English violinist Jon Rose (1951) spent his formative years around the world, but mainly in Australia, where in 1981 he and reed player Jim Denley formed the
In the golden age of free improvisation, he released:
Solo Violin Improvisations 1 & 2 (Fringe Benefit, 1978);
No 24 (may 1978 - Fringe Benefit, 1979), a quintet with piano, synthesizer and rhythm section;
Decomposition (july 1979 - Fringe Benefit, 1979), for a trio of reeds, violin and bass;
Towards a Relative Music (may 1978 - Fringe Benefit, 1980), for a wealth of instruments, ranging from electronics to vibes to gongs to furniture;
Figures (january 1980 - Fringe Benefit, 1980) and
Relative String Music (april 1980 - Fringe Benefit, 1980) for solo violin or sarangi;
Tango (december 1983 - Hot, 1984), groundbreaking duets with Martin Wesley-Smith on sampling and electronics;
Kicking as Art Form (august 1984 - Fringe Benefit, 1984) with Simone De Haan on trombone;
Devils and Angels (november 1984 - Fringe Benefit, 1984) for amplified violin or cello, which includes the 25-minute improvisation The Trampoline Effect;
A Room With A View (july 1975 - Hot, 1985) with vocalist Shelley Hirsch;
His early works are summarized on the double-disc anthology Fringe Benefits: 1977-1985 (Entropy Stereo, 1999).
His main work was actually unreleased: the 90-minute The Anatomy of the Violin.
Even in this field, Rose already showcased an uncanny sense of humour that
set him apart from just about every other improviser of his generation.
Rose also formed the Relative Band (violin, two reeds, piano, vocals, bass and
percussion), first documented on Festival (april 1984 - Pedestrian Tapes, 1985).
'85 (april 1985 - Hot, 1985) was recorded by a new line-up featuring Eugene Chadbourne
on guitars, and David Moss on percussion, voice and electronics.
In 1986, he moved to Berlin, wrote his aesthetic manifesto "The Relative Violin",
and composed Violin Music for Restaurants (1987), eventually released on
Violin Music for Restaurants (ReR, 1991), the prototype for his
subsequent humorous examinations of social habits.
It sounded, mostly, as a satire of John Cage-an techniques of composition (each
composition being supposedly produced by an unlikely algorithm related to
He experimented with numerous instruments, mostly solo, on The Art Of Mutation (Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, 1987),
recorded between 1977 and 1986,
and Vivisection (Aufruhr, 1987).
Further daring experiences came in the form of collaborations:
Kultural Terrorism (march 1987 - Dossier, 1987), duets with Chadbourne;
Les Domestiques (Konnex, 1987), duets with bassist Joelle Leandre;
Forward of Short Leg (Dossier, 1987), recorded between 1980 and 1986, contains a series of brief improvisations by different ensembles featuring distinguished improvisers (David Moss, Elliott Sharp, Evan Parker, Shelley Hirsch, Paul Rutherford, Eugene Chadbourne, Wayne Horvitz, Christian Marclay, Fred Frith, Tenko, etc).
Another groundbreaking work was the 57-minute violin and recitation piece
Paganini's Last Testimony (Konnex, 1988), which marked the beginning
of his mock neoclassical stage.
He used digital and electronic gadgets to sculpt the
23-minute Instrumentum Diabolicum on the neoclassical spoof
Die Beethoven Konversationen (june 1989 - Extra Platte, 1990).
2 Real Violin Stories (february 1991 - Extra Platte, 1991) contains two suites
(more than half an hour each):
The Mozart Industry and Saint Johanna.
In the meantime, he had also formed the noise-improvisation quartet Slawterhaus with Johannes Bauer, Dietmar Diesner, and Peter Hollinger, which released two albums: Live (october 1990 - Victo, 1991) and Monumental (september 1992 - Intakt, 1993).
