Charles Cohen, Electronic Explorer, Leaves the Planet R.I.P.

Electronic Musician Charles Cohen Pulls His Last Patch Cord.

by John Diliberto 9/30/2017A denizen of the electronic underground has left the planet. Charles Cohen was among the first wave of contemporary electronic musicians in Philadelphia. I first heard of him when he had an electronic duo with Jeff Cain called The Ghostwriters. They released an excellent EP,  Music from No Man’s Land in 1980 followed by the album, Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear. They played several electronic concerts in the 1970s into the early 80s and were featured in the 1981 public radio music documentary series, Electronic Minstrels.

Even before that, Cohen was befriended by electronic musician Craig Anderton, of the band Mandrake Memorial and later the founder of Electronic Musician magazine. Cohen and Cain added their electronic work to albums by acoustic guitarist Linda Cohen among others. He created an electronic music festival, FOPEM in the early 80s, Festival of Philadelphia Electronic Music that featured artists like The Nightcrawlers, Lennie Seidman and others.

With The Ghostwriters, Cohen tried working in more pop music forms, but he was an experimenter at heart and his own music tended to be free-flowing, but with a complex internal architecture. Cohen was an exponent of the Buchla Modular synthesizer at a time when that was a very exotic instrument.

He had a musical rebirth in the early part of this decade with several albums released on the European Morphine label. Articles, concerts and a belated acknowledgement of his work was just beginning to flow when he was busted in a police Craigslist sting for soliciting sex from a minor. He pleaded no contest, but despite his frail health, he had Parkinson’s disease, he was sentenced to prison and served 5 Months. He was released on July 29 of this year and 2 months later, on September 29, 2017, he succumbed to natural causes at the age of 71.

I hadn’t seen Charles in some time although we’d run into each other at concerts occasionally. But in the 70s and 80s I interviewed him frequently. He was a quiet man with a sardonic sense of humor who took a great deal of joy in his electronic toys. I was so happy for his belated success before it was short-circuited. I know that there is a great new soundtrack happening right now in the sky.

For more on Charles Cohen there is a story in the Philadelphia Gay News, who seem to have been the first to report his departure.

  3 comments for “Charles Cohen, Electronic Explorer, Leaves the Planet R.I.P.

  1. At Omni’s a dinky punk club on Walnut Street, Charles Cohen did a solo gig as Fool Killer, opening for The Stick Men, I believe, around 1979? The most notable aspect was his placement of 4 big speaker cabinets – one at each corner of the dance floor. Sometimes the music slowly shifted around the listeners, like a tide or a shadow moving with the change of the sun in the sky. Later in the set, Charles tossed sounds from one speaker to another like a giant playing with a ball… sometimes the sequence would even end with a massive THUD, or crunch. His music activated parts of the brain not normally used. If you were sitting up straight, it made you slouch… if you were all hunched over, you popped out of your chair and stood up straight. Charles sometimes wryly denied being a musician; “I just design sounds…” he’d say. Even a recent business card of his referenced it: “BEEPS AND BOOPS FOR ALL OCCASIONS” . Charles Cohen released vibes into the air that are still going. Goodbye Charles, and thank you. — Mike McGettigan

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