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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson was happy to be in New York last night. The occasion was his first performance at Experimental Intermedia since just before he left New York, in 1983, for Paris where he has lived ever since. His happiness was attributable to, as he explained, a recent improvement in his relations with the United Sates as affirmed by an uptick in invitations to speak and perform his work stateside, and a renewed sense of pride of being an American in the era of Obama. As a major figure in the Downtown minimal music movement since its inception, a movement nurtured in no small measure inside these same four walls of XI, there was a sense of triumphant return. Appearing on this night by himself, he mixed solo text-based performances with recorded excerpts of recent works and recordings, coloring the evening with stories and anecdotes about his work and personal history.  As such the evening took the form of an informal lecture-demo with an emphasis on oral history. He began with a live performance of Music and Questions, a radio piece composed in 1988 that methodically proceeds through the 120 possible permutations of five notes, which he played on five tuned bowls, asking a self-reflexive question after each phrase. As a typical Johnsonian systematic process piece, the experience was somewhere between a math exam and a political address. It most certainly would have made for intriguing  radio. What followed where several recorded examples: of a recent string quartet, an ensemble arrangement of his 1982 Rational Melodies and a new arrangement of Organ and Silence (2002) for solo piano. Johnson concluded with a very entertaining reading of his ingenious spoken work Lecture with Repetition wherein the speaker (Johnson) begins by repeating each line of the piece three times. As he moves through this prepared text that is itself an explanation of the piece (self-reflexive again), these statements begin to invite audience participation by for example, proposing that an audience member "may ask me to stop," or to repeat "more." Before too long the audience was driving the piece by asking for "more" or to "stop." There was much cheering and laughter. It was a lot of fun……

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