Music for 88
Johnson loves counting, systematic calculation, and predictability. He is the master of a logical music, the essence of which involves the complete revealing of its premises. Through the strategy of tautological self-reference, and by avoiding any sort of mystery, its apparent dry seriousness, all by
itself, can turn into clarifying wit and rather amazing insight.
-Matthias Osterwold, Berlin, 1988
Through various stages of his compositional
development, Johnson's main concern has been music wich proceeds in predictable
ways, and which thus completely avoids the
mysterious or the secret. This renunciation, even more radical in recent
years, with the use of strict rational systems, does not, however, threaten
the artistic quality of the work. There is always a tension between the
transparent logic of the structure of the piece and the material that
-Veniero Rizzardi, Padua, 1984
Tom Johnson likes to push austerity to
the ultimate, and with his bare materials, he enjoys demonstrating that a new
complexity arises there where we thought we
had reached the ultimate simplicity.
-Gérard Condé, Paris, 1985
|1. Eighty-Eights (5:20)|
|2. Mersenne Numbers (7:45)|
|3. Multiplication Table (7:08)|
|4. Pascal's triangle (16:32)|
|5. Euler's Harmonies (5:35)|
|6. Abundant numbers (17:50)|
SIMPLICITY AND CLARITY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AMONG MY CHIEF concerns as a composer. This is probably largely a reaction to the contemporary music I heard as a student in the 60's, which seemed to me to be mostly concerned with complexity and obfuscation. The search for clear, simple, elegant statements led me to a number of different kinds of reductive or minimalistic music, many of which involved counting and numbers, and went even to the point of Counting Languages, which became pure spoken number, with hardly any music left at all.
By 1987, it became obvious that I would understand a little better what I was doing if I knew some mathematics beyond what I had learned in high school algebra. So I began reading some math books, particularly old classics of number theory by Pascal, Fermat, Euclid, and others, and these sources suggested musical structures somewhat more complicated than those I had used before. I wanted to use them, and I wanted them to be clear, and sometimes the only way to be clear is to explain things, and sometimes the explanation is so important that it needs to become part of the music, and that is more or less what happened with the Music for 88.
The result is blatantly didactic, and this is fine as far as I am concerned. The joy of learning can be as great as the joy of any artistic experience, and if listeners here learn something about abundant numbers or Mersenne numbers or tiling patterns, as well as simply hearing some music, that seems fine to me, too.
-Tom Johnson (1988)
See Splendid E-zine review (december 9, 1996)