§ Chapter I. Midnite Johnny gets to bed very late this night in July 1956, maybe '57. He's just seen his first movie, Forbidden Planet, has been sitting through the moonlit hours talking about the possibility of life on Mars with his Uncle George, the ex-CIA agent. That crazy Theremin soundtrack is bouncing around inside his head so bad he expects to see those "monsters from the Id" leap out of the closet any second. Forbidden Planet... yeah that's where I wanna be. Dr. Morbius' daughter, Altaira... the shapely Anne Francis... hmmm. His eyes close. The sleep aliens take over but as usual, they mess with the story.
Rawww... aw... what is this? He's trying to wake up now, recognize that it's the low brutal roar of the foghorn multiplex on the Golden Gate Bridge, not the Krell or the old rubie with the fake sax who hangs on the street near his school, flashes the kids. Uncle George said he would take care of him, the old way, don't you worry, Johnny. Good old Uncle George. He knows how the pyramids were constructed, the Krell, religion... everything. Hmmm. Reassured, Midnite Johnny floats again in fog and crazy alpha dreams as the dawn comes to old San Francisco.
"That's how I got made," says John Celona. "That damn foghorn was like Earl Bostic, mean and dirty, always in my head... and it was Louis & Bebe Barron's score for Forbidden Planet that later got me going on a career in electronic music."
Midnite slim and Johnny mean in North Beach
"I began playing sax in bars at 15 ("The Piano Bar" on Geary, where Erroll Garner had played), then North Beach topless clubs, Reno and Vegas. Catholic boys high school I attended threatened to expel me. Fist fights with the old man over all this: "I don't want you hanging out with these fairies and hop-heads, Johnny!"
"At SF State, I started my own jazz quartet and played 'the Jazz Workshop' and the 'Blackhawk'. All the heavies checked in there: Miles, Trane, Art Blakeley, Cannonball. It was the end of the era but of course I didn't immediately see that way."
§ Chapter II. John Celona a.k.a. Midnite Johnny was born in San Francisco when The Birdman was doing his time over on Alcatraz Island and the memory of the sewer rats that carried the bubonic plague was folkloric. "It was a tough town," he says. "Despite all the art, and there was plenty of that with the beats and outlaw academics. As a teenager I went to school with Herb Mullin, who became the Santa Cruz Strangler... evenings I was catching the jazz greats like Trane. San Francisco had that kind of dichotomy for me."
JC got into music early: piano lessons at 11 with Mrs. Windsor who lived down the street with her 18 lb cat 'Duke'. Fur Elise, Tennessee Waltz... that sort of repertoire. But he began rewriting these pieces and others as he studied harmony, got his hammers in a row. Meanwhile Bobby Darin, Elvis, James Brown, Connie Francis and all the usual suspects were on his transistor radio. At 13 he switched to clarinet and tenor saxophone, first finding Dixieland, loving its freedom and emotion... then quickly discovering west coast jazz and John Coltrane, Harold Land, the Gerald Wilson Big Band. "Wore that record out 'Viva Tirada'," he says. "But Trane was more or less my idol and I sounded a lot like him. I would use his 'Giantsteps' solo as my warm-up exercise. Problem was, after he kicked the junk, he got too spiritual for my likes, seeing that I was a disconnected catholic."
By 15 he had become "Midnite Johnny", was playing the bars and letting his hair grow long. It was the dawn of the New Age and San Francisco was a locus of the counter-culture... even if the trains were moving their flatbeds of howitzers and tanks into Oakland for shipment to Viet Nam.
So he was out there, on the street, on the stage, gigging with R&B and Latin groups like Tower of Power, Santana, and Coltrane's bassist Raphael Garrett. Played with Sun Ra at SF State, doesn't recall getting paid for the gig. But he made some spondulix arranging radio & TV commercials (Yellow Pages, Jensen swimwear, Kansas City suburban development). He also scored student films at SF State including a famous short at the time, 'Frizzy Mary'.
But then something else was happening, that rejection of technological totalitarianism (war, consumerism) by the youth culture with its contradictory embrace of designer drugs and electric music... and mystical solutions. Theodore Roszak wrote about it in his book "The Making of the Counter-Culture" and Hunter S. Thompson not only wrote about it but lived it. Minimalist composers like Terry Riley with his tantric loops & electro polyrhythms ["Rainbow In Curved Air"] and Morton Subotnik with his molecular fantasies ["Silver Apples of the Moon"] showed the way.
