John Oliver composer


  • The Vancouver Inter-cultural Orchestra invited me to form an inter-cultural plucked quartet in the summer of 2020 for the purpose of introducing emerging and established composers to writing for the combination of harp, guitar, guzheng and tar. We workshopped several new compositions and recorded many videos since then. VICO also commissioned two compositions from me. You can learn all about the group and watch some videos at te 88 Strings web site.

  • Last year, just around Halloween, I released an album that I forgot to announce here: Allhallowtide: Souls and Saints Abide. It's a fantastic album based on a solo prepared (or total) piano piece I wrote at the age of 21 calle Halloween. My great collaborator on the project was my classmate as an undergraduate at University of British Columbia, Allison Voth. She created a magical performance that brought the house down! That recording became the basis for this extended electroacoustic improvisation and transformation. Have a listen here

  • On May 21, 2021 Douglas Schmidt and I released a new album called "Isolation Journal 2 - breathe". The music on this album, if listened to from beginning to end with an attitude of attention, invites you to breath with the earth, to slow down and listen. This set of pieces is all about “breathing”. The person who lives to 80 will take about 672,768,000 breaths in a lifetime. The first breath of our lives is inhale, and the last breath is exhale, with variations in between. Each musical phrase or gesture in this series of compositions is a breath, with subsequent breaths functioning as variations of the previous one. The combination of bandoneon and electronics is like a duet. The bandoneon sound often morphs into extended sonorities and other instruments or voices. The bandoneon requires bellows that breathe to produce sound, and so the gradual unfolding of breaths you hear throughout the album is enhanced by sound processing that evokes the behaviour of nature. Listen for free and get your copy here

  • Stefan Östersjö and I have released a video explaining the genesis of our Isolation Journal album. The video runs just over 7 minutes and gives you the back-story to this fantastic project. See the video on youtube.

  • Isolation Journal CD cover image

    On July 3, 2020, I have a new recording coming out, a duo with Swedish guitarist Stefan Östersjö. Isolation Journal is a series of reflections on solitude and the relation between human and environment, enacted through layers of electronic music and ecological sound art. The soundscape on a mountain above the village of Ngang Nội, Vietnam, was captured together with acoustic recordings of aeolian lute playing. As a response to the lockdown, Stefan Östersjö shared these files with John Oliver, who has drawn track after track out of these source recordings, as journal entries in the time of the pandemic. You can pre-order now and get 1 track right away, or even better to order on July 3 because on that day the web site gives to the artists their 15% cut of sales. Go to the store here.

  • CD cover for Music in the Key of the World

    World Premiere recording of my epic GYPSY CHRONICLES for the Vancouver Inter-cultural Orchestra conducted by Janna Sailor. Album available now. Check it out!

  • CD cover image for TAO-42-WIND

    I actually released this on May 1, 2020 as my first project made during the coronavirus pandemic. This is the first in a series of ambient musique concrète albums I am creating based on the I Ching (Chinese book of wisdom and divination). It's an album for deep listening with headphones, or casual listening while studying, painting, writing, etc. I mix sounds from nature with synthesized (electronic) sounds and create continuous movement between the elements. You can listen and buy the album here

  • LCMSTC The Little Chamber Music Society That Could has established the Isolation Commissions, an initiative that invites anyone to commit $200 to pay a musician of their choosing to record a short video of them performing music in their homes where they are isolated. The Society will then put titles to the video and publish it on their web site. New Westminster furniture artist and amateur cellist Richard Carswell has commissioned me to create a video. Look for the video on the web site in the coming days.

  • Forging Utopia first page of the score

    In January I take a moment to review my catalogue of works and decide if anything needs revision. This year I picked my 1998 orchestral piece Forging Utopia to revise. You can hear the results of the full piece performed in an audio demo on my soundcloud page.

    You can hear the recording of the first performance on my solo CD Forging Utopia: Orchestral music of John Oliver.

    With only a single performance, I found there were some things with which I was not satisfied. When Forging Utopia won the Western Canadian Music Award for Best Classical Composition, 2013, I had hoped that more orchestras would program the work. This hasn't happened yet. So I thought a brand new, improved version of the score might help the project of getting the work heard more widely. 

