Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson: Patty Hearst

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In the mid-'80s, composer Scott Johnson burst onto the new music scene with his irresistible album John Somebody. Taking loops of found, everyday conversation, Johnson drew out the subtle melodic and rhythmic patterns of common speech (perhaps deriving inspiration from Alvin Lucier) and used them as the basis for jazz-rock elaborations. Director Paul Schrader, known for using relatively experimental composers for his soundtracks, chose Johnson to score his examination of the Patty Hearst incident, and the resulting music follows a similar path. The title track uses Natasha Richardson's gasped "Mom? Dad?" as a rhythmic source while finding a melodic theme in her desolate plaint, "I'm not being starved or beaten or unnecessarily frightened." Along with other dialogue and sounds from the movie, Johnson weaves a compellingly dramatic score. His music often has the bravado and exuberance of early fusion bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but he's as capable of subtlety as flashiness. Scored for string quartet with percussion and electric keyboards, Johnson's strident, anxious guitar frequently soars over the mix, providing an appropriate bite. Some of the pieces have an "extracted" quality but generally they hold up well on their own, independent of their function as soundtrack music. Patty Hearst is not as thrilling or surprising as John Somebody, but still provides some enjoyable extensions of that work.

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