Interview: John King

Guitarist and violist John King has composed music for opera, theater, orchestras, chamber ensembles, rock bands, dance and film, and was Music Curator at New York City’s The Kitchen from 1999-2003. He has received commissions from the Kronos Quartet, Ethel, Bang On A Can All-Stars, Mannheim Ballet, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, the Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. In March 2010, King and the Crucible Quartet released 10 Mysteries on Tzadik, which features 11 exquisite pieces that practice and explore the idea of “trilogic unity.” ANW had an opportunity to speak with King about 10 Mysteries and the new work he will be performing at Philadelphia Art Alliance on November 5.

Can you explain the idea of “trilogic unity” that motivates 10 Mysteries?

I had begun to explore different ways of organizing sound in some earlier pieces, but with 10 Mysteries these ideas came together in a distinct way. I would have an idea for a certain structure and I could compose these materials in a very fixed way. Within some of these parts, I would allow for chance operations to determine things like pitch sets or rhythmic elements or dynamic shapes. I would also allow for different improvisations "directions" which are given to the different musicians to be determined using chance. I would then leave areas of the piece to be improvised by the players, and when and for how long they improvised was left open. I tried to include equally musics which were fixed, which were created with chance and which were spontaneous.

How does the practice of “trilogic unity” allow the ensemble to explore new spaces between composition, improvisation and chance that would otherwise remain concealed?

I wanted these areas of composition, chance, and improvisation to have no clear start-or-end points. I wanted them to blend and merge seamlessly. The players follow independent paths which, on occasion, come together at times and in ways which are unplanned and unknown until that moment. This allows the players to play "with purpose, without intent.”

What is the relationship between 10 Mysteries and the I Ching?

I don't use the I Ching per se, but use the operation of coin tosses/die rolled/random numbers based on the non-repeating sequence of π (pi), etc. These random numbers are then used to generate pitches/dynamics/etc.

Can you tell me about Kosmos? Will you be performing sections from this in Philadelphia?

Kosmos will be a 2-3 hour long string quartet which I am currently working on, and because of its nature, I could not make an excerpt of such a piece. I have instead included a world premiere of a piece, BArACkoBAma, using the musical letters of the President's name to create melodic cells, which evolve and transform during the piece. I've done this with another recent piece for piano for mErCECunninGHAm. A kind of tribute or present. (B=Bb, H=Bnatural in musical nomenclature). John King and the Crucible Quartet will be performing, with an opening set by Jessica Pavone’s Songs of Synastry & Solitude, on Friday, November 5 at Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 S. 18th Street).