Tom Johnson (1939), a student of Morton Feldman,
is a composer who bridges minimalism and dadaism,
LaMonte Young and John Cage.
An Hour For Piano (Lovely 1081, 1979), composed in 1971,
is a subliminal piano piece that sounds like gamelan tinkling.
Other "minimal" works include
Nine Bells (India Navigation, 1982), an exercise in topological music,
Rational Melodies (Hat Art, 1993), composed in 1982, a sequence of 21 simple melodies (derived from mathematical operations) that can be performed on any instrument,
Bedtime Stories (1985), twelve tales for clarinet and voice, released first as Historias Para Dormir (2003) and then on Rational Melodies/ Bedtime Stories (Ants, 2006),
Eggs and Baskets (1987) for text,
and Failing: A Difficult Piece for Solo String Bass, for "talking" performer (the performer has to talk while s/he performs the almost impossible score).
The Four Note Opera (1972) is his most famous opera, built,
literally, around four notes only. Other operas include
Riemannoper (1988) and Trigonometry (1997).
Also "minimal" are his
radio pieces: J'Entends un Choeur (1993),
Music and Questions, Die Melodiemaschinen (1996).
All of them are dwarfed by the Bonhoeffer Oratorium (1996) for orchestra, choir and soloists, his most
He relocated to Paris in 1983, where he published
his book "Self-Similar Melodies" (1996).
Music for 88 (XI, 1993) is another exercise in mathematics applied
to music: each of the nine pieces is, basically, the demonstration of a
The Chord Catalogue (XI, 1999) is a mathematical performance of
all the 8178 chords possible in one octave: the 78 two-note chords, the 288 three-note
chords, the 1287 five-note chords, etc., up to the 1287 eight-note chords,
then down to the 715 nine-note chords, the 286 ten-note chords, etc.,
and finally the one and only 13-note chord.
Kientzy Plays Johnson (Pogus, 2004) compiles several Johnson compositions
Kientzy Loops is whirling minimalist repetition at its most hypnotic.
Narayana's Cows (originally composed for trio of saxophone, bass and
guitar, but here scored for multi-tracked saxophone) separates and
independently emphasizes melody, bass line and drone. Johnson himself reads
some spoken-word segments that illustrate a mathematical problem (thus the
title) and which are supposed to also illustrate how the composition evolves.
As it gets more complex, the pattern begins to echo Michael Nyman's upbeat
music, but with a stronger sense of purposefulness.
The four Infinite Melodies employ the same general process: each new
phrase is longer than the previous one, "reaching out toward infinity".
The effect is almost playful in the II, funereal and intimidating in
IV, transcendent in III and disorienting in
I, which resorts to silence as a component of the phrase, so that
the piece tends towards absolute silence.
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