John Kameel Farah
John Kameel Farah is a composer, pianist and electronic musician based in Toronto and Berlin. A virtuosic keyboardist simultaneously using piano, synthesizer sound sculpture and computer sequencing, Toronto’s NOW Magazine named him Best Pianist 2006 for his unique fusion of Renaissance and Baroque counterpoint, experimental improvisation, Middle-Eastern texture, ambient minimalism, and all forms of Electronic Dance Music. An artist whose work reaches beyond the confines of modern definitions, he has the unique fortune of playing at an avant-garde jazz club one day, an electronic music festival the next, in a spacious cathedral, or a concert hall such as the Kölner Philharmonie in spring 2016.
Classically trained in composition and piano performance at the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory, John received the Glenn Gould Composition Award twice during his studies. The influences of the classical and avant-garde works he performs can be felt in his music, mixing with forays into free improvisation, minimalism, jazz, Arabic rhythms and microtonal scales, and electronic genres such as Drum & Bass, Techno and ambient music. In 1999, after meeting seminal minimalist composer Terry Riley in NYC, he had private lessons with him in California, after which he studied Middle-Eastern classical music at the Arabic Music Retreat in Hartford twice. In 1998 he performed the complete solo piano works of Arnold Schönberg in Toronto.
Farah performs regularly in Toronto and Berlin, and has toured throughout Europe and the U.K., United States, Canada, Brazil, South Korea, the Middle-East and Mexico. In 1999 and 2002 he visited the Edward Said National Conservatory, giving concerts and masterclasses in the West Bank. In 2011 Farah was given the K.M. Hunter Artist Award by the Ontario Arts Council. He has released four albums: Creation, Unfolding, Pieces of the Earth and Between Carthage and Rome. Farah was the 2013 SoundMakers-Composer-in-Residence with Canadian new-music organization SoundStreams and is a member of the Canadian Electronic Ensemble, the oldest continuously active live-electronic performing group in the world.
One of Farah’s most important collaborations was his work with Canadian astrophysicist John Dubinski, with a project called Gravitas, composing soundtracks for a series of short movies simulating the formation and collisions of galaxies over millions of years. This led to performances across North America, most notably at an astronomy festival atop the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico.
His projects include concerts with the Bermuda4 String Quartet, consisting of members of the Bochumer Symphoniker, an ongoing collaboration with the Berlin-based Oriel Quartett, as well as a commission by Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, which was presented again at a concert celebrating the HKW's 25th anniversary. In December 2014, Farah released his album Between Carthage and Rome, a cycle for piano and electronics, and synthesizer landscapes. In early 2015 he continued his long-term working relationship with Canadian dance icon and choreographer Peggy Baker for her work Locus Plot, which developed movement from the contours of mathematical formulae. His 2016 collaboration with Baker, Phase Space, won him a prestigious Dora Award for composition and sound design.
After finishing a residency and concert tour in Canada, Farah returned to Berlin with a new programme, The Ill-Tempered Clavier: a futuristic re-interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach's masterwork Das Wohltemperierte Klavier. As a consummate composer and improviser, Farah connected each key with improvisations, and adapted many of the Preludes and Fugues to exotic electronic soundscapes, following in the tradition of Wendy Carlos's seminal synthesizer recording, Switched On Bach.
Farah’s composition, Fantasia and Fugue for Yamaha Disklavier and Electronics was commissioned during his 2015 residency at the Western Front in Vancouver, Canada, and had its German premiere at a sold-out concert at Volksbühne Berlin. He is working on a new release of Music for Organ and Synthesizers, a project he presents in churches across Europe, in which he merges the musical worlds of synthesizers and keyboards with their ancestor, the pipe organ by filtering tones from the organ and looping them through computer effects to alter the organ’s sound and church's acoustics.
John Kameel Farah's latest album Time Sketches was released by Neue Meister in spring 2017.
Peggy Baker Dance Projects
Peggy Baker Dance Projects
50 min. music commission
Betty Oliphant Theatre, Toronto
National Arts Centre, Ottawa
Choreography: Peggy Baker
Betty Oliphant Theatre in the National Ballet School, Toronto
Peggy Baker Dance Projects
JOHN KAMEEL FARAH - TIME SKETCHES
Baroque counterpoint, Arabic melodies and rhythms, free improvisation, ambient minimalism, and all forms of electronic dance music — these are all tools that pianist-composer John Kameel Farah uses in his music, in a compositional approach one could call “Maximalism”. Both a virtuosic pianist and imaginative electronic producer, Farah layers colourful sounds and poly-rhythms to build other-wordly orchestral landscapes. More than a collection of tracks, Time Sketches is more like a symphonic cycle in 10-movements, culminating in the final Fantasia which stylistically spans several centuries. Using the piano alongside an array of synthesizers and electronics, Farah represents a new generation of North-American composers, whose intensely expressive style allows dramatic narratives to co-exist alongside abstraction and complexity.
Recording Time Sketches was a huge experiment for John Farah. The album revolves around the sprawling 12-minute Fantasia, which was originally commissioned by the Western Front Society in Vancouver. John revised and recorded this work for Neue Meister, and composed the other nine tracks in only a month (a process that would normally take years) in a concert hall by the forest in Hannover. This special setting and circumstance comes through in the unique atmosphere and dramatic arch of the whole album. As Farah is also a prolific visual artist, Time Sketches comes with a booklet containing a different ink drawing to accompany each piece.