Charles Cohen

2011 Pew Fellow

Charles Cohen, 2011 Pew Fellow. Photo by Colin Lenton.

“In improvisation I try to think less and experience more. The primary experience for me is listening. Then, I want to respond quickly, honestly, playfully, and intuitively.”

Charles Cohen (b. 1945) has been characterized as a “special and singular musician” with a highly developed and refined voice. His music is entirely improvisational, produced solely on a vintage Buchla Music Easel synthesizer, a rare analog instrument designed in the early 1970s. Cohen has been playing his self-described “beeps and boops” since he first acquired a Buchla Music Easel in 1976, one of only 25 ever produced, and remains committed to exploring its unique qualities. He has studied with musical mavericks such as accordionist and electronic composer Pauline Oliveros and jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, and is dedicated to the art of abstract improvisation, seeking out collaborations with fellow musicians who share his love of spontaneous creation during live performance. “In improvisation I try to think less and experience more,” says Cohen. “I consider each performance as an instance of my collaborative improvisation practice, which has spanned over 30 years.”

Cohen has performed regularly in Philadelphia for nearly four decades. For most of his career he has eschewed distributing recordings of his music in order to focus deeply on live performance. However, after receiving the Pew Fellowship, Cohen was invited by Morphine Records in Berlin to work on a complete retrospective of his recordings from the 1970s through the ’90s, in vinyl and CD formats, with biographical information, pictures, and liner notes. This retrospective was released in late 2013.


References

Andrea Clearfield—a working musician, composer, curator, and member of the group—discusses how making and listening to music is changing.

Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib developed an exhibition plan to explore early works by experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neill, alongside a new commission.

Grants & Grantees

Karen E. Outen is a writer and a 1998 Pew Fellow.

The Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum is committed to supporting local composers and developing new markets for their music.

The College of Physicians commissioned the production of a new film, inspired by its Mütter Museum, by London-based twin brothers and filmmakers Stephen and Timothy Quay.

Poet and 2012 Pew Fellow Kevin Varrone (Pew Fellow, 2012) spent the past few years designing and building an app that traces the history of the Phillies, as well as his personal relationship with baseball.

The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia opens its 141st season on Sunday, October 26 with its biggest BIG SING ever, laying the foundation for the North American premiere of the Bach-Mendelssohn St. Matthew Passion.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Adam D. Weinberg has been the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art since 2003.

Questions of Practice

Visual artist Brent Wahl works primarily in photography and time-based mediums, transforming everyday materials and detritus into mesmerizing compositions.

Grants & Grantees

WXPN produced a year-long performance series that brought authentic Mississippi blues to Philadelphia through live performances and radio broadcasts.

The prize, established in 1981, “recognizes exemplary and provocative work by young practitioners and provides a public forum for the exchange of their ideas.”

Composer Jace Clayton and Barnes Foundation executive director and president Thom Collins on presenting a site-specific performance informed by the artworks of the Barnes.