Sunday, January 4, 2015

John King 13 Questions

JOHN KING, composer, guitarist and violist, has received commissions from the Kronos Quartet; Red {an orchestra}, Ethel; the Albany Symphony/Dogs of Desire, Bang On A Can All-Stars; Mannheim Ballet; New York City Ballet/Diamond Project, Stuttgart Ballet, Ballets de Monte Carlo; as well as the Merce Cunningham Dance Co. His string quartets have also been performed by the Eclipse Quartet (LA) and the Mondriaan Quartet (Amsterdam). His quartet Crucible has premiered many of his compositions at The Stone (June 2007), The Kitchen (April 2009), Lincoln Center Festival (July 2011) and Roulette (2012).


He has written 3 operas: herzstück/heartpiece, based on the text of Heiner Müller, premiered at the 1999 Warsaw Autumn Festival and presented at the Kitchen NYC in 2000 (a double-opera, co-written with Krzysztof Knittel); la belle captive based on texts by Alain Robbe-Grillet, premiered at Teatro Colon/CETC in Buenos Aires in 2003, and toured to London’s ICA (Fronteras Festival) in 2004 and the Kitchen in 2005; and also his most recent opera, Dice Thrown, based on the Stéphane Mallarmé poem, an excerpt of which was performed by New York City Opera as part of its VOX series in May 2008. The complete staged version was presented at CalArts April 23-24, 2010.


He has 3 recent CD releases of music for string quartet; 10 Mysteries and  AllSteel  (Tzadik); and Ethel (Cantaloupe). He was Music Curator at The Kitchen from 1999-2003 and from 2002-2011 was a co-director of the Music Committee at MCDC. He received the Music/Sound Award for 2014 from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and also he is the recipient of the 2009 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music.

"Recently, I've been interested in exploring new ways of organizing musical time. I use what I call "time-vectors" to chance-determine when sonic material is played, stretching out time, compressing time, and having performers play similar material but allowing the sounds to overlap and expand and contract in varying and random ways. The materials, which fit into these "vectors," are a secondary effect of this primary cause--Time. I have also been working on a five-hour long piece for string quartet and live electronics called KOSMOS. I hope to have it completed and performed sometime in 2014. This piece also organizes time in chance-determined ways and allows the four players to perform independently from each other, with randomly determined moments of cohesion of the musical materials, which then dissipate and their independence continues. In my music, there are always three systems interacting: determinate/composed, chance-determined, and spontaneous/improvised music. This trilogic network is used in both the acoustic and electronic sonic realms of my work, and I'm always looking to discover new approaches to these materials and their modalities."

Which was the first musical structure do you remember?

Listening to the radio in the car, and when it went through a tunnel, the sound would stop, but the music would continue in my head.

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

Cream, "Wheels of Fire", Jimi Hendrix "Valleys of Neptune" double LP

Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

I am always surprised by my work, I always put into the work itself the ability to transform in ways that are not under my control, either through chance determinations, improvisations that are NOT directed by me, or the way the performers may re-structure/re-imagine the way the sounds extend through time.

Impropera for 3 singers, live electronics and live video 

How would you define silence?

the moments (or multiple/series of moments) when not playing….that is, active listening

What are your motivations for playing music?

when i was 15 i went to hear the Muddy Waters Band at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. i remember the band playing some fast hard shuffles, instrumentals…harps blazing, guitars screaming….about 15 minutes or so…then from off-stage, this cat comes on, wearing a gold satin smoking jacket, ankle length, guitar slung over his shoulder (i think it was his 4-pickup silvertone) not plugged in at all, he just strolled/sauntered/meandered onto the stage, smiling the biggest possible smile, went to his amp, plugged in (he did it himself, no guitar tech for Muddy!) and cranked it up, then came kicked in with the band like a 10-ton mule, everything leapt off the stage, the shuffle exploded, and Muddy there in his smoking jacket tearing into the blues, slide on fire….and i was a kid in the 99th row saying to myself…."i wanna be that guy".

