johnsThis blog is forcing me to think back to pieces of music that excited me at the time, but which I haven’t listened to for years. John Somebody, by the American composer and guitarist Scott Johnson, is something I first heard on a Nonsuch Records sampler – the name of which I can no longer remember. It merges a snatch of conversation with guitar and turns it into melody. The conversation is essentially meaningless – “You know who’s in New York? You remember that guy… J-John somebody? He was a– he was sort of a–…” – but it’s turned into melodic and rhythmic material through the use of tape loops (this was long before the era of digital sampling).

Johnson was clearly influenced by earlier tape loop pieces using speech from Steve Reich and Alvin Lucier, but John Somebody itself sounds like an influence on Reich’s later pieces, especially Different Trains (1988). The difference is the rock sensibility of Scott Johnson – this sounds more like a “rock” piece than a classical minimalist work, and it’s somehow more accessible (and exciting) as a result. The other unusual element is humour. This review nails it exactly, when it describes how the speech fragment is elevated in the setting to become a “monument to banality, repeated and re-edited and re-harmonized until we have a chance to celebrate the awesome, Zen-like emptiness of each syllable of everyday American speech”. The full length version is available on a CD re-issued in 2004.

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