The multimedia piece Das Rosenberg Museum (1991) opened the phase
of his surrealist satires.
The Virtual Violin (Megaphone, 1993), recorded in 1990, was a comic "opera" relying on
a rapid fire of samples triggered by more or less random sounds of the violin.
Most of the music was packed into two chaotic pieces: Mr Aha May Comes To Town (10:25) and Play It Again Doc (34:40).
Adding electronics to his bag of tricks, Rose composed the radio operas Rosenberg cycle,
eventually released on Brain Weather - The Story of the Rosenbergs (january 1992 - ReR, 1992), which contains the title-track, fragmented in 27 brief
(mostly spoken) episodes that use a variety of styles
(heavy-metal, jazz, punk-rock), and an electro-acoustic composition,
The Weather Man (1992), in 14 movements, for violin,
computer and synthesizer, one of his most frantic and ambitious works;
and the satirical Shopping Cycle (1996), released on the four-disc box-set
Violin Music in the Age of Shopping (march 1994 - Intakt, 1995),
featuring Otomo Yoshihide, Shelley Hirsch, Chris Cutler and Irene Schweizer,
a satire on malls,
later reprised on Shopping Live (october 1995 - Lost, 1995 - ReR, 1997).
They run the gamut from heavy metal to abstract electronic soundscapes.
The "live" album features two female vocalists, Yoshihide on turntable,
sampler and guitar, Cutler on percussion, and Rose on violin. Each song's title
is an email address. The music parodies
Broadway musicals (firstname.lastname@example.org),
the Everly Brothers (pits@repertoire),
etc. Too spoken, the opera largely wastes the potential of the guests.
Rose's radio works include
Pulled Muscles (january 1993 - Immigrant, 1993), a satire on sports and politics;
Violin Music for Supermarkets (february 1994 - Megaphone, 1994), a satire on consumerism;
Eine Violine Fuer Valentin (november 1994 - No Wave, 1995), based on folk melodies;
and Tatakiuri (april 1994 - Creativeman Disc, 1995), a collaboration with
Otomo Yoshihide, sounded like a satire on Japan.
The bizarre dynamics of the pieces, capable of bridging with nonchalance
twelve-tone music and polkas, shared an irreverent creativity with Frank Zappa's
postmodernist pastiches of the 1960s.
It often sounded like Dada making fun of Dada making fun
Perks (january 1996 - ReR, 1996) uses a complex mechanism of digital
synthesis (badmington rackets to generate rhythms), samples (in all sorts of
musical styles), improvisation and commentary, to stage a sort of opera about
a schizophrenic persona.
There are twelve "games", including the Intro Game
(a collage of voice fragments over cello distortions), the faux folk dance
of Game 1 for violin and piano, the disjointed harmonium music of
Game 11, and the whispered End Game,
and twisted sonatas that "decompose" the music of Australian eccentric
Piano Pedal Missionary for droning cello and tribal percussion,
Porridge for spastic voice, limping piano and distorted violin,
Butch's Badmo, a surreal merry-go-round of sounds,
Grieg's Old Warhorse, a demented chorus with the sound of badmington balls,
Phil's Badmo, a childish accumulation of childish musical gestures,
Rose aimed for symphonic proportions on the live Techno mit Stoerungen (november 1995 - Plag Dich Nicht, 1996), featuring Otomo Yoshihide, Christian Marclay, Iva Bittova, Phil Minton, Marc Ribot, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, Chris Cutler, etc, but the results were timid at best.
Rose returned to
acoustic free improvisation with the Exiles (with Tony Buck and Joe Williamson)
on Exiles 1 (april 1996 - Megaphone, 1996),
and with the Kryonics (may 2000 - Emanen, 2001) with Aleks Kolkowski and Matthias Bauer.
In 1999 he also formed the nine-piece ensemble Strung (Sublingual, 2001).
