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15 Questions to John Morton

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I am back home in Tappan, NY – just finished setting up my sound installation “SonicHudson” at a museum in Florida.


What’s on your schedule right now?
Recovery, and then a concert next weekend at the Brick Elephant in Valley Mills, NY (run by Mary Jane Leach) with Miguel Frasconi.


What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
The world is in crisis, why should music be spared?


What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
Music that defies categorization, that can be baffling, confusing, discomforting or fresh.


How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
If you are going to work with sound, you have to decide how much control you want to impose on sound. Even if sound is totally controlled, it can sound chaotic.


How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
In many of my music box pieces, I create a computer program that lets the computer listen and choose the direction of the piece. I can either play along or try to change that direction, with further digressions imposed by the computer. So the composition is in building the program and choosing and altering the music boxes; the improvisation becomes an unpredictable dialogue between composer and computer.


How would you define the term “interpretation”?
A way of penetrating a piece of music.


Harmony? Dissonance? The freedom to choose both, none or just one?
I really don’t give it much thought. I start with a world that is harmonic (the music box) and as I begin to alter it, it takes on its own life which is very much unconstrained by a pitch philosophy.


A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
This seems rather academic. If you welcome new musical notions and sounds, that seems good enough. I really don’t see the point in placing limitations or categories on any kind of sonic construction.


Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
I would hope that serious music could be entertaining, and that popular music could be thought provoking.


Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
Music is a difficult medium to create representations of political or social sentiments. There is no way to predict how people will interpret or respond to a composer’s intended interpretation. For instance, I wrote “Amazing Grace Variations” as a personal response to “9-11” - the tune was omnipresent after the devastation in many forms and settings. Almost nobody that I have spoken to has picked up on that.


True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
I don’t think people need to be educated about music, but sometimes it helps to have some sort of musical experience (as a listener or participant) before encountering a new work.


True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.
It is rare to find a granting organization that is willing to take a risk on experimental work. When panels are broad in scope, I think they do a fair job.


You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
I would love to see a festival where the traditional concert set is broken into smaller pieces and re-arranged. I find the typical first half/intermission/second half progression to be tiresome.


Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I’d love to do a music box concerto with orchestra.


Picture by Molly Sheridan


Discography:
Outlier (Innova)
Solo Traveler (Innova)

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