La Tortue de mer

1993

We are indebted to our friend Marc Chemillier for La Tortue de mer. As a mathematician Chemillier became interested in the unique geometry of drawings made in the sand by the people of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. This (turtle) drawing, and there are many others, consists of a single line with a total of 103 turns, and one must draw the sequence so that the symmetrical form comes out just right. The drawing is systematic, and it also makes a lovely logical form when translated into music. We decided the sequence would sound best played on the contrabass saxophone, tuned an octave lower than the baritone, a rare instrument with heavy notes that seem to mimic the embarrassing slowness of these giant sea creatures.  See the image


Tom Johnson US/FR

Tom Johnson, born in Colorado in 1939, received B.A. and M.Mus. degrees from Yale University, and studied composition privately with Morton Feldman. After 15 years in New York, he moved to Paris, where he has lived since 1983. He is considered a minimalist, since he works with simple forms, limited scales, and generally reduced materials, but he proceeds in a more logical way than most minimalists, often using formulas, permutations, predictable sequences and various mathematical models.

Johnson is well known for his operas, which are regularly presented in many countries. His largest composition, the Bonhoeffer Oratorium, a two-hour work in German for orchestra, chorus, and soloists, with text by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was premiered in Maastricht in 1996, and has since been presented in Berlin and New York. Johnson has also written numerous radio pieces which have been presented on Radio France, the Australian Broadcasting Company and WDR Radio.

Johnson received the French national prize in the victoires de la musique in 2001 for Kientzy Loops. The latest orchestra score is 360 Chords, remiered in July 2008 by Musica Viva in Munich.

Tom Johnson