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Johnny Reinhard: Raven

Raven CD cover artwork

Download a bundle of nine long excerpts from Raven tracks: mp3 | m4a

Johnny Reinhard (composer, bassoon, recorder) is a New York-based musician directing the American Festival of Microtonal Music (AFMM), which he founded in 1981. He has discovered and premiered works by Percy Grainger, Edgard Varèse, Harry Partch and, most recently, the Charles Ives Universe Symphony, premiered at Lincoln Center, New York in 1997.

See the full details of Raven performers.

Raven, back cover art, design by JR Rost

Scroll to the individual tracks for lyrics, details and streaming audio excerpts.


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Don Conreaux, David Galt, Lee Gongwer, Ben Hume, Ron Kozak (shells), David Grego (tuba). Tom Goldstein (chimes)

Track note by Johnny Reinhard-

Atlantis is another very strongly programmed piece, in three parts. Very naturally, it starts with the sea, land comes up over the sea, people go onto the land, settle it, volcanic eruptions destroy the island, and so we go back to the sea. Actually, there is an island in Greece called Santorini (or in Greek, Thera) which blew its stack around 1690 BC, destroying two-thirds of the island and creating tidal waves that destroyed much of the Mediterranean, including Crete and parts of Egypt. It may have had quite a big impact on history.

I walked into this ancient city of Thera (they had just reclaimed it from the lava in which it was embedded). You walk this road in pre-Minoan culture, and it’s like a Long Island suburb in the Flintstones. There are mansions which had incredible art work, most of which you can see in Athens, since it’s been peeled off the walls. Then, if you had to flush something, you’d throw it out the window and it would roll into the sewer.

The islanders had huge jars for food, water and wine. They had everything. The art work indicates that they were well traveled. This may be the original Atlantis. In my piece, five shell players signify the importance of the sea, conveniently. Shells produce very powerful sounds and are used, for example, in the middle of the Pacific for long distance announcements.

Stretching a point, the tuba might be thought of as a giant shell. It’s a giant conical tube and by adding the quartertone valve on it, we’ve opened it up to a myriad of new possibilities of pitch. And we also used very special chimes recovered from an old Brooklyn movie theater. I had kept track of them since I was 15 and went and got them when I was 25. The manager said to go ahead and take them. They are Pythagorean-tuned, pure fifth-tuned, and have a very death-knell quality to them. What could be better, I thought, then to use these chimes to signal the imminent earthquake and final destruction of Atlantis.

Some of the physical performance gets quite wild, with a cadenza where the bell of the tuba is placed on the floor, using the floor as a kind of reflecting plane for the sound. It’s harder to describe than it is to listen to, and quite undignified to record.

Trio on the Cuff 6

Johnny Reinhard (bassoon), Ulrich Krieger (didjeridu), Yoshiaki Ochi (percussion)

Chaco Canyon

In the bowels of Chaco Canyon stand the children of an arid plain
Ruinous remnants of tightly fit stones built by continuous and monotonous pain

Their millennia-deep roots have long been pulled by their nameless pueblo mother

The sun-dagger clock ticks silently by the roofless stories, smothering the moans of their slave-drenched father

Chaco Canyon was inspired by my stay with a Navajo friend, Will Tsosie, who has helped a lot of writers write about the Navajo. Will was able to take me places that most gringos would never find. We would see Kokopelli etchings of a thousand- year-old microtonal flute player (must be microtonal, if you saw the guy you’d know he was a microtonalist). I went to Chaco Canyon and saw these dwellings carved out of canyons. Will turned to me and he said, ‘You know . . . . they didn’t do this themselves, they had slaves.’ The Navajo were enslaved to the Anasazi people.

Chaco Canyon is the result of that moving encounter, the mood springing from the feel of the place. I could have gone with the theme of Kokopelli and made a flute piece, a Kokopelli-piece which would have been more, lets say, in a Greek sense, Dionysian, more wine-like, more fun. But no; Chaco Canyon is quite a serious, sensitive work, based on three ancient Greek scales written out by Ptolemy in Alexandria around 200 AD.

The Greeks had their own modulation scheme, but this piece modulates in a way that turns out to be completely modern: any tone can turn into the fundamental of a brand new key, or any step thereof. I have a metal flute switch to a wooden flute by connection of a whistle. This is the feeling that I get from the area, a desolate feeling. A single flute is tiny in New York City, the noisiest place on earth, but huge in New Mexico.

There’s a curious connection I saw during a visit to the Hopi (who may be the ancestors of the Anasazi). The Hopi have several flute clans, and yet not a single one of them plays flute. When I pulled out a real alto recorder, they were absolutely aghast. They were thrilled, and yet shocked that someone could play it. So they have this extraordinary, proud connection to the flute, without ever playing it. And yet it’s a very powerful force in their cultural context.

Similarly, the Navajo have a special hour glass drum that is only for their own ceremonies and not for non-Navajo to see or hear. Music is not always totally public; it can be largely symbolic.

– Johnny Reinhard October 1998

Trio on the Cuff 1

Johnny Reinhard (bassoon), Ulrich Krieger (didjeridu), Yoshiaki Ochi (percussion)


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1. Shai-halud (the Worm) – Adagio
2. Paul Muad’Dib – Andante
3. Leo Atreides II – Andante (Variation)
4. The Spacing Guild – Bridge
5. The Tleilaxu – Development
6. The Ixians – Sounds of Nature
7. Fremen – Con Bravura
8. Spice – Bubbly
Johnny Reinhard (solo bassoon)

Dune has become my signature piece, germinating over a long period. Science fiction, legend and ancient earth history are very powerful imagination-tweekers that suggest new forms for microtonal music. Like many fans of Frank Herbert’s powerful Dune novels, I was disappointed with the movie. I thought ‘well, I’ll take care of that,’ and wrote a bassoon solo that does it up just fine. And I’m pleased to say that it’s been very well received by the bassoon world. Perhaps it will be, as one reviewer put it, the next contemporary music competition piece for bassoon.

