New York’s String Noise—the violin duo of Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris—have been featured in this column several times in the last few years. They’ve been on a tear, releasing exciting, challenging new work without interruption, and this collection of pieces written for them by John King is merely the latest stop in this productive flow. The pieces here, composed between 2014-2020, deploy relatively simple yet highly effective processes for the duo, beginning with the title piece, the most recent work collected here, a study for triple stops, in which three of the instrument’s four strings are bowed simultaneously. The music ebbs and surges in wonderfully dense clusters with a remarkable amount of internal action—droning, sparkling, and slashing in ever-shifting layers. “Triple Threat” gives each musician plenty of autonomy in moving through the composer’s written material, but there are a series of musical gestures that must be voiced in strict unison. This forces both of them to remain hyper-aware of one another even while setting their own individual paces for a steady pulling-apart and coming-together. King used chance procedures to determine pitch, duration, dynamics, and timbre for the score to “Klepsydra I,” but only the first element is identical for both musicians. Finally, “Triple Helix” finds the musicians interacting with an electronic part in which all of their acoustic sounds are randomly sampled, processed, and spatialized, creating a thrilling and unpredictable sonic hall of mirrors. By Peter Margasak

Best Contemporary Classical on Bandcamp Aug. 2022

String Noise is an entirely appropriate project name, not because the musicians (violinists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris) are attempting to make harsh noise, but because their compositions, which explore different techniques based on chance as well as determinate forms, embrace dissonance and clashing dynamics. “Centripetal Light” features arrangements of three simultaneously played pitches, often arriving at glorious, hair-raising clashes. The somewhat more Kronos-like “Triple Threat” is more of a structured improvisation, culminating in busier sections where the violins seem to be chasing each other around the room. “Klepsydra I” organizes rhythms, durations, dynamics, and timbres by chance, and it ends up being the quietest, least intrusive piece of the four, yet it’s still too eerie to slip away into the background, unnoticed. “Triple Helix” is an electronically treated piece containing chance-determined electronic alterations of the composed acoustic sections. This, of course, helps the music move in different sonic dimensions, adding more of a digital crush and 3D spatialization, sometimes adding barbed distortion or making the sounds closer to a didgeridoo. It lasts for 20 minutes and doesn’t particularly have a clear beginning or end, just sort of fizzling out as if it’s about to segue to another section, so it feels a bit more like a generative experiment than a performance, but it’s essentially both, and it might be String Noise at their most adventurous.

The Answer Is In The Beat
June 30 2020
Sonic Gathering XI

Composer/guitarist John King is among the many seeking to break the silence of COVID-19 lockdown. His series of Sonic Gatherings have, true to form, united a variety of genres and schools of thought, from the composed to the wholly improvised (Jun. 3rd). King’s “electrified e-bow guitar” painted large swaths of the soundscape, at points creating a field that had little in common with standard guitar (one could think there was a hidden bank of keyboards), yet at other points, he dispensed with such timbres and simply tore into the music. In any case, the concept was to mingle his rich palette with the deep, throaty trombone. Three of them, in fact. Chris McIntyre, already well versed in the use of electronics for sound-shifting, was a fitting companion in this sojourn as was German trombonist Stephan Kirsch, broadcasting from his home in Mannheim. Though both are welcome names to TNYCJR readers, the third, Steve Swell, had to cancel at the last moment. Hard not to be disappointed as Swell’s presence anywhere is nothing short of masterful, but the pair with King cast textures at once enveloping and gripping. Out front, two gifted dancerchoreographers Brandon Collwes and Claire Westby, both from the Liz Gerring Dance Company (Collwes also did years with Merce Cunningham) brought the music into the fully tangible, embracing each shift with pose and motion that had your frustrated reviewer damning the limits of technology. Catching a live Sonic Gathering is on the agenda ASAP. The New York City Jazz Record - John Pietaro

