American composer and guitarist Scott Johnson incorporates modern instrumentation such as the electric guitar into his works. His music has been heard in performances by Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and his own ensembles; and in dance works performed by the Boston Ballet, the London Contemporary Dance Theater, and the Ballets de Monte Carlo. His music is recorded on the Nonesuch, CRI, Point, and Tzadik labels.
Johnson played in local rock bands and took music theory courses during this time. After relocating to N.Y.C. in 1975, he focused solely on visual arts for a few years before his music interest was reignited by working on a sound sculpture. Johnson composed "How It Happens" for Kronos Quartet. "John Somebody," one of his most acclaimed compositions, has been recorded by several ensembles on various record labels. Patty Hearst was released on Tzadik in 2007 (it served as the score for director Paul Schrader's film of the same name in 2008).
Johnson released Americans (also on Tzadik), including a three-movement, six-years-in-the-making composition of the same name based on the experience of immigrants in the United States. Johnson has also published articles and essays on contemporary music, one of which is excerpted in Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin's influential volume Music in the Western World. His writings are set in landscapes that mix pop sensibilities with classical rigor. He has lectured on his music and ideas at leading conservatories and universities, including the San Francisco and Peabody conservatories, Senzaku Ongaku Daigaku, New York University, the Manhattan School of Music, and Yale University.
Johnson's 74-minute, eight-movement suite Mind Out of Matter was performed by the 18-piece contemporary music ensemble Alarm Will Sound with sampled recordings by philosopher Daniel C. Dennett in a premiere at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University as part of its adventurous Peak Performances series. In February of 2018, Tzadik issued a recording of Johnson's Mind Out of Matter, again performed by Alarm Will Sound with Dennett's sampled voice.