What's your best musical experience?

same as above, but with Jimi Hendrix at the Mpls. Auditorium, a few years down the line from Muddy, but it was the same thing…Jimi starts playing, I'm stitting way in the back, I jump up, rush the stage,get about 5 rows back from the front of the stage, Jimi's playing a maple neck strat, which makes it look like (in the extreme lighting) that he has no strings on the damn thing, like the strings aren;t even there, he's just getting some god-sent sounds from thin air….never forget that…..

What’s your craziest project about?

re-thinking/re-orchestrating (processed samples/electronics only), re-imaging Mozart's Magic Flute….for a scaled down vocal ensemble and video projections….also a noise-guitar trio w/drums….Four Horsemen... bit like the guitaorganum series, but times FOUR

What do you recall about your guitar playing learning process?

the difference between learning how someone else plays, and the freedom to shelve all that and trust  those experiences, but to start from scratch, over and over, to begin again, re-learn, re-think, even playing an old blues standard…how to change it up? how to add/subtract something to get a different feel and expression…keeping things challenging…which is to say, i'm still learning

What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theater ...?

i'm a big fan of joyce, beckett, mallarmé, artaud, brecht, duchamp, cunningham of course….have set texts by, used as inspiration, all the above….

If you could, what would you say to yourself 30 (or 35) years ago, about your musical career?

take a music business class, cause the recording "industry" will disappear, and you'll need to do it all yourself….

 David Behrman/ John King Long Throw
Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with?

Leonin and Billie Holiday

"In A" by John King - part of "IN (Key)" - a celebration of Terry Riley's "IN C"

What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?

"start loving peanut butter, you'll be eating a lot of it if you keep playing that kinda music"

What instruments or tools do you use?

electric guitars, acoustic and steel guitars, banjos, oud, Max/MSP, Logic, Ableton LIVE….i don;t really understand the people who say, "I never use digital technology, only analog" or "I only use digital technology, never acoustic sound"….i still use a pencil and paper, or ink and paper, or computer all depends on the piece and the process which best translates the wacko ideas in my skull out into the world…one has to be polyfluent when it comes to languages and technologies (and lack thereof).

Selected Discography 
Click for info 

10 Mysteries

23 Rubai'yat

Ain't Nothing But A Polka Band

All At Once At Any Time



Big Funk



Crossing Hemispheres/Hemisferios Cruzados

Electric Sun

Electric World

Electric World meet Jopo + Markus Stauss


Extreme Guitar Orchestra


HeartPiece/HerzStück double opera

Hot Thumb in a Funky Groove


Manhattan Cascade

New York Guitars

Norwegian Wood

Nova Feedback

Last Works

2002-2011 Co-Director, Music Committee, Merce Cunningham Dance Company

2013 ping, an opera with the text of Samuel Beckett (Spherical Music Publishers, Inc., CD)

2013 Cage100PartyPieces, in collaboration with 124 other artists, premiered at Miller Theater, New York, NY (Spherical Music Publishers, Inc., CD)

2013 C-H-A-C-O-N-N-E, premiered at Rockwood Music Hall, New York, NY (Spherical Music Publishers, Inc., CD)

2012 light, premiered at Our Lady of Lebanon Church, Brooklyn, NY (Spherical Music Publishers, Inc., CD)

2012 KOSMOS part II, premiered at Roulette, Brooklyn, NY (Spherical Music Publishers, Inc., CD)

2012 (climax in) the Deserts of Love, premiered at Roulette, Brooklyn, NY (Spherical Music Publishers, Inc., CD)

2012 Apotheosis of Virginity, premiered at the David Lamelas show at Maccarone Gallery, New York, NY (Spherical Music Publishers, Inc., CD)

2011 Astral Epitaphs, commissioned by Merce Cunningham Dance Company, premiered at Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY (Spherical Music Publishers, Inc., CD) 

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 John King • NYC 1979 • © Michael Markos