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    James Tenney – Selected Works 1961-1969

    James Tenney - Selected Works 1961-1969

    James Tenney was one of the more important yet obscure composers of the second half of the 20th Century. He studied most notably under Carl Ruggles and Edgard Varèse at places like The Juillard School of Music, Bennington College (B.A. 1958) and the University of Illinois (M.A. 1961) It was at U.I. where he attended what were probably the first courses in electronic music anywhere, instructed by Lejaren Hiller. Right after that, Tenney, along with Max Matthews at Bell Telephone Laboratories, was the first composer to significantly employ the computer as a composition aid and sound generator. He was also co-founder and conductor of the Tone Roads Chamber Ensemble in NYC from 1963 to 1970 and performed in the ensembles of Harry Partch, John Cage, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Tenney is also the author of numerous books and articles on acoustics, perception and form in music. He taught at The Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, California Institute of the Arts, University of California and York University in Toronto.

    As most of James Tenney’s music has, with very few exceptions, eluded release on recordings for the last 40 years, this 1992 CD collects the best of his historic computer music of the 1960s as a necessary public service. Some highlights include “Collage #1 (“Blue Suede”)” (1961), a very disorienting piece of musique concrète tape manipulation of Elvis Presley’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes.” Consisting entirely of “samples” from Elvis’ original recording, it starts off with hacked-up, slowed-down, sped-up and reversed fragments that are completely unrecognizable as anything other than very abstract and brutal slabs of ultra low-pitched, gurgling noises bumped up next to—and sometimes layered with—high-pitched, skittering sounds. Recognizable fragments of Elvis’ vocals and instrument sounds appear about a third of the way through the piece with no tape speed change, although they do sound as if they’ve been processed through a kaleidoscope and cheese grater simultaneously. In the final third, the unrecognizable noise from the first section is pitted against and layered with the familiar sounds of the second to form one of the more exhilarating listening experiences in modern sound—a kind of “contrapuntal” jam of rock music and avant-garde noise.

    “Analog #1 (Noise Study)” (1961) is a sperm-shooting (i.e. “seminal”) work of dark ambience “inspired by the daily journey between New Jersey and Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel and heavy New York traffic.” “Fabric For Ché” (1967) is, as the name implies, a dense and uninterrupted sonic sweater of electronic tone wash, comparable to, yet pre-dating by a decade, the industrial sound of Throbbing Gristle. The beautifully titled “For Ann, Rising” (1969) was James Tenney’s last completely electronic work. It’s a very confounding piece of minimal process music featuring overlapped and “continuously rising tones. The process is simple: each glissando [sliding tone], separated by some fixed time interval, fades in from its lowest note and fades out as it nears the top of its audible range. It is nearly impossible to follow, aurally, the path of any given glissando, so the effect is that the individual tones never reach their highest pitch.”—Larry Polansky. An infinite amount of overlapping, rising tones that originate from a deep, dark nowhere proceed upward forever as new tones constantly move up from the bottom and “replace” the others before they reach their apex. Nothing is ever really resolved. This is a mesmerizing exercise in “endless cycles.”

    Label: Artifact, New World Records Catalog Number: Artifact: ART 1007, New World Records: 80570-2 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 8 Total Time: 70:02 Country: United States Released: Artifact: 1992, New World Records: 2003 Related Artists: Larry Polansky More: Discogs, Forced Exposure, Frog Peak, Post Classic, Some Assembly Required, Wikipedia

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