02. October 2009

Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche

Tom Johnson - CANCELLED! Galileo

With two works on two days the Kontraste festival is celebrating the 70th birthday of Tom Johnson, the great outsider of recent musical history. Johnson was a student of Elliot Carter and Morton Feldman. As a long-term critic of the New York “Village Voice” he is an authentic witness of the development of American Minimal Music.

As a composer, Johnson became known through works of extremely reduced sound inventory based on mathematical models, often demanding their own forms of realisation. However, his music is far from being abstract exercitation, but good counting fun with lots of humour and irony for the audience. Johnson works and plays with numerical proportions, sequences and formulas in all possible combinations. Humour is always with him, for instance, when he tries to put the calculation of a herd of cow’s population explosion to music.

“Galileo” (2001/03) is both a piece of music and a musical instrument: the frame of several meters height with pendulums of various lengths made of angular irons will be set up on Minoritenplatz and played by Tom Johnson himself. The composition takes up an anecdote according to which Galilei was observing the lamps in the Pisa Cathedral swinging in the wind during a supposedly boring sermon. He counted the swings of the pendulums of various lengths and concluded that the swinging frequency was inversely proportional to the square of the pendulum length. Tom Johnson transforms Galilei’s discovery: for his performance he uses five pendulums made of metal and various sticks. As soon as the pendulums are swinging, the rhythmic ratio of 12 to 15 to 16 to 18 to 24 is generated—fascinating to listen to even without any arithmetic background.