Scott Johnson Composer

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The Value Of People And Things (1997-9) 23.30
Worth Having
Maybe You
violin, cello, e. guitar, piano, sampled speech

Performances require stereo audio tracks plus a headphone click track

Supported by a grant from the National Endowment For The Arts.  Separate premieres by the Scott Johnson Ensemble: “Worth Having”, July 2000, Lincoln Center Festival, NYC.  “Maybe You”, May 2001, The Performing Garage, NYC

Notes on the Music

The Value of People and Things is written for the same electro-acoustic quartet as Convertible Debts.  In fact, the two movements of Value were originally conceived of as a Book II to the four movements of Convertible Debt. But as I began working, it quickly became clear that this was a very different animal.  Both pieces reflect on negotiations and exchanges between people, but in these two later sections the generally humorous tone of Convertible Debts has become more serious and reflective, and the music more complex.

The vocal source for Worth Having is a snippet of conversation between violinist Mary Rowell and cellist Erik Friedlander, recorded after a rehearsal for my duo Rent Party.  Mary’s casual request for a copy of a CD is transformed into a meditation on the value of things, and on how people decide what to keep, and what to give away.

The only words in Maybe You are its title.  This single sample of my own voice, wavering closely around a single pitch, is used to generate a meditation on desire and emotional exchange.  Unlike most of my voice sampling pieces, where instruments approximate and reproduce the real pitches of recorded phrases, Maybe You spreads this lone phrase across the keyboard, producing everything from a low, droning ostinato to a high, chattering digital chorus.  Sonically, the sample becomes an organ with a slightly different tempo attached to each key, slow at the bottom and fast at the top.  Verbally, it’s only an inarticulate longing, given shape by the score.

These contrasting movements share an image of the underpinnings of human sociality: the subliminal desires and fears that give our conscious minds instructions about what to do with each other.  Even our quickest, most mundane interpersonal exchanges float as if in slow motion over a furious dance of cellular chemicals, performed in spotlights of localized brain activity – such is the electrochemical actuality of our thoughts and emotions.  If the plain words in this piece represent normal conscious life as we know and experience it, then the music attempts to evoke the busy space between the words and beneath the thoughts. 

  ©2008 Scott Johnson. All rights reserved.
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