Bret McCabe interviews John Berndt

Musician, composer, artist, and general cultural explorer John Berndt has been participating in Baltimore’s underground arts communities since the early 1980s.

A co-founder and co-organizer of both the Red Room Collective and the High Zero festival, which helped make Baltimore a crucible for local, national, and international musical improvisers and performers since the ’90s, Berndt’s own curiosities have guided him into areas where philosophy and pranksterism form curious friendships, as well into musical collaborations and compositions that yield ecstatic, introspective beauty.

In conversation, he’s both a reservoir for anecdotes of Baltimore’s left-field arts activities since the 1970s and a reflective thinker about his own creative pursuits, and where his search for unconventional sounds and ideas might be taking him. The interview was conducted in Baltimore during the summer of 2016.



1987_pigeon_action18 year old Neoist John Berndt’s “Tourist Action” at Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy, 1987.


monty_cantsin_jbJohn Berndt as Monty Cantsin. Video documentation, The Data Attic, Dundee Scottland, 1987


jb_cathy_paine-1John Berndt and Cathy Paine site-specific Hijynx performance, Charles Village ATM location, 2002


2445899197_0229f942e4 Thus—Neil feather and John Berndt’s longstanding band—performs at Oberlin College, Mid-00’s


John Berndt and Neil Feather have developed their own musical language since 1992 as THUS. Here they perform “Shoots and Latters” in Baltimore, 2008. Neil Feather plays his Guitaint and John Berndt plays The Bendy Guitar, both instruments from Feather’s large “Former Guitar” family of instruments.


Here they perform “Notes Sheared Like Bolts“in Baltimore, 2008. Neil Feather plays his Nondo instrument and John Berndt plays recombinate electronics including Q.R. Ghazala’s Incantor instruments, and Ciat-ombarde’s Shynth and Aluminum Crystal instruments.


tubes_in_front_of_normals_2Left to Right: Sarah El Jallad, Ric Royer and John Berndt perform John Berndt’s piece “Singing Through Each Other’s Mouths” in front of Normal’s Books and Records, Mid-00s.


Lafayette Gilchrist, John Berndt, Dave Ballou and Susan Alcorn at the 2640


high_zero_2008John Berndt performing at High Zero Festival.


“Contact, for Alphonso Lingis,” John Berndt Alto Saxophone solo , 2009


Second Nature Ensemble at High Zero 2014


C.C. Hennix, Henry Flynt, and John Berndt: Fractures of the Civilization from ISSUE Project Room on Vimeo.

John_Lexi_JohnLeft to right: John Eaton, Lexie Mountain and John Berndt perform as part of Geodesic Gnome in John Berndt’s piece “The Autotune Apocalypse” at The Hexagon Space (date unknown).


Author Author Bret McCabe is a haphazard tweeter, epic-fail blogger, and a Baltimore-based arts and culture writer.

“Conversations” intro music by 98Owls and was recorded and edited by Jack Livingston.