MicroTextual Musings: John Schneider Interview

29 Mar

The third installment in our series of interviews leading up to Catalysis Projects’ April 16 MicroFest event features guitarist, composer, author, broadcaster, Professor of Music at Pierce College, and founder of MicroFest, John Schneider.  John’s radio show Global Village can be heard on Thursdays from 11am-1pm on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles & worldwide at www.kpfk.org.

John will be performing Harry Partch’s Barstow, for guitar, voice, and chromelodeon with keyboardist Aron Kallay.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door

CP-Why do you choose to compose in a microtonal language?

JS-I compose using microtones because they produce harmonies and melodies that I’ve never heard before: but when I do hear them, they seem oddly familiar, and somehow exactly right. As a young pianist, I kept asking my teacher to give me scales to practice that were interesting – really exotic. Bartok didn’t cut it, though the Mikrokosmos got near – there was just something….missing. Stravinsky felt like he got closer, and atonality even closer, but still not IT. Now I know what was missing – they were the wrong notes.

CP-It seems to us that most people who are drawn to microtonality had an ah-ha moment where they realized the possibilities afforded by breaking free from equal temperament.  What was your first experience with microtonality in music?

JS-Surprisingly, it was the music of Bach! As a guitarist, I play an instrument that is chronically out-of-tune (Lou Harrison says that most of his just intonation students were ex-guitarists), and have played hours & hours of Bach. Then suddenly, I heard the music in Well-Temperament, followed almost immediately by Dowland in Meantone tuning. After that, I’ve never been the same. That led me to Lou Harrison’s music, and after that – all roads lead to Partch. Playing his music has been a revelation. His humor & boisterous personality drew me in at first, but now that I’ve had the pleasure of performing & analzing so many of his works, I find places in my musical ‘soul’ touched that have never been touched before. I know that sounds hokey, but there must be some reason I keep coming back and back to his music for over 20 years now, with no end in sight. Just this year, a new instrument – the Spoils of War – has come to life, and I’m just as excited as I was when I made the first Adapted Guitar in 1990…we’ll be taking it on it’s maiden voyage at REDCAT this year.


CP-Just as there are an infinite number of pitches between any two keys on the piano, there are an infinite number of ways to compose microtonally.  Do you adhere to a particular flavor of microtonality, and, if so, why?

JS-I do tend to favor Just Intonation over any of the equal-division systems (quartertones, 19/tone, etc). There is something deliciously special about the intervals created by the harmonic series (the DNA of all harmony) that reside in each pitched note…dancing with those frequencies is endlessly entertaining, and deeply satisfying from an emotional/acoustical point of view.

CP-Performers often shun microtonal music because they perceive it as being too difficult to play.  How have you overcome this obstacle as a performer, and/or composer?

JS-Difficult? Yes…because in my case, the guitar has to be drastically modified in order to produce the notes. But if you’ve done it once, the rewards are SO great that the sounds themselves seduce me to go to almost any lengths to hear & touch them again. Yes, including remaking Harry Partch’s instruments, too…  Ben Johnston wrote me a song cycle back in 1998, and it took twelve years to learn how to play and sing those microtones simultaneously – but I’m glad I did it. There is just no other way to get those notes without putting in the work…but the results are so unique, it’s worth every minute.

Click here to hear an excerpt of John playing Ben Johnston’s The Tavern

2 Responses to “MicroTextual Musings: John Schneider Interview”


  1. Los Angeles Scene | Avant Music News -

    […] Interview with John Schneider(CatalysisProjectsBlog) […]

  2. Los Angeles Scene « Avant Music News -

    […] Interview with John Schneider(CatalysisProjectsBlog) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: