RIP, Scott Johnson (1952-2023)

RIP to composer and guitarist Scott Johnson. It’s hard for me to overstate how obsessed I was with his music during college and in the early 1990s, especially of course John Somebody (1982), his debut recording, which introduced his signature mode, in which music carefully tracked the nuances of human speech. And then there’s his inventive original score for Paul Schrader’s 1988 film, Patty Hearst. He was part of Laurie Anderson’s Strange Angels and David Van Tieghem’s Strange Cargo, two albums from 1989 that, like his own music, sounded strange at the time and turned out to be the foundation of a future normal: glitchy, fractured, conceptual, and innately mediated by technology. Kronos Quartet recorded at least two of his pieces (on Short Stories and Howl, U.S.A.). The central text of John Somebody — “You know who’s in New York? You remember that guy, John somebody? He was a … he was sort of a …” — is as cemented in my head as are the homeless man’s song in Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971) and the preaching in Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain (1965).

Steve Smith has a well-informed obituary in today’s New York Times, from which I borrowed the above transcription of the spoken material in John Somebody.

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