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Tom Johnson (composer)

Tom Johnson (composer)

The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Composer
Countries United States of America
Occupations Composer
Gender male
Birth 18 November 1939 (United States of America)
Spouse: Esther Ferrer
The details

Tom Johnson (born November 18, 1939 in Greeley, Colorado), is an American minimalist composer, a former student of Morton Feldman.


He earned his Bachelors and master's degree from Yale University. His pieces are most often based simply on mathematical and logical processes, such as tiling, which he attempts to make as clear as possible. His works include: The Four Note Opera, An Hour for Piano, Rational Melodies, the Bonhoeffer Oratorio, Organ and Silence, Riemannoper, and Galileo.

He has also composed a considerable amount of music for the guitar including Alexandrins pour guitare (1989), Canon for Six Guitars (1998), Arpeggios for Guitar (2002), and Tinkelenberg Rhythms (2014).

Johnson received the French "Victoires de la Musique" prize for contemporary composition (the French equivalent of the "Grammies") in 2001 for "Kientzy Loops".

He lived 15 years in New York, but in 1983 settled in Paris, where he lives with his wife, the artist Esther Ferrer.

Nine Bells

Nine Bells (1973), (1983, India Navigation) is a conceptual album in which Johnson performs on 9 bells, evenly spaced and hanging from the ceiling. Greg Sandow (2003) describes Nine Bells, "in which he walked, at a steady rhythmic pace (and, if I remember correctly, for more than an hour), among nine suspended burglar alarm bells, systematically exploring all the possible paths among them. Which, since he strikes each bell as he passes it, are also all the possible melodies their pitches might make. As in many of Tom's works, theory and practice are identical here... You see and hear the structure of the piece. That's not even remotely abstract; instead, it's pure happiness, as the pealing bells seem to ring with Tom's concentration (visible in his face and body, audible in his steady steps), and his joie de vivre." At the age of 55, Johnson had to stop performing this athletic piece, but Matthias Kaul, Adam Weisman, Olaf Pyras

and others have developed their own interpretations of the score, using their own sets of bells. Similarly, Galileo, another invented instrument consisting of five swinging pendulums, which the composer performed often from 2001 to 2009, is now interpreted by Pierre Berthet.


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