    I wrote Forging Utopia using Logic Pro software back in 1998. The work was commissioned by the National Arts Centre Orchestra and performed by them during their contemporary music festival "Generation XYZ" during the famous Ice Storm year. (My return flight from Ottawa to Vancouver was the last one out before the airport closed.) In 2012, the recording of this performance was included on my solo CD Forging Utopia: Orchestral music of John Oliver, and the following year, Forging Utopia won Classical Composition of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards.

    Back then there were several problems trying to write orchestra music using Logic Pro software. mainly that everything in the score that was not a musical note needed to be manually adjusted. Now, over 20 years later, we have the new notation software DORICO, that automates a number of layout functions in response to the user's set up. I decided to use this as a test to see how MusicXML export from Logic to Dorico would work. It was excellent. Parts creation in Logic Pro was extremely time-consuming for orchestral music and unsatisfactory. DORICO is a big improvement over both Logic Pro and Sibelius for score entry, editing, and parts creation.

    My new revision improves on the original score used for the first performance. Due to the technical challenges and slow response of the original notation software, I realized (on looking anew at the score) that there were a few passages that I could improve. The changes are however, minimal. My favourite is the change to the brief quotation passage that mixes Mendelssohn's violin concerto, the Prelude from Bach's cello Suite No. 1, the winds from Mahler's 9th Symphony, and the bassoon solo from the opening of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring: you can now hear the Stravinsky solo!

    You can find the original recording of the first performance on my Centrediscs recording called Forging Utopia: Orchestral music of John Oliver; check my web site.

  • World Premiere commissioned work Deep Forest Feeling on December 11, 2019 at 07:30PM at National Concert Hall, No. 21-1號, Zhongshan South Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100. Here's a short description: The Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra presents a program of new music featuring the world premiere of newly commissioned works by Canadian composers John Oliver and Alice Ho, as well as the first Taiwanese performance of "Himawari" by American composer Sam Mikulewicz. Oliver's work, called "Deep Forest Feeling (Spirit shield for a world falling apart), is profoundly influenced by his personal experiences in the forest and was written in response to the climate crisis. Alice Ho's work, "Rebirth" will also receive it's first performance, along with her work "Buddha's Song."

  • Duo 46 recently performed my work On Freedom, an "essay in sound" for violin, guitar, and surround sound, at the Guitar Federation of America Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. One reviewer described the experience as "haunting." Read the full review here.

  • I have started a page on that I am calling the Commissioning Collective. Please drop by. The idea is for my fans and supporters to contribute monthly amounts you can afford to enable me to write more music more often, when the opportunity or inspiration arises. In return, I'll have fun providing you with intimate videos of me improvising or developing new material in my studio, as well as discounts on recordings, scores, and other stuff, and you also get to message on the private, members-only Patreon message feed. Drop by and have a look at

  • My new CD is out. Listen now and download on bandcamp where I get the best share of revenue. This is a collection of pieces based on granulating and remixing older orchestral and instrumental pieces, as well as some pure electroacoustic music creation: an evocative collection of mostly shorter works that are sometimes cinematic, reflective, satirical, meditative… Enjoy!

  • I finally have my own profile on Spotify. I used to be lumped in with the comedian, conductor, and country singer! Imagine this: my picture and biography; top track Pavane op.50 by the Boston-area conductor; related artists James Corden, Craig Ferguson and Woody Allen. "I" had a lot of followers though, hahahaha. So, now that I have my own profile, I'm down to 0 followers/listeners! So please come by, have a listen to a track or two and please follow me. You may be asked to create an account. It's free. With a free account, you have to listen to annoying very loud ads every couple of tunes, but I appreciate your support to get me visible in the thick of contemporary music tracks there. Thanks! Here's the link.

  • A multicultural creation of live music (erhu/Chinese violin, zheng/Chinese zither, vocals, percussion) and multimedia animated visuals that tell ancient astrological stories from Asia, Greece, and the First Nations. East meets West, and traditional cultures meet technology. Premieres of music by Oliver, Lan Tung and Stefan Smulovitz.

