Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson: The Chord Catalogue

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Composer and critic Tom Johnson had a long career on the experimental music scene, often creating works as strongly concerned with conceptual ideas as with the resultant music. In most cases, the two were complementary; in The Chord Catalogue, well…. In his notes to the piece, Johnson writes, "It is not so much a composition as simply a list." One must give him points for honesty. The Chord Catalogue consists of all 8,178 chords possible in the middle C octave. It begins with the 78 two-note chords and ends with the single 13-note chord. These are played in an absolutely regular, unvarying rhythm without the slightest inflection, no sustain, and only a brief pause between sections. While the first selection goes by painlessly enough, as the number of chords mounts (up to 1,716 for the six- and seven-note chords), listening becomes an increasingly arduous task. One can imagine a certain transcendence being achieved in a live situation with overtones buzzing around one's ears, but on disc, it essentially amounts to Johnson's description: a list. The work is decidedly difficult to play and the composer assures the listener that mistakes are inevitable, but there aren't enough noticeable mistakes to breathe life into this concept, far more intriguing in idea than in execution.

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