Thus JC was drawn to composition and the Buchla synthesizer. "SF State had the first marketed Buchla 100 series in 1966," says JC. "Two types of patch cords: one for audio, the other for control voltages. No piano-type keyboard, that came a little later with the Moog. Don Buchla's keyboard was a controller, you being able to assign modules, parameters, touch-sensitivity and Outer Space. So that was it for me -- adios the tenor."
But beneath the new jacket & the academic fellowships, he was still Midnite J., agent of the Krell.
blowin' in the jungle
"There was music all over that park, from the big pig roast in the open pits, medieval druids of the be-ins with Big Brother and Captain Beefheart, to the wino drumming near Kesar Stadium but the real dope went down out west, around the Chain of Lakes, overgrown, hilly, isolated, where a man could blow modal tenor lines, the cry of the planet brother, and sheets of multiphonics, a call-and-responsorial with unseen but heard conga natives across the lake, hidden in the jungle. The flamingos dug it too."
Santana & the M.I.Bs
"Carlos S. always made that face, you know the one, the soulful grimace, reaching for the passion, the promise of fulfillment, the big wide load coming down the road, that euphoria, looking towards Trane. Him and his drummer used to sit in with us, the drummer wanting some fine loving from our lead singer Wendy, in his Jag parked out back. Her father, a United Airlines pilot, had 8mm footage of a UFO he filmed but that was confiscated by, yes, two guys who came to his door in black suits. We never saw that but we did see flashing red lights of the coppers behind us as we swizzled Olde English 800 in Ross' cherry red Chevelle on our way to rehearsal at her upscale house in Woodside."
"I played a gig with Sun Ra in San Francisco around 1967-68. The auditorium was full of pot smoke and the groove was on. The music was fierce, fun and free... one of the memorable moments was the sax section (Marshall Allen etc.) chasing me throughout the room when I began raining sheets of multiphonics from my tenor against them in defense. It was thrilling and electrifying. "
§ Chapter III. JC studied music composition at San Francisco State (B.Mus., M.A.), University of Pittsburgh (Mellon Doctoral Fellow), Indiana University and University of California, San Diego (Ph.D.) where he was affiliated with the Center for Music Experiment.
Through this period JC's teachers included Henry Onderdonk, Iannis Xenakis and Kenneth Gaburo.
"They were all great," says JC. "Henry Onderdonk taught me at SF State, up there near the Park. Introduced me to Bartok, Elliot Carter and the oratorios of Handel. Our lessons sometimes consisted of long hikes in Muir Woods, whiskey, steak and cigars at his place, intellectual discussions, music score study."
In the early seventies JC was doing doctoral work in Pittsburgh when he met Kenneth Gaburo who was on his way west, and immediately transferred to San Diego, started some deep electro meditation in the electronic music lab at the University of California. "Kenny G. was a brilliant thinker, linguist, composer, director, chain-smoker," says JC. "How can I put it? It was like hanging out with Pythagoras, he was that deep."
What does he remember about San Diego? "Well, the zoo, of course. Some interesting people, students... stuff." One of these students was Nathan East, now well-known as the bassist in the Eric Clapton band. "He had perfect pitch, man, so he didn't need to stick around. Yeah, I taught Nathan."
"I did some fabulous ocean recording with a Nagra in La Jolla at this time," he says. "Waded in the water and traced the breaking waves with the mic. Turned it all into a four channel, early surround sound recording/piece, called 'Waveforms'. Guess you could call it Musique Concrete."
The Centre for Music Experiment: "A facility so new & state-of-the-art that it was hidden from a visiting Pierre Boulez & entourage in 1974 least they steal some ideas and take them back to Paris for IRCAM, the world's first publicly funded, in perpetuity, music research facility located in the Centre Boubourg," says JC. "The visitors only saw palm trees at an old Marine barracks quonset hut on a cloudy day."
[an artistic expression can be realized mathematically in any artistic medium]
studying with Xenakis
"Iannis Xenakis (Indiana University): Now there was a man, a WWII Resistance fighter, a hero. Long scar down his cheek from grenade blast, looked great on him, chiseled features. Played his music at "11", pre-Spinal Tap. Xen was the first really famous world-renowned artist I had the pleasure of studying with.
