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Unfolding: Reconciling Strangers in Music For Keyboard and Electronics


Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, Session 2: Personal Reflections
Friday 8 August, 13:00–14:00. Faculty of Music, University of Toronto
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Sometimes an artist is fortunate to discover their calling at an early age and to spend their life probing their chosen field (for example, the in-depth study of Elizabethan keyboard works) to great depths. But for a generalist and musical omnivore, finding a consistent, cohesive artistic path can be potentially problematic. In some ways my musical focus has bounced between different traditions like a pinball over the last fifteen years, with periods of intense interest and study starting out in classical piano performance, composition studies, 20th-century piano works, moving later to free improvisation and jazz standards, then to electro-acoustic music and it’s wily cousins, breakbeat-related genres such as Drum&Bass, Dubstep and Breakcore. Over several years I slowly experimented with ways to combine the different types of material in effective, cohesive musical structures.

Although I continue to do live solo piano performances, my main live set up in the last few years has featured myself improvising on piano, synchronized with beat sequences and electronic textures run from a laptop computer, also aided by live synthesis on a Nord Lead synth. More recently I’ve increased the structural complexity of the keyboard aspect of the pieces, tightly synchronising the beats to the material in rapidly changing time signatures and complex structures to more fully realise and reflect the side of me that is the composer, as opposed to the beat producer. I’ve also tried to extend and personalise my approach to “breakbeats” by using audio samples of middle-eastern percussion to complement the traditional sampled funk breaks from the 70s.

As I believe there are many musicians of my generation faced with similar challenges of amalgamating the disparate influences which are a sign of the global age we are entering, I am proposing to discuss the defining features of my recent compositions, outlining the materials, structures, concepts and inspirations behind them, as well as discussing advantages and disavantages of working with sequencers and beats which may be of interest to other musicians. Also of interest may be discussion of the challenges and rewards facing musicians such as myself bringing our music to the public — the difficulty and advantages of finding venues and platforms for our hybrid art.


John Kameel Farah is a Toronto composer, pianist, electronic musician and visual artist, fusing the music worlds of renaissance and baroque counterpoint, free improvisation, Middle-Eastern texture, ambient minimalism, techno and electroacoustics, to synthesize an original sound. A virtuosic keyboardist simultaneously using piano, laptop sound sculpture and sequencing, synthesizer and at times even harpsichord and organ, his creative efforts are fueled by exchanges of physical, spiritual and emotional energies on both a macrocosmic and microscopic level. In 1999 he studied with Terry Riley in California. He studied music composition and piano at the University of Toronto, winning the Glenn Gould Composition Scholarship in 1993 and 1994. Farah now focuses primarily on his own creative hybrid of improvisation, composition and electronic music. Farah performs regularly in Toronto and has performed internationally in Paris, Boston, Mexico and Palestine. In February 2008 he toured his music through Europe, performing in Amsterdam, London, Paris and Hamburg.


Paper originally presented at the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium 2008, August 2008.

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