for me 'Critical Band' is one of the big pieces of the 20th century, one of those designs so simple you can't believe it took the culture that long to finally come up with it. eight string players start on a single note, spread into microtones creating a buzzing horde, then suddenly make a break into precise intervals creating the a beautifully pure, forever ascending chord.
his 1964 thesis 'Meta / Hodos' is an incredible study on the need to introduce new terms into musical discourse and criticism to help understand the shift into composing with pure sound that began in the early 20th century. I'd recommend it to anyone who writes or talks about new music, it's one of those three-epiphanies-per-page kind of texts.
the entirety of the 'Selected Works 1961-1969' (originally on Artifact, now on New World) has the early tape & computer music pieces. my other two favorite discs are 'The Solo Works For Percussion' performed by Matthias Kaul and the 'Forms I-IV' 2 CD set, both on Hat Art.
three major pieces that have only appeared on compilations are 'Critical Band', 'Spectral CANON for Conlon' (a Nancarrow tribute with the player piano tuned in just intonation), and 'Viet Flakes (Collage No. 2)', another early plunderphonics piece originally composed as the soundtrack to a Carolee Schneemann film where tapes of mid-60's American pop radio are cut in with Vietnamese folk music.
I've yet to hear "Clang" for orchestra, but from what I've read I need to.
he was also an amazing pianist, who'd recently been playing out the finest performances of Cage's 'Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano' I'd ever seen. this piece is often approached with primary focus on the rhythm -- the sound-altering preparations indicated in Cage's score sometimes flourish, but they never quite blended in the way they did in Tenney's hands, where it became a shockingly harmonic piece, with resonant, pure, nontempered chords hanging in the air, often taking precedence over the clanging rhythms. A few excerpts have appeared on compilations, we need a full recording.
there was a recent performance of 'Ergodos II' at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival by Willie Winant. Tenney had been scheduled to be in attendance, but had to cancel his travel plans shortly before the show. The performance had a very light and unreal feeling about it, there was no air in the room and no need for any. Winant also plays Tenney's 'Never Having Written A Note For Percussion" and I hope he has a chance to record some of those pieces.
sad to kick off a thread with a notice. one of the sharpest minds imaginable, I'd only spoken to him in passing a few times, but the writing and the music is still here, James Tenney r.i.p.
― milton parker (Jon L), Saturday, 26 August 2006 23:44 (6 years ago) Permalink
― milton parker (Jon L), Saturday, 26 August 2006 23:53 (6 years ago) Permalink
The following interview with the composer James Tenney concentrates on his work during the 1960s, when he was working at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey (September 1961 to March 1964), and participating in the flourishing experimental arts scene in New York City. While at Bell Labs Tenney worked closely with Max Mathews, John Pierce and others, as one of the first composers to use computer synthesized sound (most of his computer compositions from the time are included on the compact disc, James Tenney: Selected Works, 1961-1969). David Lewin preceded him briefly at Bell Labs, but Tenney was the first composer there on a protracted basis, let alone one who could bring such formidable knowledge of the underpinnings of twentieth century composition to bear. Indeed, Meta / Hodos, his Masters Thesis at the University of Illinois, finished just before he arrived at Bell Labs, proposed nothing less than a fundamentally new approach to understanding twentieth century composition (after having a long cult status among composers, Meta / Hodos is increasingly being recognized as one of the most important musical documents of the 20th century). Tenney's work from this period can be understood from a larger perspective. Given that music was the first art to use computers in a sophisticated way, Tenney could also be understood as one of the first digital artists. With many digital artists today moving so easily among the arts, there is good reason to do the same historically.
― milton parker (Jon L), Sunday, 27 August 2006 01:37 (6 years ago) Permalink
― Sundar (sundar), Sunday, 27 August 2006 05:03 (6 years ago) Permalink
― Stormy Davis (diamond), Sunday, 27 August 2006 05:38 (6 years ago) Permalink
"blue suede shoes" 1961 by all accounts is the first track based on dedicated sampling of another piece
spectral canon, critical band
from cold blue compilation, relache - on edge, both solid albums beyond the tenney tracks, worth buying
― milton parker (Jon L), Sunday, 27 August 2006 07:48 (6 years ago) Permalink
Reading some of the tributes and playing a couple of pieces of his this morning and all I hear are these delightful delicacies. For all the talk of how conceptual he was I don't hear any dryness that could be implied by that.
