Tom Johnson (b. 1939) is a key figure in the contemporary music scene whose voice as a composer is instantly recognizable. A major champion of minimalism in the 1970s as a writer, he remains one of its most important adherents as a composer, although the word 'minimalist' does not cover everything that his music does. The characteristic elements of repetition and sparse material are there, but his extensive use of mathematics and, especially, counting, makes him unique. Johnson relies on more than counting, using algorithms, combinatorics, juggling, and tiling techniques, among other things. Johnson is as radical as Eliane Radigue or Phill Niblock, but he is also interested in sounds that can be enjoyed in the moment, and in this sense, he is a true heir of Feldman, who was one of his teachers. Counting to Seven (2014) is a set of short pieces lasting about 80 minutes, of which eighteen pieces are presented here. Although obviously vocal because they are text-based, some of the pieces include percussion. They can be performed by almost any group of at least seven people and are not written for trained singers or actors. It was around 1980 that Johnson developed a series of twelve solos in twelve languages called Counting Languages, under the inspiration of sound poets such as Charlie Morrow and Jerome Rothenberg in the United States and Henri Chopin, Bob Cobbing, and Bernard Heidsieck in Europe. He then wrote Counting Duets, (also called Counting Music), a set of five counting sequences for two performers speaking in one language.
Some years later, after a performance by Vincent Bouchot from the ensemble Dedalus, Johnson 'reworked everything for seven voices. I changed the title to Counting to Seven, added about 30 languages, well-known, little known, living and dead, and put together an 80-minute version, which we began performing in 2014.' Johnson explores the tonalities and rhythms that come from repeating numbers sonorously in different languages. Every piece is different, with 1-7 as the connecting thread, like a set of short stories that forms a novel through a connecting character. The languages Johnson chose include major ones spoken in large swathes of the world -- French, Japanese, Hebrew, German. Some are more national -- Turkish, Hungarian, Gaelic, Georgian. Some are specific to certain places: Muruwari is spoken by Aboriginal people in northern Australia; Tajik is a variety of Persian spoken in Uzbekistan; Maninke is spoken in Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast