John Kameel Farah
Can you describe your approach as "electronic composer-in-residence" in general and as it pertains to the recent Peggy Baker show in particular?
Getting to employ different sides of myself is definitely one of the satisfying aspects of it. The show consists of four solos, danced by Peggy Baker, Andrea Nann, Benjamin Kamino and Sahara Morimoto, and a new piece for four dancers called "Split-Screen Stereophonic." When we first started working together, Peggy knew me more as a pianist than composer, but after she heard me improvising and working with electronics in solo concerts and during rehearsals, I think it opened up new possibilities in our artistic relationship. So in this show I go from shouting out bits of newspaper text while playing "Encoded Revision," a piece by Michael J. Baker, to playing "In a Landscape," a minimalistic, modal piece by John Cage, and finally moving to my electronic set-up, improvising a score using Fender Rhodes, synth, iPad and Ableton Live processing, in a piece called "Aleatoric Solo No. 1."
As a classically-trained musician, how did you gravitate towards improvised, electronic and beat-based music?
I always tried to improvise around piano pieces I was learning as a teenager. When I started getting into contemporary classical music, it opened up endless possibilities for improvising on. Discovering electronic dance music in university, I loved the textures, complexity of structure as in a sonata, in beat-based pieces, and incorporate my improvisation as well. So I experimented in that direction, and in a way the electronics became my imaginary orchestra.
What new projects have you got going?
I'm working a commission from Soundstreams, mixing my new album, and writing a short piece for violinist Lara St. John. I'm doing a preview of the commissioned piece for piano and electronics that also incorporates a new Soundstreams music app for iPad at Toronto Symphony Orchestra lobby. And the new album, Between Carthage and Rome, is entrenched in Middle Eastern rhythms, modes and themes, and also steeped in dense counterpoint — there are three solo piano fugues that each go in completely crazy directions. Plans after that are to make album only using keyboard textures — Rhodes, piano, harpsichord, clavichord, synths.
You do a number of creative things exceedingly well: compose, perform and improvise on piano, harpsichord, organ and synthesizers, play electronic/ambient music, and you're a fine visual artist, too. Do you come from a musical family? Where does your creative inspiration come from?
I am the only musician in my family, but my mother is a big creative inspiration in my life, always trying something new, whether it be a new type of painting, quilt-making, writing a cookbook or making her website; a kind of fountain of creativity, which encourages me to follow my inner voice. My immediate family is split between science and creative arts, and that dynamic has been really stimulating for my development.
NewsJul 22, 2015
Omar Souleyman Talks 'Bahdeni Nami,' Working with Four Tet
There is a certain cool-as-fuck mystique around Syrian singer Omar Souleyman. From an auspicious start as a frequently requested wedding sin...
FeaturesJul 02, 2015
Hudson MohawkeSound + Vision
Six years can go by quickly when you're as busy as Glaswegian producer Hudson Mohawke is. Since releasing his Warp debut, Butter, in 200...
NewsJun 16, 2015
Hudson Mohawke Reintroduces Himself on 'Lantern'
For Glaswegian neon-electronic producer Hudson Mohawke, today (June 16) is release day for his second full-length, Lantern, his first since ...
NewsJun 15, 2015
Jaga Jazzist Explain Their Ever-Changing Direction on 'Starfire'
Norwegian experimental jazz troupe Jaga Jazzist have created genre-bending music for over 20 years, a remarkable feat considering three sibl...
NewsJun 09, 2015
Holly Herndon Flips the Dynamic Between Audience and Performer with 'Platform'
On the eve of the release of her album Platform, Holly Herndon talked to Exclaim! about her previous experimental performances, the process ...
FeaturesMay 27, 2015
Jamie xxDancing On His Own
Whether alone or on tour with his critically acclaimed band the xx, Jamie xx is in his own world. "On tour, most of the time, Jamie is ju...
NewsMay 27, 2015
Prefuse 73 Reflects on His Return and Future Projects with Haxan Cloak, Michael Christmas
Aside from being Guillermo Scott Herren's most notable moniker, the name Prefuse 73 will always be intrinsically linked with the birth of gl...
NewsMay 25, 2015
Shamir Finds His Disco-Pop Voice on 'Ratchet'
One of last year's best new discoveries was a confident debut single called "If It Wasn't True" that sounded straight out of the DFA laborat...