    More info
    Vancouver tickets, in person at Norman Rothstein Theatre (950 W 41st Ave. Vancouver), by phone 604-257-5111, or online $20 regular, $15 students/seniors/children

    “Could I ask you to explain the music of heaven for me?” “Sounding the ten thousand things differently, so each becomes itself according to itself alone—who could make such music?” — Chuang Tzu (369-286 BCE)

  • Come hear me create edgy soundscape improvisations with Vancouver clarinetist and composer François Houle this coming Wednesday night November 15, 9pm at the China Cloud, 524 Main St. Vancouver. Pictured is my instrument of choice! More info

  • Honoured and pleased with the standing ovation we received Monday night (Nov.5) at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra world premiere of PRESSED FOR TIME by Mohamed Assani and myself, performed with Mohamed on sitar and his longtime colleague Shabaz Hussain on tabla (pictured to my left and right respectively). We hope for a long life for this exciting and unique sitar concerto.

  • I have formed a new duo with Vancouver artist, singer and improviser Carol Sawyer. We've been developing our improvised music for voice and electronics on the theme of water for about a year, and we launched our project this past summer in a public performance at Access Gallery in Vancouver on June 22, 2017. To see an excerpt from the performance, with Carol improvising a song based on a poem "Raining Buckets" by Daphne Marlatt, go here.. Carol's visual art is part of a major exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, a retrospective of The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, opening October 28. Learn more

  • I was guest composer at the Casalmaggiore International Music Festival this past July (Casalmaggiore, Italy). I attended the festival to hear a concert dedicated to my chamber music for strings and piano, spanning over three decades. The young musicians performed with conviction and passion after I led several coaching sessions with the them, with the help of faculty pianist Megumi Masaki and cellist Bo Peng. It was lovely to attend this classical music festival and hear some old favourites from the standard repertoire championed by these talented young musicians. Thanks to Meg and Bo and all these fine musicians!

  • John takes a bow with composer colleagues John Burge (his left), Vincent Ho (his left), and conductor Eric Paetkau, Saturday May 13, 2017 at the TCU Place, Saskatoon. This concert, titled O Canada, featured an opening fanfare (Élan) by Derek Charke, followed by a citizenship swearing-in ceremony, onstage. The first half ended with the brilliant percussion concerto by Vincent Ho called The Shaman, performed with exceptional style, grace, virtuosity, and intensity by SSO percussionist Bryan Allen. After intermission, the wonderful actor Carol Greyeyes narrated the story in Oliver's monumental and iconic work Raven Steals the Light, with the original art piece commissioned by Music in the Morning from Sto:lo artist Karl Harris hanging behind the orchestra. (Oliver can be seen in the photo wearing the matching vest.) Carol's storytelling, combined with the evocative playing of the Raven theme by SSO oboist Erin Brophey, made for a memorable rebirth of Oliver's newly-revised score, which was heard for the first time at this event. The concert ended with John Burge's work Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag. Bravo to all for creating a stunning evening!

  • Oliver conducted the Sound of Dragon Ensemble on March 9 at the Orpheum Annex: his own revised Consensus, arranged especially for the ensemble, and Vancouver composer Itamar Erez's Rikkud. On March 10, Vancouver cellist Bo Peng performed 3 Trains with Fei Dai at his faculty recital at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Langley. And this past Saturday, cellist Marina Hasselberg performed my Re-act-ion for melody instrument and computer at the SONIC BOOM festival in Vancouver.

  • American violist Brett Deubner premiered my World Enigma 2 for solo viola at a private concert last week. Here's a link to the youtube video.

  • Paolo Bortolussi, flute, performed my "Birds of Paradise Lost" for flute and computer at the Western Canadian Music Awards Classical Music Showcase (organized by the Canadian Music Centre, Prairie Region) on Saturday afternoon October 15. (Composer performed on computer LIVE.) This is a shot from the dress rehearsal. (Thanks Benton!) It was a real pleasure to perform for the ample and appreciative audience at the Westminster United Church in Regina and to see old colleagues again and hear their music! Paolo's CD Israfel was nominated for classical album of the year, and my composition for classical composition of the year. Although neither of us won, we gave a stellar performance!

  • The great and hilarious short film by Carol Sawyer and Evann Siebens for which I created sound and music is now on Carol's web site for all to see. Go here. Inspired by the experimental films of the 1930’s Parisian avant-garde and the work of Maya Deren, The Rehearsal documents a musical gathering which is interrupted by a series of surreal encounters between the heroine, Natalie Brettschneider, and various objects. The film was premiered recently in Ottawa at the CUAG as part of Carol's show The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, curated by Heather Anderson, and will be shown this fall at the AGGV when the show opens in a new iteration at that gallery on September 30th.

Site updated 2022-11-01