Pittsburgh New Music Net

cutting-edge music in the ’burgh and beyond

Thoughts generated from an interview with Pittsburgh’s Michael Johnsen

Recently, I was able to acquire two short 3” cdrs consisting of Michael Johnsen’s electronic music. Each disc contains a piece recorded in 2007 – a room-mic’d piece created with live electronic sound and a direct recording credited as “live electronic sound made by the tuning & spatial manipulation of two closely spaced portable AM radios having loopstick antennae, the resulting signal undergoing mild output processing, primarily filtering & gating.” The resulting sounds contain an ever-morphing range of pitch, timbre, and rhythm – quickness slackening into silence – electronic growls, stutters, and springs – the occasional bleed of a romantically-sung phrase. Basically, an enticing listen with a surprise always around the corner.

The original impetus for this post was to review these pieces. However, upon finding it hard to dissect the music without resorting to a list of hypothetical influences, thus, revealing my own limitations and projections, I decided to approach the post as an interview. The interview ranged from Stockhausen anecdotes to public perception, qualifications for success, relative fame given for wrong reasons, potential irrelevance of authorship and genre, the difference between musical investigations conducted in private vs. those performed in front of an audience, the affect of the audience on the performance, trends in free improv circles, the homogenization of lifestyles in different countries, how that homogenization affects creative work, and a love of the marginal musician – the enthused person reveling in the process of investigation, potentially without the luxury of technique.

One theme that runs through much of our conversation is the idea of pure investigation, a strong curiosity for sounds and events. The appreciation of art does not need to be regulated to gallery walls, but could occur at any point, in any situation. This is an apt description of the sounds emitting from Michael’s large stash of homemade/handmade electronic boxes, filters, etc. Each set is unique. Each venue provides a different set of acoustics to play off, a different number of bodies for the sound to travel through, a number of street sounds ready for response. For those of you who have seen Michael perform, there surely exists a quest for something unheard, a quest that is not without humor, but is surely without pretension.

For those interested in Michael’s music, the cdrs may be acquired by contacting Michael at johnsenmm@yahoo.com. Also, for those looking for an avenue more exotic, there may still be some copies available through the French distributor, Metamkine (www.metamkine.com).

Michael Johnsen will be performing at the last Why Art Music Series concert for March 2009, held at Monk’s on Saturday, March 28. Monk’s is located at 3634 Penn Avenue. Admission is $3-5, doors at 8:00PM. Also, performing is tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, A Collaboration, and a duo set by Mike Tamburo and myself (David Bernabo).


March 25, 2009 at 11:28 pm Comments (0)