KFJC 89.7FM
Album Review

Tenney, James – “Selected Works: 1961-1969” – [New World]

cujo   6/16/2008   A Library

James Tenney (1934-2006) was deeply entrenched in all things musical && stochastic && perceptual && electronic && American. His star will continue to rise, to the point that generations from now he???ll be recognized as a pioneer if not in composition, then certainly in compositional attitudes and theory. This is a reissue of a 1992 Frog Peak/Artifact Recordings release. To give you an idea of Tenney???s influence, here are just some of the KFJC-friendly names responsible for the original remastering and release: Tom Erbe, John Bischoff, Chris Brown, and Larry Polansky.

Collage #1 (???Blue Suede???): Tape collage of the signature Elvis number put together at the University of Illinois in 1961. At this time, the only places in the world you could produce something like this were San Francisco (Subotnick), Illinois (Hiller), Columbia/Princeton (Sessions/Babbitt/Luening/Ussachevsky), Koln (Stockhausen/Eimert), and Milan (Berio/Maderna). Like spinning a radio dial in a city populated only with Blue Suede-airing radio stations, some of them playing with echo, some in reverse. This has a nice dramatic arc to it, and it sounds sweet.

Analog #1 (???Noise Study???)
Dialogue
Phases (for Edgard Varese)
Music for Player Piano
Ergodos II (for John Cage)

The above five pieces are the result of Tenney???s 2.5 year tenure as composer at Bell Labs in New Jersey — as the first composer to turn to and dedicate oneself to computer music! Follow Polansky???s extensive liner notes carefully and in these 5 pieces you can trace the development of both Max Mathews??? MUSIC IV program???s abilities and Tenney???s stochastic processes. Try to listen along as Tenney stops defining parameters like timbre, pitch, and timing absolutely, instead giving them statistical values of mean, range, and standard deviation. This also happens moving up hierarchically, so things like phrases and sequences and even entire pieces have their own such freedoms.

It???s of note that Tenney had a well documented relationship with player piano king Nancarrow (see the liner notes to the Wergo complete Nancarrow studies release, and also Tenney???s piece Spectral CANON for CONLON), but the piece included was punched before they had known of each other.

Fabric for Che: Inspired by the sounds of tunnel traffic, this sounds like a motorcycle racing diary. Lots of whizzing and noise and possibly stereo effects?

For Ann (rising): clever application of Risset scales results in shimmering Tinkerbell lights. Let your mind wander… marvel how your focus fades between following tones up the scale and the illusion as a whole. Strangely optimistic.

–Cujo, KFJC, June 2008

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