Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Long before sampling, turntablism, mash-ups etc., became common currency, Scott Johnson was creating amazing pieces for tape loops and electric guitar. It wan't easy - composing meant literally hand cutting & splicing tape, and fashioning loops (sometimes as long as 25 ft) to run thru recorders. John Zorn's Tzadik Records label has recently released an album called "John Somebody," and we're all the better for it. The title piece [click to listen], begun in 1977, is a classic example of the Johnson style - taking recordings of real people talking, writing original music based the rhythms and cadences of conversation, and making those voices sing.

One section, "Involuntary Songs," is created by layering tapes of people laughing, then writing happy guitar music as accompaniment. I found myself starting to chuckle along with it. Ooh, what weapons to torture your room/office mates with!

He's called a "composer" and has had his stuff played by fancy-shmancy folks like the Kronos Quartet and ballet companies, yet he plays rockin' distored electric guitar, and premiered "John Somebody" at The Mudd Club, the infamous New York punk hang-out of the late '70s. To Johnson, it's all good.

Although these are old out-of-print recordings, they're still new to most ears - two pieces on this album have never been released before. Essential.


Cross said...

John Somebody!!!
I had the track in an old, old tape back in the eighties that finally collapsed. I searched and searched in order to recover it, and now its here.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Johnson also did the movie soundtrack for Paul Schrader's PATTY HEARST (1988). The voice sampling is much more austere than in JOHN SOMEBODY, but the angular, at times creepy jazz-rock score shows genuine emotion with a few memorable lines stolen from the film's dialogue. The basic principle you describe is also heard in CONVERTIBLE DEBTS from Johnson's ROCK/PAPER/SCISSORS (1996). Other trivia: The cover photo for the Tzadik re-release of JS is a recreation of the original album art, only Johnson is 20 years older.

Mr Fab said...

Yes, "Mom Dad" from "Pat Hearst" is highly recommended if you like "John Somebody."