Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson, Clarinet Trio, 2012, collection Frac Franche-Comté © Tom Johnson, Photo © Biennale Son | Olivier Lovey

Clarinet Trio, 2018

Ensemble-16- Série (dissociable), series of seven dissociable drawings echoing the score of the musical composition Clarinet Trio. Black ink on paper, each 48.5 x 69 cm

Work presented as part of the exhibition Echos d'une collection - Works by Frac Franche-Comté

In the career of minimalist composer Tom Johnson, visuals and mathematics are both of great importance. They come together in a work like Clarinet Trio. Here, the drawings are not scores, as can sometimes be the case, but diagrams that have inspired seven short musical compositions for three B-flat clarinets, amounting to some 20 minutes of music.

The seven designs are based on a combinatorial concept (12,3,2): 12 notes in the scale, 3 notes in each chord, each pair of notes appearing together twice.

When Tom Johnson published the score of Clarinet Trio, he insisted on including the diagrams that inspired it.

Tom Johnson

Born in 1939 in Colorado (USA)

Lives and works in Paris

After studying at Yale University, he moved to New York in the late 1960s and took private lessons from Morton Feldman. Between 1971 and 1983, while writing his first compositions, he wrote reviews specializing in new music for The Village Voice . Here he coined the term "minimalist music", which he feels perfectly describes his own music. In 1983, he moved to Paris.

He sometimes uses the spoken word, with a narrator explaining the concept of the composition. The visual is also important, with works such as Nine Bells (1979), in which the musician is placed at the center of a square of nine bells, or Dropping Balls (2011), a composition for jugglers. Both the narrator and the performative aspect enable him to make the musical structure of his work clearer.

In composing, Tom Johnson explores logical processes such as accumulation, counting and phase shifting, and makes increasing use of mathematics. He uses concepts from Euler and Blaise Pascal, and also collaborates with contemporary mathematicians.

As far back as 1973, Tom Johnson published Imaginary Music, a collection of 104 drawings of quarter notes, eighth notes, sharps and sighs, designed to elicit "imaginary music" in the viewer. He would then use the drawings as diagrams to visualize the relationship between the notes. Sometimes created to study music already conceived, they are also tools for finding new music. Several of his works have to do with weaving patterns. One, created in collaboration with mathematician Marc Chemilier, is inspired by a turtle-shell drawing that initiates in the Vanuatu archipelago make with a single trace of a finger in the sand(Tortue de mer, 1977). Tom Johnson also sometimes draws without any musical pretext.

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