Composer Scott Johnson has been a pioneering voice in the new relationship being forged between the "classical" tradition and the popular culture which surrounds it. Since the early 1980âs, he has played an influential role in the trend towards incorporating rock-derived instrumentation into traditionally scored compositions, and has often used taped, sampled and MIDI-controlled electronic elements within instrumental ensembles. His music has been heard in performances by the Kronos Quartet and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and his own ensembles; in dance works performed by the Boston Ballet, the London Contemporary Dance Theater, and the Ballets de Monte Carlo; in Paul Schrader's film Patty Hearst, and in recordings on the Nonesuch, CRI, and Point labels.
Trained in both music and visual arts at the University of Wisconsin, Johnson moved to New York City in 1975, where his first projects included cross-disciplinary sound/visual installations and performances. His early experiments in combining prerecorded tape and electric instruments culminated in John Somebody (1980-82), in which the pitches and rhythms of recorded speech became the source material for an instrumental score; a technique which spread as digital sampling became common in the mid-1980's. Recent efforts in this field include How It Happens, a major work based on the voice of the late journalist I. F. Stone, as well as Convertible Debts and The Value of People and Things, both shorter works combining voice sampling with an electric ensemble.
Johnson's scores make extensive use of musical materials and sounds generally associated with the American vernacular, and many have been premiered with Mr. Johnson performing on the electric guitar. He has appeared at festivals, concert halls, and art museums throughout Europe and North America: first with self-performed compositions for solo electric guitar, tape, and electronics; later with an octet modeled on the American big band and rock traditions; and most recently with an electric quartet of violin, cello, electric guitar, and piano/synthesizer. New York City concert venues for Mr. Johnson's ensembles have included Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall, the Knitting Factory, and The Kitchen. Music for his electric quartet is available on a CD on the Point label, Rock/Paper/Scissors.