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natewooley on 12/01/2011 at 12:21PM

"Hey...Do You Like Music?" Three Unreleased Tracks By John King: Composer, Violist, Electronicist

If you've lived in New York for any amount of time, and especially if you've spent time on the NYU campus, you know this pitch.  Most likely you've fallen for it once...exactly once.  The question is followed by a cheap CD-R being shoved into your hand and basically a shake down for a "donation" to help someone's hip hop career.  Okay, fine, you do what you have to do.  I write a million emails to try and book gigs, so it's probably not that different.  The reason you only have this happen to you once, though, is that (if your CD-R was anything like mine) the music was HORRIBLE.  I listened, it's true, and was treated to limp beats, bad rapping about questionable subject matter, and a generally gross apathy.  So, lesson learned.  The next time I was asked the question, I stopped, looked the guy in the eye, gave him a buck and said "no, I don't like music", put my headphones back on and went on my way, adding a new plateau to my general level of self-hatred.

It's always bad to start your writing with the digression, but there it is.  I'll get to the point later and you'll see how it ties in.  I imagine you'll be quite impressed with my narrative arc once you see it.

When I started writing posts for DRAM/New World here at FMA we had just put out Music for Merce (1952-2009), which I still think is one of the best box sets of the past five years, featuring little heard music from David Tudor, David Behrman, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, and more.  Also, my head was still ringing with the sounds of Alvin Curran's Solo Music (The 1970s), which had just come out a couple of months earlier. If this sounds like a shameless plug, it is, but not yet.  Wait for it. 

It was a little early to ask for permission to make tracks from either of these records available, but the idea hit me that it would be interesting to combine a post featuring some of these recordings with some new music by a composer I think truly deserves wider recognition, John King.  John's music is featured on Music for Merce, and I've been a fan of his since starting to work with him 5 years ago in TILT brass. There had to be a way to do a whole post of his music and somehow remind folks of how good these records are...a little karmic internet "do you like music" combined with a healthy consumerism.

Well this week I got my chance.  We found out at the office that both Music for Merce and the Alvin Curran recordings made The Wire's 2011 Top 50.  This is the sort of thing I should highlight, of course.  These are two great recordings and it's nice to get a little bit of justification from a publication like the Wire.  It allows me to shamelessly plug not only the people I work for (which is actually nice when you like the people you work for and believe in what they do), but also to try and convince people to buy two recordings that would be on my top 10 year end list as well.  Professionally gratifying, personally gratifying...surely I can't live much longer at this level of life satisfaction.

Back to John King, now that my hucksterism has found vent. John was one of the first people I wrote after starting these blog entries, and he returned my mail almost immediately and with a great deal of enthusiasm.  This is a personality trait that I equate almost exclusively with John, this specific kind of enthusiasm, not put on and not naive either, something rare in the music business, and non-existent in New York.  You get the feeling that John truly loves music and is (as he should be) proud of the fact.  I'll bet he stops and gets a CD-R every time.   

John sent three tracks, all unreleased, all different, all personal and beyond description here.  I have always thought it a cop-out, but in this instance the adage "letting the music speak for itself" is apt, and so I will.  I need to say, however, that my experience with John's music has always been a mix of seriousness and true joy; his writing is a perfect combination between rigorous composition and a palpable feeling of improvisation (improvisation, not as a concept or an articulation of material, but as a practice free from philosophy or mysticism).  The three tracks here are testament to that as I think you will experience here.  I hope they provide the impetus to discover more of his work (on the mighty Tzadik label).

Consider it an attempt to fix my karma for years of denying my love of music.....

John was good enough to send some short descriptions of each piece, mostly highlighting the processes he used to compose them.  The music doesn't need them to be enjoyed or understood, but I think a second listen with this knowledge can be revelatory.

solo VIOLA: A home recording I made, with me playing viola, where I was using a new Max/MSP patch which causes sampling/processing/locating etc. to advance at random intervals through a series of electronic environments.  I was putting together the music for the live viola, both in tandem with, and completely ignoring the development of the live electronics.  This will become a series of "caprices" for solo viola with electronics.

KOSMO sketch: I have been working on a 3 or 4 hour long string quartet I'm calling KOSMOS, and I had the opportunity to rehearse a sketch of some of the ideas (each instrument acts independently except for chance-determined "windows of time" where they coalesce around a unifying "groove" or motive).  This piece will also use a parallel live Max/MSP patch which records/processes/locates the live sound in chance-determined ways.

DUELOCITY: A piece commissioned by the Bugallo-Williams Duo.  They were playing the Cage piece "3 Dances" for 2 prepared pianos (each piano is prepared differently) and they wanted some "companion" music to go with it.  The composition uses a set group of materials (identical for each piano, but because of the different preparations, each sounding differently). These materials are organized and placed into different and varying chance-determined "time windows" so that each performance will be unique, using the same materials but constructed and sculpted in time differently.

John King 2011



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