MP 2014: Keynote: Tom Johnson, ‘Countless ways of counting’.

Tom Johnson studied at Yale University, gaining his BA (1961) and MMus (1967) there in addition to studying privately with Morton Feldman. Early works, such as his Four Note Opera (1972), demonstrate a keen interest in use of minimal material: the work, as its title suggests, is composed using only four notes. Later, his Nine Bells (1979), employed a different compositional process: walking through a series of suspended bells, Johnson created music based on his chosen path through them.

Johnson moved to Paris in 1983, there to compose music that would base itself on objective patterns and processes. Chord Catalogue (1986) demonstrates this kind of approach: the piece consists of all 8178 chords possible within the octave. The development of this interest is clear in Intervals (2013), then, which charts a set of possible permutations within a different set of parameters.

Highlighting the importance of the musical process at play, the composer scores the work with an open instrumentation, stating that the ‘intervals and their sequences’ are the musical aspects of primary importance. Johnson draws a parallel between this piece and his earlier work; characterising it as possessing a ‘mathematical intelligence behind its apparent simplicity’. This intelligence and simplicity is also on display in his Counting Duets (1982); despite appearances, the performers do not count musical beats, but simply count ascending and descending numbers.

– Adam Byard, Music and/as Process Intern

– Edited by Kelly Butler, Music and/as Process Intern

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