Scott Johnson Composer

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Bowery Haunt (2005) 9.00

2 electric guitars

Commissioned by the Cygnus Ensemble. 
Premiered by Bill Anderson and Oren Fader Apr 23/06, Merkin Hall, NYC

available on CD: “Americans” - Scott Johnson – Tzadik Records

Notes on the Music

Before I was a composer, I was a guitarist; specifically, a teenager learning rock songs from recordings, and torturing my parents with basement rehearsals.  So when I found myself in New York City a dozen years later, living on the Bowery a block and a half away from the punk Valhalla of CBGB’s, my mind was stocked with all the necessary cultural references when the Ramones appeared with their hilarious black leather nightmare about surf music.  This memory provides the principle theme of Bowery Haunt, which appears after a quiet introduction.  Remembered images of loud clubs, of Soho streets lined only with art galleries, of audiences lying on the floor at marathon minimalist loft concerts; all remind me of the sense of unfurling possibility in a young person’s first years in the city.

The phrases of the main theme run through rock “power chords” that touch briefly on every major triad except E, the ur-key of rock guitar, and then settles in for some shifting harmonies above that lowest and most resonant note on the instrument.  This sets up the polytonal world that this piece shares with most of my recent work.  Many of the evocations of the American vernacular that follow in the course of Bowery Haunt refer to the type of “progressive rock” that punk rockers hated; and of course this piece, and I, live in a musical subculture that is usually far removed from all such popular sources.  But since I prefer hybridism to purity, these collisions look more like a playground than a minefield.  I think of this work as an abstraction based on the reality of our own popular musics, and I want it to bear the same relationship to the rock genres that I grew up on that a painted cubist head might bear to a realistic portrait.


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