"The chicks dug him. I remember this shapely eastern European woman following him around constantly, writing a book on the great man. And, he deserved it, all the potatoes and gravy, Iannis. Taught me what I understand about texture, density, motion... which lead to my software development of TimbreSpace, the Macintosh music composition and performance application I have been developing for 16 years, using it for all my works. Now also used for generating moving graphics."
"The gig Karlheinz did at SF State that afternoon in the auditorium was the first surround sound I heard, the Master standing in the centre, diffusing the acousmatique, the audience passing around the aromatic, Karlheinz preparing for the Don Juan mushroom dream journey to Mexico. Funny, he never really returned like Pharoah Sanders, who went out for smokes and never came back, leaving us hanging on his last solo, his horn held together with elastic bands. He could play."
§ Chapter IV. In 1977, John Celona went north to teach at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island. New music, composition, research in music-compositional software... from mainframe compilers & punch cards to the invention of a Macintosh software application called TimbreSpace. It was a busy time, composing for acoustic ensembles and real-time computer music performances in 20 different countries. In 1985 his "Possible Orchestras (at the 21st Harmonic) won lst Prize in the Bourges Electroacoustic competition.
The CV scrolls and the eagle flies. "Music In Circular Motions" (Folkways), "Cordes de Nuit" (Radio Canada International), the Ex Novo Ensemble di Venezia CD 'Ouverture' (Basilica Nuova ) released in Europe, "Possible Orchestras at the 21st Harmonic" (CMC Centrediscs 'Coastal Waves' )... or "To Drive in L.A." (Miramar Records) (with percussionist Salvador Ferraras) about which Culture Court said: "The fantasy of the listener is in the media noise, the bruitisme of the freeway, the industrial dynamic of speed, machinery and the primal echo." Indeed -- Xenakis meets Midnite Johnny.
Although he didn't pick up the tenor again, JC reengaged his jazz past with the very post-modern "City Lights" CD [bluecityjazz]. "Somewhere between the Lounge Lizards and the Juan de Fuca Strait," he says. "Where the fog hits the water."
These days he has been doing remixes of recent orchestral compositions such as the bi-modal, bi-tonal montage "Paris-a-Roma" and the de-construction muso drama "Tarantella" (recently one of the most popular mp3 download tracks at Culture Court) which features the voice and piano of the brilliant Brazilian player Luciane Cardassi.
"I'm doing more work with Luciane right now," says JC. "Well, we just finished a seven movement work entitled Point No Point." The eagle flies -- Point No Point is a romantic landmark on the west coast of Vancouver Island which JC finds very inspirational.
As Director of the Fine Arts Studios for Integrated Media at UVic JC is pursuing research in broadband content through a CFI grant 'Enabling Interactive Futures'. He is also creating new computer music works with film, processed video, text and surround sound. Movie maker? The small digital camera is the weapon of choice for today's synaesthetic artist. Stills, video clips and audio of JC's in-progress film "The Strange Case of DJ Cosmic" are available at Sundialtech Pictures. Dig it.
"In the eighties I got into a construction compositional process for electronic/computer music I call Spatial Imaging [now known as surround sound]... my attempt was to render stereo space into a 3-dimensional one... i.e. my composition Possible Orchestras at the 21st Harmonic.
"In 1985 I received first prize in the Bourges Electroacoustic Competition for Possible Orchestras (at the 21st Harmonic)."
JOHN CELONA mp3 tracks at Culture Court:
tracks from Primitive Cool (1987):
Farben Nocturne: With a nod to Schoenberg (Five Orchestral Pieces) and the moody sax of Earl Bostic (Harlem Nocturne), John Celona takes us on a Bauhaus moonlight stroll.
Primitive Cool: The post-electronic minimalism is absolutely ahead of its time, anticipating much of what the current electro-dance scene is all about.
To Drive In L.A.: "The Rileyesque pulse of electro minimalism... in a sense, a farewell to the random electron sweeps of the lab and the ReVox analogue tape loop. Skirting the edge of progressive rock and movie soundtrack drama. Urgent, like the swarming traffic in a huge metro."
*all JC mp3 tracks listed in CC Audio Archives »»
John Celona digi movie at Sundialtech Pictures »»»