New York @ Night July/2020
May 25 2020
Sonic Gathering VII

Of mutable screens and shared sounds Sonic Gathering VII , directed by John King . Musicians: Sergio Sorrentino (Vercelli, Italy), Jorge Chikiar (Buenos Aires), Gelsey Bell, Steve Swell and John King. Choreographers / dancers: Brandon Collwes, Anna Witenberg, Casey Hess and Claire Westby. Zoom videoconference. Function: 05/06/2020. Sonic Gathering is presented by its creator, the prolific John King, as an iteration that brings together a group of dancers together with a rotating ensemble of musicians. An iteration involves repeating a process with the intention of achieving a particular goal. The results of each repetition are the starting point for the next meeting. The context of a pandemic forces this ensemble to be located in different places, acting simultaneously through software that not only allows communication within the show but also provides us with a virtual stage space, open to a remote audience. The proposal arises as a result of a human and technological confluence, developing simultaneously in real and virtual spaces. Participating in the proposal involves a series of prior adjustments. When entering the meeting (favored by the much in vogue Zoom application), the video and audio of the spectators is turned off and it is requested to leave it that way until the end, when a chat and exchange space is opened. Once inside, you are invited to configure the video to hide those participants who do not use it, achieving that only the artists appear on the screen. The option of "Gallery view" allows to see all the artists at the same time, which is how the piece is designed, but it also leaves open the possibility of seeing only the window of an individual artist or even toggling, creating, each concurrent , your own visual journey. Within this virtual stage, housed on our screens, we can appreciate the action of dancers and musicians (depending on whether they are enabling or turning off their cameras) like tokens of a Tetris that constantly rearrange themselves generating new combinations. This scenario is mutable not only in its structure (how each image is organized in relation to the others according to some unknown logarithm) but also in its texture (what happens rhetorically within each shot: the decisions of where to put the camera, the space, changing rooms, etc.). Sonic Gathering is an experience in which the devices used for its development take on great relevance in enabling meaning-making processes. These hyperdevices enable new ways of building aBeing together in the interpreters, putting in relation levels of reality that are distant or impossible to contact. The proposal appears as a multimedia expression that surrounds the body and its functions. The show is open to an audience that attends through a videoconference, proposing then an open and branched communication model. The real and the virtual meet in dialogue, in fusion, in feedback. There is a person who is captured by a camera that connects to a network that builds a code that is decoded through another computer. The emitted response undergoes the same transformations before being captured by a real otrx that lives on the other side of the devices. The scene, as a whole, is built in that "between", in a virtual world that is interwoven with what is happening in the real micro-scenes. From a theoretical approach, we could think that the metonymy that operates in the presentation of absence builds the effect that technology has the ability to bring together, to unite, but this is still an effect and, from this point of view, There is a certain magic that is lost (that which appears on the screen is still in another space, the distance relationship does not change). Now, this balloon that I have just punctured does not detract from the pleasure of enjoying several of these experiences as a spectator. It seduces and challenges me when the coexistence of disconnected times and spaces is crossed by a high aesthetic content. Sonic Gatheringit is a network creation crossed by multiple dichotomous pairs (real and virtual bodies in dialogue, presence / absence, matter / image of matter) and by a wonderful meeting point: the “right now” proper to our technological era with the “ right now ”of dance as an ephemeral expression. When we encounter these multiple articulated matters of expression, each constructs specific enunciative scenes. In these devices, being connected accentuates the resources and discourses of being in contact as a goal proposal: a staging of interactivity. Nicolas Bourriaud maintains that "art is the organization of shared presence between objects, images and people". In many of the contemporary practices that he describes, being-together becomes a central theme, because what it is about is the possibility of collectively elaborating meaning. "Art," says the author, "is a state of encounter." Sonic Gathering is too. LOÎE Magazine – Mauro Cacciatore May 26, 2020

