Scott Johnson Composer

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Convertible Debts (1994-6) 17.00

  Air Compressor  

violin, cello, e. guitar, piano, MIDI percussion, sampled speech

Performances require stereo audio tracks plus a headphone click track

Supported by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.
Premiered by the Scott Johnson Ensemble, 11/97, Ijsbreker, Amsterdam

available on CD: “Rock/Paper/Scissors” - Scott Johnson - Point Records

Notes on the Music

Since I first began using musical transcriptions of recorded speech as the basis for traditionally notated instrumental compositions in the late 1970's, I've looked for ways to record people while they were busy doing something else.  One solution, which I employed in “John Somebody” (completed in 1982), is to simply park a microphone in front of a person with a telephone and have them call someone, recording one side of a conversation that I'm not completely privy to.  “Convertible Debts” uses a more focused variation: I asked a number of friends to make a call and ask for a favor, and then listened for moments when the social pressure of having to actually ask for something would become compelling enough to alter or rival the social pressure of "performing" for me.  “Listen” is a multi-voiced overture to the series, and the following sections each contain a single person, making a withdrawal from the anthropological investment accounts which we maintain in the minds of those around us.

There has been a technological sea-change since those earliest sketches for “John Somebody”, with the tape decks descended from Edison's cylinder giving way to the home computers descended from NASA and the Cold War.  What hasn't changed is the challenge of making compositions work when a string of sampled words come with a "melody" already attached.  As a number of composers have found since this transcription technique spread in the mid 1980's, the process of choosing rather than inventing your thematic material puts extra constraints upon a composer's customary freedoms of pitch choice and tempo, and requires choices between the several methods of interfacing performer and machine.  Nevertheless, each year's technological advances bring greater ease of working with this particular blend of nature and artifice, and I expect that we will continue to hear more and more of our world in our music, both literally and figuratively.

  ©2008 Scott Johnson. All rights reserved.
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