In 2000 Rose formed the duo Temperament (february 2002 - Emanen, 2002) with pianist Veryan Weston, devoted to improvisations between keyboards tuned alternative different ways (just, 19 tone, etc) and out-of-tune violin.
The Fence (ReR, 1998), the first installment of the
Fence series, contains two suites for giant string installations:
Bagni Di Dolabella (september 1993) and The Fence (august 1996).
The title track (eleven movements for a total of 33 minutes)
is basically a radiodrama with sociopolitical overtones. The accompaniment
is entirely produced by eliciting sounds from the very long string instrument.
There are narrating voices and there are samples of radio broadcasts.
The music runs the gamut from visceral industrial noise (The Peace Line)
to concrete collage (The Green Line)
to harsh drones (Iron Curtain, Postdammer Platz)
to simulations of the human voice (The Shouting Fence)
to almost melodic brushing (Our Police).
The other suite,
Bagni Di Dolabella (seven movements for a total of 24 minutes), a
speech opera set in ancient Rome, returns to his (violin-based)
It was followed by Great Fences of Australia (Dinamo, 2002), on which
Rose literally played very long wooden, metal, barbed and electrified fences
like musical instruments.
China Copy (february 1997 - Creamgardens, 1997) is a solo sampling project including
the 17-minute China Chaos, and the first confession of his obsession
Two collaborations with Japanese musicians were unique in his repertory:
Sliding (october 1996 - Sonic, 1998) with koto player Miya Masaoka,
Transgenic Nomad (december 1999 - Sonore, 2001) with
Zeni Geva's guitarist Kazuyucki Kishino Null.
Rose's neoclassical ambitions resurfaced on
The Hyperstring Project (august 1999 - ReR, 2000), a study on counterpoint for violin and interactive software,
later continued on Fleisch (Saucerlike, 2003).
with pieces ranging from geometric and obsessive studies (Siren,
Chuggalug, Hitting The Wall At 100mph, The Pages)
that seem to parody Bach,
to noisy jokes (Oops, Choral Prelude, Reversed Spam)
that seem to parody himself.
Violin Factory (december 1999 - ReR, 2001) for string orchestra, musical samples and field recordings (of ordinary Chinese life),
and The People's Music (ReR, 2003), an opera composed in 2001 for
string orchestra, three percussionists and a narrating voice,
paid tribute to a Chinese factory of violins.
Inspired by an odd mixture of Nyman-ish minimalism and Maoist pomp
(Working People), industrial music and agit-prop cinema
(Your People), dissonant drones (People Control) and
romantic symphony (Big People), Rose pens a surreal story
within the grotesquely serious story. His genius is best displayed in
the montage of Odd People and in the closing elegy,
The People's End.
Artery (Now, 2004)
contained one 45-minute live improvisation for
"ten-string double violin of Dr Johannes Rosenberg".
Colophony (july 2012)
featured a trio with Meinrad Kneer
(contrabass) and Richard Barrett (electronics).
A new project,
featuring bassists Clayton
Thomas and Mike Majkowski, debuted with
Wood Wire & Sparks (2010).
Jon Rose was one of the first musicians to create an electroacoustic
instrument that actually worked for improvisation.
The double-disc Tuning Out (may 2014) contains
"improvised pieces for tracker action organs and
strings recorded in five English churches"
with Veryan Weston
(piano and organs) and Hannah Marshall (cello).
Peggy (ReR Megacorp, 2018) documents a collaboration with Chris Abrahams (Steinway grand piano).
Cafe Grand Abyss (2019) documents a collaboration between Alvin Curran and Jon Rose. recorded in Rome in 2016 and in Sydney in 2018.
The double-disc State Of Play (february 2021) collects music composed over the course of eight years, notably the two-part 90-minute Music in a Time of Dysfunction for ten players (keyboards, strings, percussion, electronics), recorded in two sessions (october 2016 and april 2019). In the second session Rose played a 32-string automaton with central rotating double plectrum.
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