Scott Johnson Composer
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BIOGRAPHY

Below is an industrial strength bio, and several smaller sizes which can be copied for various professional uses.

But first let me break the third-person barrier for a moment, and talk about what’s behind all of this.  I think that often a composer or group of composers (or any sort of artist) will spend most of their lives chipping away at some problem that loomed very large for them when they were young.  For me, it was a fairly simple issue: why can’t there be contemporary classical music that sounds like the time and place I live in?

I’ve devoted most of my efforts to creating a hybrid music, in which the complexity of the classical tradition opens a welcoming door to musical details and emotional associations from popular musics –- not because some imagined audience might enjoy them, but because I enjoy them. A little background will explain how and why this is personally and artistically important to me.

Many civilians out there are puzzled because most of the “classical” composers they’ve heard of seem to be dead, and some are curious about what contemporary classical music might be like.  That’s where I started also, when as a kid playing guitar in rock bands, I heard the “Rite of Spring” for the first time.  By the time I got to college, I was studying music theory during the week, and playing in bars on the weekends.  But this cultural moment, in the early 1970’s, was the high water mark of High Modernist compositional styles, and I had simply never heard written music built from the familiar instruments and gestures of my own culture.  To do so was, quite simply, to violate a taboo, and any offender would be duly excluded from the company of the “serious” composers of the Western tradition.  This isolationist attitude, as we can see now, would itself have offended most of those past composers, who tended to regularly mount raids on their own folk musics.

So I gave up, temporarily.  At 22 I moved to New York City, determined to abandon music and be a visual artist, and landed in Soho and the East Village, which were then the artist neighborhoods of lower Manhattan.   Being downtown in 1975 was like being in Montparnasse in the 1920’s –- within a year or two I’d met many of the best painters, sculptors, musicians, and choreographers of the time, and this open-ended atmosphere convinced me that I might able to come up with some serious music that included my bar-band guitar chops.  Sound crept back into my still-immature visual work, and within a few years only music was left.

The bio below begins at this point, and the decades of musical life that have followed cover my early years as a “Downtown” composer, when those were still fighting words, through to the more congenial situation that exists today. Now once-opposing camps have absorbed some of each other’s DNA, electro-acoustic ensembles and creative relationships with our musical vernacular are gradually finding a home in the concert hall, and young composers can freely use whatever materials appeal to them, regardless of yesterday's turf wars.  I suggest that anyone interested in where I went with those early ideas and impulses go the “Writings” section of this site, and look at the brief “Statement 1985”, and “Hybrids, Thoroughbreds, and Survival”.

Now, back to business.  To see various bio lengths:

(125 words)

(275 words)

(400 words)

(620 words - below)

 

BIO (620 words)

SCOTT JOHNSON (b. 1952)

Composer Scott Johnson has been a pioneering voice in the new relationship being forged between the classical tradition and the popular culture that surrounds it.  A forerunner of today’s “postclassical” trends, he has played an influential role since the early 1980’s in the incorporation of rock-derived instruments, electronics, and musical materials into traditionally scored compositions.  His music has been heard in performances by the Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, and his own ensembles; in dance works performed by the Boston Ballet, the London Contemporary Dance Theater, and the Ballets de Monte Carlo.  His music is recorded on the Nonesuch, CRI, Point, and Tzadik labels.

Trained in both music and visual arts at the University of Wisconsin, Johnson’s early experiments in combining prerecorded tape and electric instruments culminated in the groundbreaking John Somebody (1980-82), in which the pitches and rhythms of recorded speech became the source material for an instrumental score; a technique which spread as digital sampling became common in the mid-1980's.  Other projects in this field include Mind Out Of Matter, based on the sampled voice of philosopher Daniel Dennett, How It Happens, based on the voice of the journalist I. F. Stone, as well as Convertible Debts, The Value of People and Things, and Americans, all of which combine voice sampling with electro-acoustic ensembles.

Johnson's scores make extensive use of musical materials and sounds drawn from the American vernacular, and he has premiered most of his electric guitar writing himself.  He has appeared at festivals, concert halls, and art museums throughout Europe and North America: first with self-performed compositions for solo electric guitar, tape, and electronics; later with an octet modeled on the American big band and rock traditions; followed by an electric quartet of violin, cello, electric guitar, and piano/synthesizer.  New York City concert venues for Mr. Johnson's ensembles have included concert halls such as Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall and Merkin Hall, as well as alternative spaces such as The Kitchen and Roulette.

Johnson is the recipient of fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Guggenheim Foundation, a Koussevitsky award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and five grants from the New York State Council on the Arts; as well as grants and commission support from Lincoln Center, New Music USA, the Jerome Foundation, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Concert Artists Guild, and the Mary Flagler Cary Trust.  His commissioned works include Mind Out Of Matter for Alarm Will Sound, Stalking Horse for the American Composer’s Orchestra, Bowery Haunt and Last Time Told for the Cygnus Ensemble, The Illusion of Guidance for the Bang On A Can All-Stars, How It Happens and Bird in the Domes for the Kronos Quartet; I Am New York City for soprano Dora Ohrenstein (premiered by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra), the score for Paul Schrader's film Patty Hearst, and Before Winter, recorded for the Boston Ballet by Mr. Johnson's own ensemble.  