― xyzzzz__ (jdesouza), Sunday, 27 August 2006 11:16 (6 years ago) Permalink
looking for a recording of 'clang' for orchestra. not sure if one's ever been commercially released. discography.
there's this: http://disquiet.com/downstream-past5.html#d20060731-jt
2nd piece is Ergodos II, 3rd piece I'm pretty sure is one of the microtonal guitar pieces for Seth Josel, 4th piece is "Blue Suede". I wish I knew what that opening piece is, it's completely stunning.
― milton parker (Jon L), Sunday, 27 August 2006 22:39 (6 years ago) Permalink
― jed_ (jed), Monday, 28 August 2006 00:59 (6 years ago) Permalink
― xyzzzz__ (jdesouza), Monday, 28 August 2006 12:43 (6 years ago) Permalink
― Dominique (dleone), Monday, 28 August 2006 13:42 (6 years ago) Permalink
I bought "A History of 'Consonance' and 'Dissonance'" yesterday, looking forward.
― milton parker (Jon L), Monday, 28 August 2006 17:12 (6 years ago) Permalink
online archive of tenney playing 'sonata and interludes for prepared piano': http://www.soundnet.org/concerts/#cage
he's a composer's composer so I'm not surprised the online notices have so far been confined to blogs. he kept a concertedly low profile, no time for careerism. also, his most accessible works are strewn across compilations, there's no easily available retrospective. the people who know right now are limited to the people who work to seek the true stuff out. but the smoke's going to clear: first composer to produce musically lasting results from digital software (1961-64), first composer to produce a 'remix' / plunderphonic piece (that alone). 'chromatic canon' merging minimalism with serialism, his work tracing the continuum between consonance and dissonance is going to come in handy as popular music keeps veering closer to noise, his microtonal compositions that help themselves to the overtone series without getting locked into static drones, in the age of composer / specialists, most people are still staking out the dots that Tenney's already connected, so the man is going to keep coming up.
― milton parker (Jon L), Tuesday, 29 August 2006 18:34 (6 years ago) Permalink
― hstencil (hstencil), Wednesday, 30 August 2006 16:22 (6 years ago) Permalink
I finished reading Tenney's "A History of 'Consonance' and 'Dissonance'" a few weeks ago. About to re-read it, but Polansky's comment about Tenney being the most important music theorist of the last half of the 20th century does not seem that far off the mark. Perhaps I'll write more later, but the book is a historical overview from Pythagoras on positing five basic musical periods of development in which what was considered 'consonant' and 'dissonant' gradually shift and expand, seemingly towards noise, but ultimately towards a music organized out of pure sound. His examples are persuasive and in his hands the history of musical development over the past 100 years doesn't seem fragmented, it seems unbroken, cohesive and obvious. It should be required reading in every 20th century music class in the country, and it's about $40 on Amazon.
― milton parker (Jon L), Thursday, 12 October 2006 05:18 (6 years ago) Permalink
mark swed review: http://www.calendarlive.com/music/cl-et-tenney12dec12,0,7135153.story?coll=cl-nav-music
good to know many more recordings are forthcoming
― milton parker (Jon L), Wednesday, 10 January 2007 02:49 (6 years ago) Permalink
― Dominique (dleone), Wednesday, 10 January 2007 03:05 (6 years ago) Permalink
― milton parker (Jon L), Wednesday, 10 January 2007 04:03 (6 years ago) Permalink
― Tim R-J (Rambler), Tuesday, 30 January 2007 09:51 (6 years ago) Permalink
― admrl, Saturday, 8 September 2007 18:28 (5 years ago) Permalink
Do I go to this? I get in free to all this stuff now!
20th-Century Spectrum: Piano Fusion
CalArts, Roy O. Disney Music Hall
MUSIC: Liam Viney and Anna Grinberg, working through the medium of two pianos, explore the range of 20th-century trends by using the music of the late CalArts faculty member James Tenney as a key nexus. Combining elements of serialism, minimalism and one of the oldest contrapuntal techniques in Western music, Tenney’s Chromatic Canon exemplifies his ability to effortlessly fuse disparate and almost ideologically opposed musical threads—all in his uniquely personal voice. The concert also includes performances of Steve Reich’s seminal Piano Phase, John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction, and, finally, Tenney’s Flocking—a computer-generated score whose ephemeral beauty opens remarkable new dimensions for performers and listeners alike.
