Punjar (1997)

for soprano saxophone, real-time DSP, and playback

Zack Settel



About Punjar


Punjar is a work for solo soprano saxophone and live electronics.  The electronics are used to: (1) expand the timbral range of the instrument, (2) allow for the possibility of self accompaniment,  providing additional "ensemble voices" in the musical structure, based on material played by the soloist. Almost al l  of the electronically produced sounds are initiated and/or modified according to the material played by performer. Finally,  an important underlying idea for this piece, "an ensemble controlled by one player", is inspired by John Cage's work in his Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-48 ).


-Zack Settel 1997




In this piece, the electronics are used to expand the timbral range of the instrument.  Taking the idea of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared Piano as a starting point, Settel has created an environment which allows the player to control many more sound parameters than the saxophone alone would allow.  Using pitch followers, envelope followers, foot pedals and manually controlled buttons, the player interacts with the electronics in real-time, triggering events based on the material played.


Basic Ideas:


Create additional possibilities for wind instruments.






Techniques used include:


An envelope follower tracks the characteristics of the sax tone (attack, decay, sustain, release), and uses these characteristics to control panning, volume, and brightness, and trigger sample playback.


A pitch follower continuously analyses the notes played by the sax and triggers certain events if the intervals played exceed a specified value (a major seventh for example).


The pitch follower also specifies the pitch of the percussive samples, which are themselves are triggered by the envelope follower.


The saxophone pitch is also continuously mapped to a frequency modulation synthesizer unit, which produces a broad-band signal with the same pitch as the sax.  These two signals are cross synthesized, meaning only the frequencies in common with both signals are heard.  Since both signals are the same pitch, many frequencies line up and are played.

A pedal is then used to freeze the pitch of the FM unit.  While the saxophone plays new pitches, the FM unit is still playing the old pitch, and the two signals are still being cross synthesized.  But now there are potentially fewer frequencies in common (only high harmonics) and the result is quite different.  This effect is used in section 1 of the piece.


Buttons are pushed by the performer to initiate “state changes” at the beginning of new sections requiring different DSP configurations.


Several harmonized delay units are employed; which are controlled by the envelope follower.  A sharp attack turns on the units, which each have independent and changing delay times and pitch shift values.  This provides polyrhythmic counterpoint to the player.  A pedal is used to give a delay time of zero to all the delay units;  this provides the player with harmony in the form of block chords.


The final section employs the idea of “competing resonances”.  A recursive comb-filter is used and gets it’s pitch from the pitch follower, when a pedal is pressed.  The output of the comb-filter, and the saxophone are boosted and combined and the sum is clipped down so that the more prevalent signal is heard.  The resulting sound is fed back into the system via external (open-air  mic-speaker) and internal loops. The distance of the saxophone to the microphone determines how much sax signal is present in the mix.  If the player stops playing, the resonance tone continues to sound.


Playback Part:


The playback part is heard throughout the piece except for the structured improvised center section.  It consists of transformed sounds from the saxophone, as well as sounds created by granular synthesis of the human voice, and some additive synthesis provided by Mr. Settel’s cohort Miller Puckett.



--Blake Markle 1999




Technical information for "Punjar"



     approximately 12  minutes


Additional Personnel:

     sound engineer


Equipment needs:


     items marked "X" will need to be provided by the concert producer


Electronics for the piece:

[X]Apple Macintosh G3 Power PC computer (300 mhz min.) with monitor

[]1 simple MIDI interface (Macintosh style)

[]1 MIDI controller with 1 sustain pedals (Yamaha MCS2 for example)

[] 2 Shure sm57 or similar dynamic cardioid microphones and preamp, with stands for soprano saxophone.

[]2 loudspeakers and power amplifier

[] XLR<-->MIDI adaptors

[]1 stereo graphic or parametric equalizer,  and reverberator (optional)



     Powerful sound reinforcement  system, with sub woofer(s).

     1 Stage monitor  for player (preferably with local  on-stage, attenuation)

     House mixer with at least two inputs (one stereo pair coming from electronics for piece).

     Stereo Reverb


     One low  table approximately 24" X 30" (60cmX80cm)



Description of installation:

The electronics for the piece are installed on a small table next to the house mixer in the concert hall.  The electronics receive three signals from the stage (tow mic and one MIDI). Typically these signals  are routed to the electronics using a snake;  (XLR<-> midi) adapters are used for the midi signal.  The signals from the stage are processed by the electronics. The outputs from the electronics (two stereo pairs) are sent to the house mixer.  At the house mixer, the sound engineer must add (stereo) reverb to the stereo signals from the electronics.  The stereo signals from the electronics must be sent to the corresponding loudspeakers (Left,Right).


Note:  the player may set up the electronics on stage and operate them him/herself.



from stage:

       Two Microphone outputs (XLR)

       One Midi Source (Midi->XLR using adapter)

inputs to Electronics:

       Two line  level (stereo mini jack) signals from microphones to computer

       Midi In (XLR->Midi adapter)

outputs from Electronics:

       Two Line level  (stereo mini jack)


Installation time:

     approximately 60 minutes  (about 30 minutes required for take-down)

On-stage space requirements:

     4mX3m or larger (with adequate lighting for  reading the score)

Technical space requirements:

1 table 24" X 48" next to the main concert hall mixer, with adequate lighting for  reading the score

Rehearsal requirements (minimum):

     1 two hour session , outside of the general rehearsal