23five006, Compact Disc
published in 2003
$12.98, plus shipping

John Bischoff has been composing music with computers and electronics since the mid 70s, and has always focused his compositions towards malleable forms that best suit live performances. Within this context, Bischoff seeks to position the construction of sound far beyond the common perception of synthetic music as a mere simulation of the intrinsic sounds of traditional instruments. Instead, Bischoff qualifies his work as the realization of a "reflective intention," where he determines sonic structure not only through the predetermined elements which go into a piece, but also through the active process of listening to the music as it happens and responding accordingly. In describing his initial attraction towards computer technologies, Bischoff states, "Here was a single device that could contain a seemingly infinite range of pieces or configurations of elements and that could be interacted with in real-time." During the '70s when programming involved crude systems of binary code, Bischoff’s vision of the possibilities for computer-based composition fused to performative agency seemed implausible; yet in hindsight, his artistic imperatives were incredibly prescient of contemporary tools such as the nearly omnipotent audio synthesis language Max/MSP, which has been at the core of Bischoff's recent work.

An aptly named set of compositions, Aperture opens the possibility for multiple readings through a series of diverse techniques ranging from additive synthesis to FM synthesis to sampled-based processes. Each of the pieces within the album was recorded in real-time with no overdubs. Aperture introduces itself with clusters of samples that sprawl with the deliberate pacing of Morton Feldman’s later periods, yet Bischoff renders what might be recognizable citations of a piano or percussion as pointillist condensations of digitized pixels and precise plastic details. During the ensuing pieces, Bischoff unleashes coarse streams of electrons which flange and pulse within the caustic firestorm of divergent timestretching, giving the impression that Bischoff is quite literally tearing the fabric of sound. Bischoff also presents a collaboration with Kenneth Atchley in complementing the oversaturated physical noise of Atchley's water fountain sculptures with short digital articulations that ride on the top of Atchley's dense texture.

Bischoff is a current instructor at the esteemed Center For Contemporary Music at Mills College. His performances around the US include the New Music America festivals in 1981 and 1989, Roulette and Experimental Intermedia in New York, and the World Music Concert Series at Wesleyan University to name a few. He has performed in Europe at the Festival d'Automne in Paris, Akademie der Künste in Berlin, STEIM in Amsterdam, and Fylkingen in Stockholm among other places. He is a founding member of the League of Automatic Music Composers, the world’s first computer network band; and from 1985 to 1996 he performed and recorded with the network band the Hub, alongside fellow Mills faculty member Chris Brown. Numerous recordings have appeared on Lovely Music, Centaur, Artship, and Artifact Recordings


Found Sound 2007

John Bischoff was a music student at Oakland's Mills College when personal computers first entered the marketplace in the mid-1970s. Almost immediately, the composers centered around Mills took to the machines, linking the rudimentary devices—"a board about the size of a sheet of paper with a tiny keyboard and a few chips," as George Lewis put it—into networks where one program running on one machine affected the operation and output of another program running on another machine. Bischoff became a founding member of both the League of Automatic Music Composers and the Hub, two of the world's earliest computer networking bands. "Piano 7hz", the lead improvisation from Bischoff's 2003 album, Aperture, reflects such interactions between man and machine. Triggered bells and staccato piano chords are the source material here, and they pass through programs that distend, chop, scramble, and smooth. Every new sound supplied by the man is a rock collapsing on a different wave of machinery, sinking at a different rate and returning to the surface whenever the current allows. Bischoff and his machines create a sonic symbiosis that teases with instability. He's almost 60 now, but with similar work by artists like Tim Hecker and David Daniell making inroads, Bischoff deserves more notice. - Grayson Currin

The Wire
Issue 241, March 2004

Another excellent release from West Coast sound art label 23five Incorporated, this time a compilation of Bischoff's soundworks from 1998 to 2002. The opening selection "Piano 7hz" creats great suspense from a repeated shiming chord progressively inflected with subtle treatments. It's refreshing to hear computer-processed composition of such stately slow-moving delicacy which, even at its most abstract and challenging shows Bischoff's absolute control over his resources. On the blased "Sealed Cantus" and "Gravitor," he sculpts searing whit enoice with the same rigorous judgement and care, employing fascinating and seductive strategies rather than the tiresomely confrontational tactics of so many digi-noisemongers. - Keith Moliné

