Scott Johnson Composer

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Pact (2006) 29.00

  In For The Ride  
  Love And Display  
  Anthem Hunt
  How It’s Done  
  Job To Do  

cello, e. guitar, piano, db. bass/e. bass, sampled speech

Performances require stereo audio tracks plus a headphone click track -
"Job To Do" requires a 5th musician to trigger live keyboard samples -

Individual movement available on CD: Anthem Hunt “Americans” - Scott Johnson – Tzadik Records

Commissioned by Risa Jaroslow/High Tide Dance
Premiered by the Fireworks Ensemble, Nov 30/06, Danspace, NYC

Notes on the Music

When choreographer Risa Jaroslow approached me about writing some speech-sampling music for her piece about men (“Resist/Surrender”, 2006), based on source recordings from group interviews, I began to think about differences in behavior between men in mixed company and men alone.  I thought it might be more revealing to gather source materiel in familiar all-male situations, where men might be less likely to self-consciously tailor their responses to an idea of what Risa might want to hear from them. 

I think the key to male groups is a complex mix of competition and cooperation, stretching back to our hominid ancestry on the African savannah.  As with all self-selecting subcultures, members balance an awareness of position and status with a sense of communal commitment and belonging -- sometimes comfortable in one’s role, sometimes jockeying for position against the nearest rival.  Humor is part of a successful mix, as people joke about things that could also become the basis of fights.

What simpler expression of this than a game of poker, where friends laugh and drink as they attempt to take each other’s money?  I recorded several hours of a poker game, and the result was “In For The Ride”, which is about half of the total length of Pact.  The voices of the players and the instrumental score are supported by a percussion section of recorded card shuffling, bouncing poker chips, and hands and cards slapping the table.  In a final coda, the voices of corporate litigators from a major law firm, recorded in a separate interview, remind us of the serious roots underlying the play of good-humored competition.

“Love And Display” refers to two faces of sexuality, a tender one presented to the partner, and the raucous, boastful shouts of young men running in packs.  This brings up very familiar (and often well-deserved) clichés about male behavior, but of course seduction and trophy-taking are not restricted to one gender or the other -- or to our species, for that matter.  Embedded in “Anthem Hunt” is a musical reference to a famously defiant, fist-pumping rock anthem.  I imagine bands of men wandering across the millennia, looking for something to attach their allegiance to, for good or ill. 

The voices of New York City firefighters appear in the final two sections, outlining two faces of human coalition.  “How It’s Done” jokes about bullying authority and tradition.  But “Job To Do”, spoken by men who lost comrades at the World Trade Center, evokes the stoic self-sacrifice of people who willingly subordinate themselves to the greater good.
  ©2008 Scott Johnson. All rights reserved.
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