Of mutable screens and shared sounds

Contemporary music has been measured with political and social commitment. Think of Luigi Nono (remember what they did in Auschwitz, 1966), Frederic Rzewski (The People United Will Never Be Defeated !, 1975), or Cornelius Cardew, a Communist militant of proven faith. But even today there are musicians deployed. One of these is John King, who recently released the Free Palestine CD (New World Records, 2017). As the title says, the record is a tribute to the Palestinian cause, which has been dragged for seventy years without prospects of solution. John King, born in Minneapolis (United States) in 1953, began to be interested in politics in the 1970s when the Vietnam War mobilized much of the US youth. In these years he started writing short orchestral compositions and chamber music. So it is the turn of the struggle against South African apartheid, even this fragmentation of music. Nurtured by reading authors such as Hannah Arendt and Edward Said, King embraces the Palestinian cause. This consistent and sincere choice deeply affects its music, as the record discovers. The artist discovers Arabic music only in 2011 while he is in Jerusalem for a tour. The sounds he heard in a cafe have a great impact on him. Two years later he decides to learn (self-taught ) how to play the oud (similar to a lute). The fifteen pieces, written between 2013 and 2014, form a unitary composition for string quartet. Each passage has the name of a Palestinian place: from Nuris and Sabbarin, overwhelmed by the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, to the most well-known as Gaza and Al-Quds (Gerusalemme in Arabic). The performance is by a New York quartet quartet, The Secret Quartet, composed by active musicians also in other metropolis formations (Either / Or, ETHEL, Ljova and the Contraband, etc.). Stylish and intense "Huzam - Khan Yunis", the only a piece where the composer plays the oud. The long "Athar Kurd-Deir Yassin", which vaguely meets certain Bartók quartets, is based on a slow melody that blends the visceral tones of Arabic music with the harmonious richness of classical Europe. Steve Smith's notes, careful and detailed, are also a precious complement. The fact that King sympathizes with the Palestinian cause, however, should not be foolish: we are in front of a real composer, not an agit-prop that puts their own proclamations into music. The music starts from certain melodic and rhythmic Arabic modules and engages them in their cultural baggage. To confirm what has been said above, his activity is not only inspired by the political commitment. Some of his works highlight a strong interest in poetry: Dice Thrown, based on Mallarmé's un Coup de Dés; SapphOpera, with texts from the Greek poetess; herzstück / heartpiece, based on the homonymous text by Heiner Müller, one of the greatest playwrights in the German Democratic Republic. In other cases he puts pieces for his instrument, the guitar (Overtones for the Underdog, 2014) and composes for the theater. by Alessandro Michelucci

Musica Maestro - Palestine libera

John King (b. 1953) has been a fixture of the Downtown scene for decades, as a performer and composer. Free Palestine (2013–14) is a set of 15 pieces for string quartet, each based on a particular maqam, or mode, from Arabic musical practice. The titles of each combine the mode with the name of a Palestinian village destroyed during the partition of the region in the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948 (such as “Nikriz-Qamun”). As you can see, the underlying concept of the piece is controversial, and King is unafraid to plant his flag in defense of Palestinian rights. But the piece is political only in this conceptual underpinning; the actual music is direct, sophisticated, and designed to stand entirely on its own, not as agitprop. As far as I can tell, the actual music is King’s, not arrangements of traditional works. It seems that after a long immersion of listening and performing in the style, these pieces began to pour out of him. They are often more sectional, varied, and multilayered than many of their sources (for example, to my ear, some lines in a texture are taking over the role of percussion). It reminds me at times of Terry Riley’s mammoth cycle for string quartet, Salome Dances for Peace (one piece even is structured in manner similar to In C). And the “Free” of the title has multiple meanings, in particular the musical freedom that is incorporated in varied forms of improvisation and openness throughout. King in the notes says that he has not tried to create an ethnomusically “correct” work, especially in terms of alternative tuning; rather, he wants sounds that fit the tradition to emerge naturally out of the context he creates. I suspect that the more one knows of the tradition, the more one comes to hear how this music is different from the source. (To take just one example, there are moments of far greater chromaticism than I suspect would usually be found.) And at the same time, it feels deeply rooted therein and immensely respectful. This is made particularly feasible by the fluent, precise, and passionate playing of the Secret Quartet, who are Cornelius Dufallo and Jennifer Choi, violins; Ljova Zhurbin, viola; and Yves Dharamraj, cello. King aims to advocate for the rights of what he sees as a dispossessed people by presenting music from their tradition as something strong and authentic, a legacy that can be taken up by those outside the tradition, and thus is a cultural gift to all. You don’t have to accept the politics to savor the strength, beauty, and imagination of this music. Robert Carl

