Scott Johnson Composer

<back to compositions

Mind Out Of Matter (2009-15) 74.00

  Cow Design  
  Invisible Agents
  Good For Itself  
  Path Up  

for large amplified ensemble and the sampled speech of Daniel C. Dennett

flute, oboe, 2 clarinets (doubling bass clarinet & alto sax), bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, 2 violins (1 doubling electric guitar), viola, cello, bass (doubling electric bass) piano/keyboard, 2 percussion, sampled speech

available on CD: "Mind Out of Matter" - Scott Johnson - Tzadik Records

Commissioned for Alarm Will Sound, with funds from Meet The Composer, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Peak Performances Series at Montclair University

Notes on the Music

“Mind Out Of Matter” is an evening length work commissioned by the celebrated new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound.  The piece is based on the brilliant and often controversial ideas of renowned philosopher and author Daniel C. Dennett (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Consciousness Explained), and these ideas appear here in Dennett’s own sampled voice, taken from a talk about his book “Breaking The Spell (Religion as a Natural Phenomenon)”, and interviews with myself.  As with my previous “speech music” work, reaching back 35 years to ”John Somebody”, the sampled voice is woven into an instrumental score based on transcriptions of the natural melodies and rhythms of the recorded speech.

“Mind Out Of Matter” offers a meditation on a human consciousness capable of gradually discovering its own origins in the physical universe, or of obscuring matters with supernatural stories when reality seems too complex, mysterious, or unfair.  I’ve tried to imbue this music with the sense of awe and wonder that lie at the heart of Dennett’s scientifically informed philosophy, while still emulating his gift for crafting a disarmingly playful presentation -- with musical references ranging from Baroque recitative to retro funk grooves, framed by passages of lush orchestral density.  With the humanistic values of the Enlightenment under perennial threat, Dennett brings infectious good humor and warmth to his optimistic account of our species’ steadily advancing understanding of how the world actually works. 

What are the origins of human consciousness and civilization, and the human religious traditions that claim to explain them?  Dennett’s answers extend Darwinian principles into the realm of belief itself.  Just as plants and animals evolve in the physical environment, so do ideas and traditions compete within ecosystems made up of human minds and cultures.  They populate our minds, multiply within our cultures, and spread like viruses -- sometimes to our benefit, sometimes not.

Human beings have rapidly become a deciding factor in the planetary ecosystem, and understanding the machinery of belief that drives our choices is no longer a matter of pure intellectual curiosity.  It is a major evolutionary player -- our most carefully considered philosophies and our least questioned beliefs have equally crucial consequences. This ambitious work brings a lively and inclusive musical sensibility to bear on perennial questions of human existence.

  ©2008 Scott Johnson. All rights reserved.
Website created by