Johnson’s own concert appearances include Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, the Japan Society, the Lincoln Center Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, Yale University, the Schleswig-Holstien Festival, a chamber concert with members of the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s “Great Day In New York” series.  Johnson has also published articles and essays on contemporary music, one of which is excerpted in Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin’s “Music In The Western World.”  He has lectured on his music and ideas at leading conservatories and universities, including San Francisco and Peabody Conservatories, Senzaku Ongaku Daigaku, New York University, The Manhattan School of Music, and Yale University.

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BIO (400 words)

SCOTT JOHNSON (b. 1952)

Composer Scott Johnson has been a pioneering voice in the new relationship being forged between the classical tradition and the popular culture that surrounds it.  A forerunner of today’s “postclassical” trends, he has played an influential role since the early 1980’s in the incorporation of rock-derived instruments, electronics, and musical materials into traditionally scored compositions.  His music has been heard in performances by the Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, and his own ensembles; in dance works performed by the Boston Ballet, the London Contemporary Dance Theater, and the Ballets de Monte Carlo.  His music is recorded on the Nonesuch, CRI, Point, and Tzadik labels. 

Johnson's scores often blend acoustic and electric/electronic instruments, and he has premiered most of his electric guitar writing himself.  Compositions which feature sampled voice include the groundbreaking John Somebody (1982) and Mind Out Of Matter (2014, commissioned by Alarm Will Sound, featuring the voice of philosopher Daniel C. Dennett), as well as Americans, Convertible Debts, The Value of People and Things and How It Happens (1993, commissioned by the Kronos Quartet).  Awards include fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Guggenheim Foundation, a Koussevitsky award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and five grants from the New York State Council on the Arts; as well as grants and commission support from Lincoln Center, New Music USA, the Jerome Foundation, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Concert Artists Guild, and the Mary Flagler Cary Trust.  New York City concert venues for Mr. Johnson's ensembles have included concert halls such as Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall and Merkin Hall, and alternative spaces such as The Kitchen and Roulette, as well as concert halls, art museums, and festivals throughout Europe and North America.

Johnson’s own concert appearances include Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, the Japan Society, the Lincoln Center Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, Yale University, the Schleswig-Holstien Festival, a chamber concert with members of the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s “Great Day In New York” series.  Johnson has also published articles and essays on contemporary music, and has lectured at leading conservatories and universities, including San Francisco and Peabody Conservatories, Senzaku Ongaku Daigaku, New York University, The Manhattan School of Music, and Yale University.

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BIO (275 words)

SCOTT JOHNSON (b. 1952)

Composer Scott Johnson has been a pioneering voice in the new relationship being forged between the classical tradition and the popular culture that surrounds it.  A forerunner of today’s “postclassical” trends, he has played an influential role since the early 1980’s in the incorporation of rock-derived instruments, electronics, and musical materials into traditionally scored compositions.  His music has been heard in performances by the Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, and his own ensembles; in dance works performed by the Boston Ballet, the London Contemporary Dance Theater, and the Ballets de Monte Carlo; and in recordings on the Nonesuch, CRI, Point, and Tzadik labels.  Johnson's scores often blend acoustic and electric/electronic instruments, and he has premiered most of his electric guitar writing himself.  Compositions which feature sampled voice include the groundbreaking John Somebody (1982) and Mind Out Of Matter (2014, commissioned by Alarm Will Sound, featuring the voice of philosopher Daniel C. Dennett), as well as Americans and How It Happens (commissioned by the Kronos Quartet.  Johnson’s work has been heard in New York City concert halls such as Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and alternative spaces such as The Kitchen and Roulette, as well as concert halls, art museums, and festivals throughout Europe and North America.  Awards include fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Guggenheim Foundation, a Koussevitsky award, and numerous grants. Johnson has also lectured at leading conservatories and universities, including San Francisco and Peabody Conservatories, Senzaku Ongaku Daigaku, New York University, The Manhattan School of Music, and Yale University.

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BIO (125 words)

SCOTT JOHNSON (b. 1952)

Composer Scott Johnson has been a pioneering voice in the new relationship being forged between the classical tradition and the popular culture that surrounds it.  A forerunner of today’s “postclassical” styles, he has played an influential role since the early 1980’s in the trend towards incorporating rock-derived instruments, electronics, and musical materials into traditionally scored compositions.  His music has been presented worldwide, by performers ranging from the Kronos Quartet and the Bang On A Can All-Stars to the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; in dance works performed by the London Contemporary Dance Theater and the Ballets de Monte Carlo, and in recordings on the Nonesuch and Tzadik labels.  Awards include fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Koussevitsky award.  

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