Record of the Day: Scott Johnson, "John Somebody"

Record of the Day: Scott Johnson, “John Somebody”

Scott Johnson
John Somebody (Cd Tzadik TZ 8009)

Today Buffalo Bill, Tex Avery and Johnny Cash were born, so it is a day that takes us back to the United States; natural
therefore comes the inclusion of a masterpiece of the American compositional school by the composer Scott Johnson, also an excellent electric guitarist. Johnson was the first to theorize and put into practice the so-called speech music, in which fragments of spoken conversations are sampled, treated and mixed within the musical writing, which in turn draws its own from the rhythm and pitches of these phrases. melodic and rhythmic structures.

In Europe the first composer to take inspiration from the spoken cadence was Janácek, but Johnson’s work developed this intuition in a much more radical and complete way, creating very complex frameworks of sounds and noises over which he pours incandescent flows with his guitar electric, transforming the initial influence of electronic works of the 60s such as “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain” by Steve Reich into his own unmistakable style full of vitality, to the point that Reich himself appropriated it without much ceremony in works such as “Different Trains” and “The Cave”.

Johnson never achieved the popularity of many of his colleagues in the New York underground, but he has always remained an authentic point of reference for many composers thanks to beautiful and culturally stimulating works such as “Americans” (which deals with the problem of immigration in a disturbing way ) and “How It Happens”, where vocal fragments of the journalist IF Stone allow Johnson to begin a detailed discussion on politics and fundamentalism in contemporary society.

The use of voices is never banally decorative but provides the central backbone of this music, which in its complexity of structure always remains surprisingly accessible, with episodes of great rhythmic immediacy where rock and minimalism merge, transforming into something absolutely original and free of commercial winks.

“John Somebody” (1980-82) is still an explosive work today. It is impossible to describe the imagination with which Johnson assembles sounds, voices and music; he must be listened to at full volume (possibly with headphones) to experience a musical experience that will remain etched in your memory for a long time.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.