

Anatomie des clefs
Michel Doneda: soprano saxophone

Recorded on winter 1998 by Jean Pallandre.

“I must succeed in endowing the parts of my body with relations of speed and slowness that will make it become dog, in an original assemblage proceeding neither by resemblance nor by analogy” — Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.258.

It’s not often that improvisors make solo discs that sound like this any more; it feels like a manifesto, a vocabulary statement. Yet Doneda is neither a particularly young player nor an inexperienced one; he’s been making music like this for nigh on fifteen years. It’s gritty, uncompromising stuff, sticking up a bad-tempered two fingers at anyone who dares find it difficult.


Photo: Peter Gannushkin

His repertoire of techniques is similar to John Butcher’s, but his sound is very different. Doneda likes to play in the extremes of his instrument just as Butcher does but, unlike the British player, seems determined to go beyond the point of control. This means that many of his ideas seem only to half come off; very ambitious ideas they may be, but often he’s left gasping into a horn which remains stubbornly silent.

Part of this is the wilful ugliness of Doneda’s music, its denial of any kind of prettification to the point that only the nastiest available sounds are employed. This is part of the point, because those ugly sounds are sounds which come from Doneda’s body — his breath or the sound of saliva trapped under the reed, or his vocalisations interfering with the vibration of the air column to the point that a kind of semi-controlled noise is the only result.

There is a school of thought in improvised music that an unrehearsed, naive approach to one’s instrument is the only true way of improvising with it. But this isn’t Doneda’s approach. These are very extreme techniques — often extremely quiet ones, working at the margins of feasible sound-production. The effect on this disc is one of techniques pushed even further than possible, resulting in the almost complete breakdown of coherence. That, one suspects, is Doneda’s aim; to go beyond technique and become, like Braxton before him, a kind of animal by technical perversion (in the best, Deleuzian sense of that word, naturally). The title — anatomy of keys — indicates Doneda’s cybernetic project, a project of organicising his horn, or of turning his own body into a reed instrument.

Yes, these are brave tactics, and yes the spirit of experimentation is very much alive and well on these three long tracks. The problem is that it sounds like the kind of experimentation which goes on in the practice room, not the recording studio. Solo, he has the necessary chutzpah not to cram everything into the first ten minutes, which speaks volumes about the length of his playing experience, but the end result rather hectoring. Which is a shame, because Doneda is obviously an interesting player and would probably be an exciting live act. Richard Cochrane

Selected Michel Doneda Recordings