Who is John Berndt?

John Berndt Overview

Best known to the public as a prolific musician, composer and improviser and as a key organizer in the scene around the international High Zero festival, Berndt’s work from the very beginning also involved the creation of coherent novelties in a broader range of media, including personal behavior, film, visual art, text, installation and a variety of non-musical performance genres. Driven by his unique philosophy and collaborations, his panoramic sensibility is characterized by a dizzying non-reductionism and careful pheonominolgical research in the context of philosophical radicalism. He often attempts to go beyond the limits of rationalism without defaulting to "the humanities" side of the civilization's world-outlook.

John Berndt Early Years

Berndt’s mother is a cognitive neuropsychologist who exposed him to ideas about cognition, perception and experimental method; between her influence, and a precocious interest in paradoxes, his earliest creative work had an unusually open-ended, existential, and experimental flavor. However, his work always has had a deep valuation of what is called "subjective experience," a valuation that allows it to escape the philsoophical gravity of science.

At age 11 Berndt began composing electronic music soundscapes and language experiments, and at age 14 his musical work was premiered on the radio. His earliest work signaled a lifelong preoccupation with feedback processes, non-linearity, and disoritenting, non-routine sounds. At that time he found sophisticated collaborators, who substantially broadened his perspective on these precotious activities. Thus began a lifetime public obsession with unusual perceptions, novel compositional structures, and the evocation of unlabeled states of mind.

As a teenager in the mid-80s, Berndt became the youngest member of the international Neoist movement, contributing as a core member to the development of its extreme philosophy and participating in many Neoist events and publications over a roughly ten-year period. Neoism was an avant-garde cultural/political movement, following on from Fluxus or Situationism, albeit more militant and with qualitatively different content. Neoism often involved the deliberate adoption of falsehoods, mythologies, mind games, and hoaxes—as if postmodernism's theoretical bluffs were being inserted to reconfigure everyday life. Shortly after co-organizing the Neoist-related “Art Strike, 1990-1993” with Stewart Home, Berndt essentially left the movement because his interests had shifted to more honestly liberating (albeit equally strange) content. He also came into his own at this time as a cultural organizer and impresario.

John Berndt in the 90's

In the early 90’s, Berndt became a student of the philosophy of Henry Flynt, the visionary philosopher and original author of “Concept Art.” This relationship, which has recently deepened into collaboration since then, had a huge effect on the clarification of Berndt’s thought, and led to an increased emphasis on rationally reconstructable lines of argument within his otherwise delirious oeuvre. Berndt began to write sincere philosophy, and to frame most of his varied activities as manifestations of a unified, radical sensibility of consciousness. A few jokes remained, but the overall emphasis shifted to liberation from cognitive constraints and the creation of repeatedable, ingenious new experiences.

At the same time, his technical abilities developed. Berndt became a student of world-renown avant-garde saxophonist Jack Wright and of experimental instrument inventor Neil Feather. Through these relationships, he dramatically broadened his approach, developing extended technical ability on a variety of instruments, and developing novel approaches to sound production. He also became an advocate of non-idiomatic, freely improvised music (though still actively involved in other approaches), performing in hundreds of freely improvised concerts and on many recordings, including collaborations with leading figures.

John Berndt Recent Developments

In 1989 – 2009 Emily Harvey Foundation in Soho, NY produced a large retrospective of Berndt's work in a wide range of media. In Ecstatic Thought Experiments, the Emily Harvey Foundation brought together the dimensions of Berndt’s work over a twenty year period, ranging from micro- to macro- experiences: A large installation submerged visitors in a uniquely disorienting visual space. A small book, made especially for the exhibit, contained descriptions of ten impossible objects. Novel optical illusions gave the visitor new experiences. A dance solo continued fluidly forever without repeating. Original instruments exposed new aesthetics and performance possibilities. Theoretical texts frame lived experience in ways that are destabilizing to faith in conventional knowledge. From this swarm of content, aligned with no official cultural movement, emerged for the first time publicly a full picture of an individual developing a radical philosophy through all available channels.

Today, Berndt is highly occupied with composing music for his group The Multiphonic Choir, directing an orchestra project Second Nature, writing philosophy, and developing the theory and practice of Relabi, muisc built on a pulse-which-is-not-a-pulse.