― admrl, Saturday, 8 September 2007 18:32 (5 years ago) Permalink
Not sure what the John Adams is doing there (maybe a work from an early phase?) but I'd go, even if that isn't that much of a write-up. I think its too easy to see serial music and minimalism as 'opposed' ('almost'? really?!) to each other.
― xyzzzz__, Saturday, 8 September 2007 21:25 (5 years ago) Permalink
― toby, Sunday, 9 September 2007 02:36 (5 years ago) Permalink
Was watching my namesake's film Interim from 1952 which has a marvelous Tenney piano soundtrack. It reminded me that I hadn't checked him out aside from some of his collage work – why did I blow him off for so long? This is fantastic stuff.
― Brakhage, Tuesday, 11 March 2008 05:30 (5 years ago) Permalink
― Milton Parker, Friday, 2 May 2008 18:48 (5 years ago) Permalink
just wanted to say the Conlon Nancarrow box set which was performed by Tenney is amazing amazing fucking amazing ok carry on.
― Mackro Mackro, Friday, 2 May 2008 19:10 (5 years ago) Permalink
― matinee, Friday, 2 May 2008 20:13 (5 years ago) Permalink
Jim: Mongolians might imagine that all music has to do with horses, celebrating horses, which most of their music does. And they might think, well, that's just the nature of music, it's something you do -- sing about and to your horse. Well, I think that's what we have done. We have the notion that all music is expressing feelings, personal feelings. Now, I don't mean to disassociate from feeling, I think that a lot of feeling is involved in the experience of listening to music, no matter how abstract it may be or unfamiliar or whatever. But the idea of self-expression and the idea of models having to do with human psychology is a much more limited notion than it has come to seem.
Tina: So your solution to the problem is to concern yourself at this point now with the nature of harmonic series.
Jim: Well, in general, I think that all my life as a composer, it's been concerned with sound. Now, what does that mean? When you begin to work that out that can mean a concern with a lot of different aspects of sound and for many years, the aspects of sound that interested me most involved timbre, tone quality, texture and form. But in the last ten years or so, that interest has shifted. It involves pitch now, and what I call Harmony. And one manifestation of that is the harmonic series. But I would like it to be understood that this is an aspect of sound. And it is sound that has always occuppied my mind and interest. i think that's what all music is about. Sound. But I might be under just as much an illusion as the Mongolian who thinks that all music is about horses. Now, it's more than that. When i say sound, that means a couple of different things. On the one hand, it would be a misunderstanding to think that I only mean that it's about vibrations in the air -- in other words, only the purely physical, acoustic aspect of it. I don't. When I say sound, I mean something which is simultaneously physical and perceptual, simultaneously objective and subjective. The physical, acoustical vibrations are an essential part of that, but the perceiving ear and mind of the listener is also an essential part. So, looking at the subjective side of it, I'm talking about an aspect of perception. I've been for twenty-five years absolutely fascinated with all kinds of questions about how we hear, how we perceive sound. And this is one thing that so much of the music in the twentieth century seems to me to have a great deal to teach us about, is the nature of sound in that large sense, that nature of our perception of sound.
- Musicworks 27, special issue on the music of James Tenney, spring 1984
― Milton Parker, Saturday, 28 March 2009 22:48 (4 years ago) Permalink
A month or so back, Joseph Franklin was featured on KUNM's avant-garde type show and he played some sort of archival recording of Relache performing "Critical Band." Can't say I really registered what was going on in the piece, but with no music theory to speak of, I'm not going to get things on that level.
Franklin had some very interesting things to say about Cage's response to that piece, which apparently even led to a patching up of relations between Cage and Tenney. They had had a big falling out over Tenney's continued emphasis on harmonics, but after hearing this piece and resuming correspondence with Tenney, Cage apparently answered, when asked what living composer he would want to study with if he were starting out (or something like that): Tenney.
