John King
Photo by Jean LeRoy

John King is a composer of many beautiful and fascinating string quartets. A violist himself, John has a deep understanding of the string sound and a particularly keen feel for extended techniques. He is also very successful at incorporating improvisation and indeterminacy into his string music in a totally organic way.

This past October I recorded John's new music for string quartet on a CD entitled 10 Mysteries (also the title of one of the compositions). John plays viola on that disc, and the other performers are Mark Feldman (violin) and Alex Waterman (cello).

This coming Saturday we'll be performing 10 Mysteries at Roulette, as the official CD release performance. Mark can't be at the performance, but we're lucky enough to be joined by violinist Christopher Otto from the JACK Quartet.

Here John discusses 10 Mysteries and some other topics:

Dufallo: Can you name some of your musical influences?

King: Muddy Waters, J. S. Bach, Jimi Hendrix, W. A. Mozart, Little Walter, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Eric Clapton, Erik Satie, John Cage, Radiohead, I. Xenakis, Perotin, Anonymous IV, Buddy Guy, and again Jimi Hendrix...and probably again W. A. Mozart......(mostly his "singspielen")

Dufallo: Describe your creative process for 10 Mysteries. What ideas/concepts came to you first, and how did they develop?

King: I started with the idea of nothing, and built from sound, no rhythm, no timbre, no pitch, , no amplitude, no duration.....then I heard my heartbeat, and then heard my blood flow, and then I was reading Hermes Trismegistus, and then I was reading Thomas Aquinas, and then I was reading Arabic and Egyptian alchemists and following their trajectories into western (Jungian) thought and analysis, then I said, "perhaps we'll begin with tremolos and build from there", and I guess that's what I did. My main idea was to have the players be independent and occasionally coalesce, and then veer off on individual trajectories.....then again, come together, etc......the idea of "bar-line" is almost completely absent from this work......

Dufallo: 10 Mysteries - why only nine movements?

King: I felt very strongly that the 9 mvt.'s were leading TOWARDS something, and that the SOMETHING was the silence created by the previous music's ending/stopping.....that things "led up to" the precipice/chasm of something that had no compositional correspondence in anything other than the players stopping and waiting for, or somehow joining with, the audience in wonder......

Dufallo: Can you discuss some of your other upcoming projects?

King: I will be working on a new "opera", a work of light, video, sound, voices, set and costume (or lack thereof) based on the text fragments of the archaic Greek poet Sappho (some remark of her poetry that the fragments pose a "problem" of interpretation and understanding, i feel that these fragments open a grand and potential vista INSIDE her words).

Dufallo: Do you have any advice for young composers?

King: Do Everything....someone asks for a piece for "x, y and z" then DO IT!!! you are an instrumentalist and are asked to be on a gig, DO IT!!! all opportunities are to be experienced, appreciated, learned from (potentially learned to be avoided), used as springboards for the next step/composition/improvisation/encounter......just DO IT, without conditions, without prejudice, without reservation.....with extreme confidence and energy.