Jonathan Pfeffer (B. 1986) is a composer and performer operating at a precarious intersection between contemporary music, DIY punk, and performance art.
Pfeffer’s work involves studio manipulations of acoustic sources and live interpretations of electronic material, which unfold as structural sequences that are at once labyrinthine and Haiku-like. Pfeffer employs naturally unstable musical elements to communicate the ambiguities of social and personal politics, often with a self-reflexive bent. When paired with voice, Pfeffer’s compositions act as frameworks in which unique interactions between text and sound take shape. The calculated designs and personal inquiries at the root of Pfeffer’s work connect it to modernist classical and autobiographical comics traditions while its aesthetics relate strongly to No Wave nihilism, Hip-hop disassembly, and Brazilian Saudade.
Pfeffer’s music variously inspires (The Wire: musical fragments are layered one upon another, resulting as often in dense polyrhythm as they do in deliciously intertwined melodic lines), antagonizes (Pitchfork: ….teases listeners with surprising bits of poppy melody before yanking out the rug) and mystifies (PopMatters: Like a perplexing film you have to (and want to) watch more than once).
As leader of confrontational cubist pop ensemble Capillary Action, Pfeffer released three full-length albums and toured the globe countless times. He has made appearances at the Willisau Jazz, Primavera, and Incubate festivals, as well as basements, living rooms, kitchens, and illegally occupied warehouse spaces alongside Tony Conrad, Rhys Chatham, Zs, Mike Watt, Les Claypool, Lightning Bolt, Deerhoof, Shudder to Think, Dirty Projectors, Wolf Eyes, Chris Corsano, Owen Pallett, and Joe Lally (Fugazi), among others. Pfeffer has also lectured on compositional and philosophical matters for everyone from grad students at Rice University to kindergarteners at Johnson Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Pfeffer shifted his focus to composing for other ensembles beginning with a 2012 commission from the American Composers Forum to realize Bodega for percussionists Ricardo Lagomasino (Deleted Scenes) and Eric Slick (Dr. Dog), synth artist Jeff Zeigler, featuring rappers Lushlife and YIKES the ZERO. In 2013, commissions followed from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for Alektorophobic, a piece for Chicago pianist Julian Chin and New York-based MIVOS Quartet and Third Coast Percussion for a new percussion work to premiere during their 2014-15 season.
In 2013, Pfeffer was tapped by Emmy-award winning producer/director Kevin Alexander to compose the music for Hunter&Game, a feature-length mockumentary about a fictitious Brooklyn electro duo (due 2014) and the Medium Theatre Company for Nobody’s Home, a “multi-sensory meditation on the nature of nothingness,” which premiered to a sold-out run at the 2013 Solow Festival in Philadelphia.
In addition to composing for film, theatre, and various chamber ensembles, Pfeffer has been developing a solo guitar, voice, and video incarnation, which abstracts autobiographical narratives into harmonically and emotionally ambiguous “story-songs.” Audiences can expect Sphinx-caliber riddles, cringe-worthy anecdotes, and group therapy.
Pfeffer lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.