Free Palestine - John King - The Secret Quartet - New World Records

This bold collaboration features two New York experimentalists of different generations and disciplines finding common cause with powerfully cogent results. Vocalist Gelsey Bell, a core member of the unapologetically chance-taking thingNY, works at the nexus of improvisation, theatricality, and classical rigor, while composer and guitarist John King, a veteran presence on the downtown scene, has spanned decades evolving his technologies and approaches. The late choreographer Merce Cunningham brings them together; King wrote music and performed for Cunningham, while Bell was drawn into his orbit for a collaboration when the French dance company Compagnie CNDC-Angers mounted an interpretation of his Event in 2015. The music they created for that piece is the core of this stunning recording, developed over another year or so of performance and rehearsal. Each artist wrote loose improvisational frameworks for one another. They draw upon vast reserves of extended technique and traditional practice to deliver six shape-shifting works that shimmer with a mix of liquid grace and harrowing tension. King alternates between viola, his second instrument next to electric guitar, and the traditional West African string instrument n’goni—both heavily treated and processed with electronics—while Bell unleashes a dizzying array of clear-toned melody, guttural groans, various electronic effects and vocoder, along with gurgles and smears generated on synthesizer and metallophone. There’s no missing the improvisational openness of the performances, but the shape and logic of each piece is directed by an indelible compositional mindset. The music doesn’t wander aimlessly—it engages in meticulous, but largely fearless, exploration.

Best of Bandcamp Sept 2017

The past and future of experimental vocalism came together on Saturday, when Joan La Barbara and Gelsey Bell shared the stage at the Wild Project in the East Village for an enthralling trio of John King’s 20-minute “micro-operas.” Not that Ms. La Barbara resides in the past. At 68, after decades as a trailblazing composer and performer of works by John Cage, Robert Ashley, Morton Feldman and others, she remains an active artist and a redoubtable voice. Opening Saturday’s program, part of the seventh Avant Music Festival, with “Ping” (2014), even her slight intake of breath was thrilling, the signal of a threshold being crossed. At one point in the evening, Ms. La Barbara stood in an aisle, staring as if lost in thought and emitting a low tone about a foot from my left ear. It felt like an annunciation. From that first breath, “Ping,” a setting of a prose text by Beckett, progressed with the ominousness of a cast spell. The vocal part is a kind of toned, modulated speaking: vowels elongated, pitches bent, full of whispers and rasps. The word “white” appears over and over again, and each time she delivered it like a mystery. Suspended midway between floor and ceiling on either side of a seated Ms. La Barbara were two pieces of cast-iron cookware, which she would occasionally thwack with mallets held in a tense formation at her midsection. Mr. King also sat, framed in a doorway at the back of the stage, playing the viola, the fragmented notes of which elicited an array of swirling, spreading electronic sounds. The title of “A-R-S” (2015), which followed “Ping” without pause, refers to a quote of ancient philosophy favored by Cage: “Ars imitatur naturam in sua operatione” (“art imitates nature in the way she operates”). Ms. Bell joined in here, seeming to slowly follow Ms. La Barbara’s movements throughout the stage and the small theater, crossed by shifting patches of colored light. A quartet of recorded voices — Ms. La Barbara, Ms. Bell, Randy Gibson and Nick Hallett — droned in the background underneath a live sound world familiar from the works of Meredith Monk: throat clicks, buzzing, hums, tones that shifted from wisps to operatic cries. Ms. La Barbara’s costume — a flowing white nightgown and white robe — evoked both a hospital patient and an angel. Was the 33-year-old Ms. Bell, in a girlish white dress, her long-ago self? The subtle tensions here — young/old, live/recorded, still/moving, separate/together, male/female — made “A-R-S,” mournful and ecstatic by turns, indelibly an opera, even without characters, plot or readily comprehensible text. Chance plays a significant role in how the piece transpires, but there was a sense of firm intention, of dramatic momentum. A setting of the last text Beckett wrote, “What Is the Word” (2016) was more driving, dominated by stuttering, playful, patchy repetitions of the title. As they sat at a table facing the audience, Ms. Bell was goofy, Ms. La Barbara drier. This was an abstract buddy comedy, mystifying and utterly endearing.

A Trio of Micro-Operas in the East Village/NYTimes

“John King’s Dice Thrown, a fantasia on a grand and intoxicating late poem by Mallarmé, was more like a revelation. Mr. King is an esteemed downtown veteran who has composed two scores for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company; like Mr. Cunningham’s partner, John Cage, he composes using chance operations, creating music that eschews any resemblance to traditional tonality or syntax. And yet, in a performance by the stunningly accurate soprano Melissa Fogarty, the piece became a dazzling coloratura solo of compelling dramatic urgency. The soprano and the orchestral players (conducted ably by Marc Lowenstein) have considerable freedom in interpreting the “materials” of Mr. King’s fragmentary score: Each performance makes for a unique, unrepeatable composition. Nothing’s easier than to write bad music this way—and as the second of two 15-minute versions began its run, I was not hopeful. But about five minutes in, wonderful things started happening. The English horn player intoned his phrases with an ear-catching lyrical arc; the strings responded in kind, and Ms. Fogarty started creating a character, not just a “part.” A musical country you could call Mallarmé Land cohered into being: We could picture its mountains, its cities, its fretting housewives, its squabbling politicians. Perhaps it’s the listener, ultimately, who breathes life into Mr. King’s piece, or pieces. But it’s the composer’s invention that makes that possible, and Mr. King’s is of a rare kind.”

