John Farah

John Farah

About the artist

John Kameel Farah is a Canadian composer and pianist whose work embraces aspects of baroque and early music, experimental, contemporary classical, improvisation, middle-eastern music and forms of electronic music.

He studied composition and piano performance at the University of Toronto, where he received the Glenn Gould Composition Award twice during his studies. In 1999 he had private lessons with Terry Riley in California, and later at the Arabic Music Retreat in Hartford.

Farah continues to compose for ensembles and film, but largely focuses on live solo concerts, using a setup which surrounds the piano with synthesizers, as well as processing the piano through computer filters and effects, referring occasionally to his peculiar approach as “Baroque-Mid-Eastern-Cyberpunk”.

He occasionally presents his side-project, “Music for Organ and Synthesizers”, looping and altering the pipe organ’s sound in combination with analog and digital synths in various church settings, which has attracted great interest from electronic music fans.

Collaborations have included several scores for iconic Canadian choreographer Peggy Baker, and rising ballet star Robert Binet. He has also worked with astrophysicist John Dubinski, composing soundtracks to animations of galaxy formations and collisions in a project called “Gravitas”. In 2010 he became a member of the Canadian Electronic Ensemble, the oldest continuously active live-electronic performing group in the world. In Berlin, he frequently works with the Oriel String Quartet and the early vocal ensemble Vox Nostra. In 2016 he received a Dora Mavor Moore Award for sound design/composition for his work with Peggy Baker Dance Projects.

Farah has casually described his musical approach as “maximalist” in reference to the myriad of styles he draws upon in his overall musical approach. Also a visual artist, Farah creates intricate and detailed ink line-drawings. which draw inspiration from astronomy, history, mythology and sound waves. He has presented his artwork at solo and group exhibitions, and sometimes features live projections of them during concerts.

Recently, while watching a Netflix documentary “Trip to Infinity” I was left speechless at a little explanation, given by a mathematician, about the power of Infinity. He explained that if you took an apple, and placed it in a hermetically sealed box, which nothing, no particles of any kind, could enter or leave, and left this box for an infinite period of time, strange things would happen. After 100 years, the apple would have turned to dust. After countless billions of years, the remains would further degrade, atoms breaking down into their most fundamental particles. Then after more eons, the particles would change state, re-combining into other combinations. Then after further eons, it would also break down. The particles would keep re-assembling and breaking down, into every possible permutation that those particles and atoms could assemble into, according to the laws of physics. And one day, far into the infinite future, we would open the box to find the exact same apple. To further confound the mind: not only would it be the same apple, but the apple would occur an infinite number of times, including every other possible permutation of those particles, each themselves also occurring an infinite number of times. Astrophysicists use the apple as an analogy of our whole universe, and what may extend infinitely into the past and the future.
For me, each concert I play is a little momentary snapshot, taking a peek into the box to see what has manifested itself. A snapshot out of infinite snapshots of the universe.
It is commonly accepted by cosmologists that the universe began some 13.8 billion years ago in what we call the Big Bang. But still unanswered is the question as to how the universe will end, or if it will end at all. Two theories seem to be taken the most seriously at the moment. Currently the most favoured theory is of “Heat Death”, that the expansion of the universe will accelerate to the point that it loses its cohesiveness and its energy will dissipate. Other physicists postulate the idea of a Big Crunch, where at some point in the future, the universal will shrink, back towards its original microtesimal starting point. Although this theory is largely out of fashion, a part of me still cheers for it, because I find it so poetic: from this incredibly intense minuscule concentrated point, a new universe grows; maybe this expansion and contraction of universes went on forever before and continues forever after our universe. It’s like a series of vibrations, and we’re in the middle of a Giant Waveform. In each of my concerts I try to expand and contract a new mini-cosmos, each time manifesting itself with different sounds but following a similar arc. The scale of the universe is beyond comprehension, but just trying to ponder it provides endless inspiration.

All compositions by John Farah except when otherwise specified

Lullaby Caress
Lama Bada Yatathana (Medieval Andalusian)
J.S. Bach: Preludes & Fugues from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Books I & II
Contrapposto in the Sculptor Void

Bagpipes of the Maghreb
J.S. Bach: Preludes & Fugues from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Books I & II
Sonnenallee Fugue
Jinju Dervish
Lullaby Caress II

Additional information

Country of origin: Canada/Germany