― _Rockist__Scientist_, Saturday, 28 March 2009 23:26 (4 years ago) Permalink
More here (hey I should see if the library has this):
― _Rockist__Scientist_, Saturday, 28 March 2009 23:30 (4 years ago) Permalink
I'd heard the comment about Cage's remarks to Tenney about Critical Band - "If that's harmony, then I'm all for it" (which resonates after a lifetime of Cage publishing writings expressing, at best, ambivalence about diatonic writing in music)
but hadn't heard the bit about Cage saying that it was the most beautiful piece of music he'd ever heard. Cage was prone to grand statements but it really is a beautiful piece. I don't see it as something you have to understand to have a reaction to, I thought it was beautiful before I read the liner notes, but it was the case for that once I understood how elemental the piece is, my reaction to it grew deeper
― Milton Parker, Sunday, 29 March 2009 00:26 (4 years ago) Permalink
For Ann (rising), 1969, which both Kalvos & Damian list as one of their New Music desert island disks.
The piece is based upon the Shepard scale concept, named after Tenney's colleague at Bell Labs psychologist Roger Shepard, though the technique which the piece uses is more properly described as a continuous Risset scale or Shepard-Risset glissando (Polansky 2003).
Each rising sine-wave-like glissando, between twelve and fifteen rising at any time, fades in and out, all entering a minor sixth below their predecessors, rising from the infrasonic to ultrasonic range, from below to above the ability to perceive pitch (Polansky 2003).
― derelict, Sunday, 29 March 2009 07:33 (4 years ago) Permalink
that's a classic piece, but really so elemental I rarely keep it on for the whole piece. there was one particularly great Drew Daniel DJ set where he brought it in, loud, over house music and it just worked, everyone kept climbing
― Milton Parker, Sunday, 29 March 2009 09:22 (4 years ago) Permalink
"So, looking at the subjective side of it, I'm talking about an aspect of perception."
What is this really about?
Agree its a wonderful piece but are the qualities in Critical Band easier to perceive than, say, Boulez's 2nd sonata?
― xyzzzz__, Sunday, 29 March 2009 22:10 (4 years ago) Permalink
It depends on how deeply you're listening for the structure in the Boulez piece. You'd need the sheet music if you wanted to trace through his motives, but it's easy enough to simply listen and hear how serialism is used to insure perpetual variety in every parameter. The same thing with 'Critical Band': you'd need to understand tuning ratios & basic physics of sound to play or follow the intervals, but as a listener there is no arguing with a mass of notes that gradually fan out to arrive at a blazing, perfectly tuned major chord.
Perceptually, the piece begins with a buzzing drone texture with a dissonant edge, somewhat typical of 20th century classical, well done but tense, so when it arrives at that major chord, it's like you'd forgotten that the sun was going to rise
― Milton Parker, Monday, 30 March 2009 21:14 (4 years ago) Permalink
'Critical Band' for 16 or more sustaining instruments:
The score is divided into 13 segments of varying duration, indicated by the "bar-lines". For each segment, the notation gives available pitches, with numbers above each note indicating its deviations from the nearest tempered pitch in cents, its frequency ration with respect to A-440, and its frequency in Hz. An electronic tuner may be necessary to achieve the intonation accuracy required for this piece, although beat frequency (at about three and a half beats per second) can be used in Segment 2 to determine the pitches of A+13 cents and A-14 cents.
A performance arises out of the normal process of tuning to A-440. In each subsequent segment, players choose, in any order, one after another of the available pitches for that segment, playing them according to the dynamic indications given. Note durations should approximate the length of one breath in the wind instruments, or one upbow-downbow sequence in bowed strings. Newly available pitches in the lower staves are to be played only after the newly available pitch in one of the upper staves (in the same time-segment) has been heard.