Although each section of Dune has its own program reference, it’s not necessary to know it. There’s always more for anyone who’s curious. People say that the brilliance of Mozart is that there is a level accessible to everyone, that every stripe of person will find a deeper level or aspect to speak to them directly. I’d like to feel that the same is true here. In the score I suggest that you can completely disregard the Frank Herbert connection and just think of Dune as reflecting the sand dunes which the wind is constantly shaping.

For instance, the opening of Dune is a physical swirling of the instrument that creates a very powerful acoustic effect, resolving into a multiphonic, thick, grainy chord sound. On the planet Arakis, a desert world, giant worms burrow beneath the sand. Sensitive to physical movement, they eventually pop their heads up and move towards whatever is moving. I’m being quite programmatic in the beginning of Dune. The next section is a theme and variations returning to the novel’s father and son (after all, what’s more of a variation than a son to a father?). The Tleilaxu, for instance, are shape shifters. In this section I even change the shape of the bassoon with no pause, screwing the bell off the top of the bassoon, then screwing the bocal out of the bassoon, playing on the still-connected reed, popping the end of the bocal into the bell and then using my hands to create a wah-wah sound – which is the Tleilaxu all over. The next section is the Ixians. They were technocrats and so everything is done exclusively with keys, just the sound of the percussion of the bassoon.

Next, we have the Fremen, represented by equal divisions of the octave: two, three, four, five, improvising. Finally, the Spice, which drove the Fremen towards the next day, when they would gather more spice from the worm. Spice is all multiphonics, just a joyous series of chords, an almost bluesy, ecstatic dance.

– Johnny Reinhard October 1998

Trio on the Cuff 2

Johnny Reinhard (bassoon), Ulrich Krieger (didjeridu), Yoshiaki Ochi (percussion)

mystery in pre-dawn

potion concocting

shape changing

forboding from the hellish depths


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Paul Savior (voice), Johnny Reinhard (bassoon), Esther Lamneck (clarinet/tarogato) , Chris Washburne (trombone), Ulrich Krieger (saxophone), Guy Tyler (string bass), Don Conreaux (gong)

Raven is one of the more startling studio productions on the album, done in a Gothic pop music recording esthetic. Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven is one of the most powerful poems in American literature. There hasn’t been any real musical usage of The Raven, except for a few exotic examples. So I did a little bit of nosing around into the material Poe provided, and I found a monograph on The Raven with Poe actually encouraging musicians to set his poetry to music.

The Raven was designed as a very formalistic poem, and Poe was very proud of its musical quality. I noticed some of the phrases had quotation marks around them, and thought that one either reads a poem in the head silently, or read it aloud. How do you make the difference between the phrases that are in quotations and those that aren’t? I only use phrases that have quotations as if they’re spoken aloud.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

‘Tis some visitor. Only this and nothing more, tapping at my chamber door…
Only this and nothing more.

‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.
Only this and nothing more.


Other friends have flown before.
On the morrow he will leave me as my hopes have flown before.

Doubtless what it utters is its only stock and store.

Prophet, thing of evil! Prophet still if bird or devil!


Take thy beak from out my heart and take thy form from off my door!

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting
on the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door,
And his eyes have all the seeming
of a demon’s that is dreaming.

I decided to have the raven go off on several solos, since they’re not said in words. I used the tarogato, a very loud instrument reputedly used by the Hungarians to scare the Turks, an instrument that still hasn’t been domesticated. And with that being the sound of the raven, and using the incredible vocal tessitura of Paul Savior, we had the setting for a very powerful musical engagement of The Raven, I call it Raven to distinguish it from Poe’s, The Raven.

A gong helps create the gothic feeling. The work was created for this album and only performed live afterwards. Luckily it works well in both situations. Other instruments that were used: clarinet, saxophone, trombone, string bass, bassoon, are all very mood-oriented instruments, and help, I think, to sound scary. This is as close as I will probably ever come to writing a piece that has any element of horror.

– Johnny Reinhard, April 1999

Trio on the Cuff 9

Johnny Reinhard (bassoon), Ulrich Krieger (didjeridu), Yoshiaki Ochi (percussion)

delivered as epic chant

to eager listeners

talking drum to didgeridu hum


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Johnny Reinhard (bassoons), Ulrich Krieger (didjeridus), Yoshiaki Ochi (multiple percussion)

Circle, I thought, should begin with metal and end in wood. Metal gets your attention and wood provides the solace. I thought, let’s try a new form. We travel from percussion metal to didjeridu, then to bassoon, to wooden percussion. And then, finally, everyone together at the end, coming full circle. We did triple trackings (superimposed improvisations), so I was able to judge and cue instruments in this context.

We took several takes of different layers, aware of the danger (which is often expressed in the studio) of over-analyzing, approaching sterility and losing the spontaneity. There were recorded layers in Circle that we didn’t use. We very carefully wanted the second layer to match the first. The third layer turned out to need to be less thick, more filigree, more like the ribbon that ties it all together.

While I certainly wouldn’t call Circle new age, its got such vibrancy in its Klangfarbe as a result of the studio. In fact, I can’t imagine it being performed live. It’s the only piece that I have that I wouldn’t perform live.

Sketch for studio realization of Circle

Circle, Studio Working Sketch, 1992