October, 2004

John Bischoff's electronic music inhabits a sterile, bleak environment. His synthesized sounds are unmistakably artificial and make few concessions to the world of the living. The influence of human touch, however, does play a part in Aperture's almost robotic expression. Each of the album's six tracks was composed and performed live, without overdubs, with Bischoff (and, in one case, Kenneth Atchley) improvising the shifts in sound as the piece progresses. This form of composition creates a music that's formed by endless possibilities, but also a strict series of controls. The level at which Bischoff's music is a product of the mind rather than the body makes it almost subliminal, in this sense. The organic side of Bischoff's music isn't completely absent, but it's heavily subdued the few times it does arise. Sampled whispers represent part of the material with which "Override" was constructed, but the fleeting, ghostly fragments of the human voice are more like artificial reminders of respiration that products of the process. "Piano 7hz" builds heavily upon thick chords from what sounds like the stringed instrument, but their construction is of a cunningly synthesized nature. Bischoff's palette consists of basic electronic voicings: steady tones, slow swooshes, the skittish undulations of a rapid wave. Aperture has a strong stylistic link to that of some of Bischoff's fellow electronic pioneers, mainly in its astutely uncluttered canvas, and the simple sounds that Bischoff utilizes. While his sounds are never plain, there's also never a sense that the music's become crowded. There's an almost polite interplay, due, most likely to both Bischoff's improvisatory preferences as well as the limitations of one-man, real time performance. This refined style of musical dialogue may not imbue Aperture with a great deal of vim, but that makes Bischoff's music no less fascinating. The volume and availability of Bischoff's discography are far from great, but Aperture is an adequate introduction to a man whose name is often left out of the history of electronic music.

Volume 06, Issue 41

John Bischoff is one of the best-known Bay Area electronic composers. For decades he has been producing electronic and computer-based music, and his newest release on 23five collects recent (1999-2002) works using the Max/MSP language. My limited knowledge prohibits me from understanding how this software allows a fuller realization of the theory Bischoff says links all seven pieces on Aperture. "Reflective intention" describes a situation in which sound structure is determined "not only through the predetermined elements which go into a piece, but also through the active process of listening to the music as it happens and responding accordingly." I cannot untangle all of Bischoff's heady liner notes; also, I cannot see how his "reflective intention" could not just as easily be called improvisation. I am comfortable to call this improvised computer music, and fine music at that. The variety of compositional structure alone makes Aperture a pleasant listen. The opening "Piano 7hz" features thick, chiming sound fragments spread sluggishly across intermittent clinks and low rumbles, at a lazy, decaying interval with pacing that recalls Morton Feldman. Earlier tracks like "Immaterial States" and "Graviton" are arranged around a latticework of extended sounds that evolve from low-level machine chugs to piercing whines, impressive in their ability to evoke movement or suggest visual correspondents without defining the nature or origin of the individual sounds. All six tracks on Aperture were recorded in real-time, producing a temptation, in the listener, to grant the most complex works a precedence relating to the assumed intensity or struggle of their birth. One of the most enjoyable pieces here, however, is probably the most simple. "Sealed Cantus" is a collaborative track created from two sound sources, the recorded sound of a water fountain sculpture by Kenneth Atchley and Bischoff's manipulation of static. The arresting density of the resulting track is treated to a subtle structuring, leading the rapt listener toward the piece's harrowing finale. Aperture's title track, one of the four recordings from 2002, provides neat closure to a disc that is both challenging and remarkable in its potential for repeated listening and accessibility as a cohesive statement. "Aperture" condenses much of the ideas represented in the previous six tracks into a simple rise-and-fall movement, emphasizing the collective statement made by these essentially "separate" works, and the seductive aura of Bischoff's music as a whole. - Andrew Culler

All Music Guide

Aperture is a striking collection of grainy, carefully arranged pieces of computer music of the Max/MSP variety. Each one of these seven compositions has its unique sound palette and character, making for a dynamic, attention-grabbing listening experience. They have the precision of academic electro-acoustic works, despite a "live" component -- the liner notes specify that the composer "guided and altered" the performance of the pieces "using a small set of manual controls." Philip Perkins engineered the "ambient re-recording" of these performed pieces. The opener, "Piano 7hz," is strongly reminiscent of Taylor Deupree and Kenneth Kirschner's project post_piano. A single piano chord serves as the source for endless variations in its digital treatment, each reiteration of the source giving birth to new ghost images and transformations. The title of "Graviton" is more self-explanatory than one could expect at first: the sounds literally gravitate toward a tonal center, gradually sliding down the scales, creating rubberish, elastic soundscapes. "Immaterial States" also features sounds and textures set into curvy motions. This one is more abstract and closer to the formalist works of Francis Dhomont (his Cycle de l'Errance, in particular). Those three pieces are the highlights of the album, but there are no weak tracks among the four that remain. "Sealed Cantus," a collaboration with Kenneth Atchley, is the harshest-sounding one. It features sounds from Atchley's Fountains series (sound sculptures consisting of homemade fountains and contact microphones, see Atchley's own Auscultare CD, Fountains). Aperture makes a very strong proposition. - François Couture