NY Observer

"Right up front, written in the program, composer/creator John King proposes a half-dozen different scenarios for his electronic opera, "La Belle Captive" (you get to decide on the most likely candidate). Then he quotes Alain Robbe-Grillet. If this doesn't provoke in you feelings of placid certainty, you're not alone. But what follows is hypnotic, intellectually substantial, and slightly chilling - if never quite comprehensible. Mr. King’s multimedia cornucopia, with video and sound mixed live, delights in proposing a dozen narrative nodes that collide and compete with each other. Using bits of Robbe-Grillet’s writing, he spins a sort of multidimensional, postmodern mystery story, in which young women are abducted, tarot cards are examined, and foreign objects suddenly appear in static paintings. It's a bit like having a dream after hearing a fragment of Paul Auster broadcast on a broken television set. A young woman (Analia Couceyro) can just be seen through a portal of scrim, on which is projected yellow and orange static, images of a city, and a giant eye. Her voice, lightly accented, describes for us an unseen picture in staggering detail. The painting, which occasionally resembles what we see through the screen, is of a cell with women trapped inside. As the voice of our narrator weaves its way in and out of Spanish and through various identities, we worry she herself might be some sort of inmate. Another woman (Carla Filipcic Holm), dressed in a toga, sings fragments of songs in Spanish, and provides the lonely woman with an imaginary friend. Describing the production has the unfortunate result of making it all sound like chaos. But Mr. King, video designer Benton-C Bainbridge, and set designer Minou Maguna have created a well-delineated world that churns up the same disturbing images again and again. Only a few chosen items make up this strange little universe, and the piece obsesses over them until our minds are forced to order them into sense. The spell of the piece never breaks. It's a sturdy sort of magic that Mr. King creates, and it's a pleasure to succumb to it."


Dance: At the World, 'Leonard and Cinciana' The theater was packed when Dennis O'Connor and Ann Papoulis presented 'Leonard and Cinciana' at the World, at 254 East Second Street, on Thursday. That was unsurprising, for Mr. O'Connor is a gifted member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Ms. Papoulis is a performer of special resonance. What was surprising - considering the subject of the new piece and the fact that neither dancer appears to have a great deal of experience as a choreographer - was how consistently interesting the evening was. 'Leonard and Cinciana' had many of the trappings that uncertain choreographers sometimes use. These included kitschy stage props, a rather overwhelming setting for the event and some extra-dance underpinnings, in this case the inspiration, according to the program notes, of Georges Bataille and Heiner Muller. The precise influence of the French philosopher and East German playwright is unclear, but certainly the dark and tumultuous atmosphere of 'Leonard and Cinciana' does owe something to those metaphysicians of depravity and social disintegration. And the dance did draw from its surroundings and its props. The vast and shadowed rococo interior of the World, a Lower East Side club, lent an air of gaudy grandeur to the dance that seemed to have been spawned in some chamber of horrors. Framed pictures of white miniature dogs and lighted votive candles on squares of plastic turf stood in a line that defined the front of the stage space. A row of unmatched, colorful table lamps provided a boundary at one side. Both added an antic air of homeyness to this tale of passion. The problem with 'Leonard and Cinciana' was the unvarying quality of its hostility. There were moments of convincing tenderness in the duet, but these often seemed to be cues to further battles of the sexes. Interestingly, there was fluid gender role-playing with each of the dancers smoothly switching traditional male and female roles as aggressor and victim. The piece also offered the chance to settle back and enjoy the gifts of the buoyant Mr. O'Connor, who skittered across the surface of the dance, and of Ms. Papoulis, an outstandingly expressive and lithe performer. John King's rich and witty score, performed by Mr. King and Joseph Paul Taylor, was another highlight. 'Leonard and Cinciana,' which had set designs by Cis Bierinckx, was produced by Osvaldo Gomariz and the World, and is part of the club's 'Gas Station at the World' series. By JENNIFER DUNNING Published: January 30, 1988 NYT