0': 1/12': 1/1, 129/128, 127/1283'30: 1/1, 129/128, 127/128, 65/64, 63/645: 1/1, 65/64, 63/64, 33/32, 31/326'30: 1/1, 33/32, 31/32, 17/16, 15/168': 1/1, 17/16, 15/16, 9/8, 7/89'30: 1/1, 9/8, 7/8, 5/4, 3/411': 1/1, 9/8, 7/8, 5/4, 3/4, 11/812': 1/1, 9/8, 7/8, 5/4, 3/4, 3/2, 5/813': 1/1, 9/8, 7/8, 5/4, 3/4, 3/2, 5/8, 13/814': 1/1, 9/8, 7/8, 5/4, 3/4, 3/2, 5/8, 7/4, 1/215': 1/1, 9/8, 7/8, 5/4, 3/4, 3/2, 5/8, 7/4, 1/2, 15/816': 1/1, 9/8, 7/8, 5/4, 3/4, 3/2, 5/8, 7/4, 1/2, 2/1, 1/4
― Milton Parker, Monday, 30 March 2009 21:15 (4 years ago) Permalink
I don't see it as something you have to understand to have a reaction to
Well maybe you just need to listen to every single second of it without any let up in attention or something. I just found it "interesting."
― _Rockist__Scientist_, Thursday, 9 July 2009 19:14 (3 years ago) Permalink
well maybe at this point I just have an emotional response to anything I find interesting
― Milton Parker, Thursday, 9 July 2009 19:31 (3 years ago) Permalink
Maybe you have cosmic consciousness.
― _Rockist__Scientist_, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 18:40 (3 years ago) Permalink
ok, haven't heard it yet, but based on the three pieces played this looks, finally, like the single disc album to recommend
― Milton Parker, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 20:29 (2 years ago) Permalink
man that is like the best news this week, just hearing it exists
― Milton Parker, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 20:31 (2 years ago) Permalink
I will keep this in mind. My new CD listening is all over the place this year, so why not add this to the mix, I suppose.
― _Rudipherous_, Thursday, 5 August 2010 03:40 (2 years ago) Permalink
so, that zeitkratzer disc ended up being ok, but in all cases not the best versions of those pieces, so not as all that as hoped
I saw Tenney play Sonatas and Interludes at Mills the year before he passed -- I've been hoping for a studio recording of the piece ever since, and it's finally here. I've enjoyed a lot of recordings of this piece, but nothing ever comes close to the resonant & mysterious sound of the original 1950 recording by Maro Ajemian. Every piano is so different, so inevitably, Cage's instructions on how to prepare the piano can only be so precise; at some point, each performer is just supposed to use their ears and choose sounds that feel right to them. In practice, how this works out is that most people approach the piece primarily as a percussive one, and create a bunch of sonically interesting 'notes' filled with lots of noisy overtones, each of which sound great on impact. But it is not a modal piece, it does modulate, it goes through many little twists. What this basically means is that on many recordings, the chords end up being fairly atonal, or at least brittle, rattled out, on the noisy side of the spectrum. Which even now still sounds very novel, but in all honesty, also the reason why I rarely make it all the way through most recordings.
Tenney knows each movement of the piece by heart, and so well, that his preparations for each individual note pay attention to the chords that they are going to be utilized in. When he plays it, it becomes a shockingly consonant & harmonic piece; the chords don't clatter, they ring out. This recording only hints at what it was like to be in the room with the piano; loud notes, hit hard, would seem quieter than the softly hit notes with overtones that would shoot back and forth through the entire concert hall. You can kind of still hear that on this recording, it's acoustic music that sounds like electronic music at times. This makes it a very difficult piece to record -- part of the appeal of the original Ajemian document is the fact that it is a far-field, mono, somewhat fuzzy recording. Too many higher fidelity recordings are stuck between recording the piano from across the room and losing the details, or sticking the mics so close that the percussive transients sound too harsh or require over-compression, so the engineer has to compromise -- you can't get the sound. But the Tenney version survives documentation much more easily, mainly because it's not just a percussive piece in his hands, it's a tonal one.
Can't believe it's been out for months before I even heard about it, but -- hands down, this is the recording of the piece if you're only buying one, even if you think you don't like this piece, or don't like Cage, there is something very different about this one
― Milton Parker, Wednesday, 31 October 2012 18:37 (7 months ago) Permalink
A History of 'Consonance' and 'Dissonance' - http://www.plainsound.org/pdfs/HCD.pdf
Meta / Hodos - http://www.fileden.com/files/2009/12/26/2703030//MetaHodos.pdf
― Milton Parker, Friday, 4 January 2013 23:53 (5 months ago) Permalink
― Milton Parker, Sunday, 3 March 2013 08:43 (3 months ago) Permalink
― Milton Parker, Tuesday, 2 April 2013 01:07 (2 months ago) Permalink