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    James Tenney – Postal Pieces‏

    James Tenney (1934-2006) 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.

    Released as a double-CD set in 2004, the Postal Pieces–most of which make their recorded debut here–were composed by Tenney in the late 1960s and early ’70s. They “are a remarkable series of eleven short works printed on postcards. Each card contains a complete if minimally stated work to be performed by instrumentalists. These pieces elucidate to a large degree some of Tenney’s bedrock compositional ideas. Each is a kind of meditation on acoustics, form, or hyper-attention to a single performance gesture.”–Larry Polansky. “Maximusic” opens disc one with a gentle cloud of quiet cymbal wash that floats right in front of your face for several minutes–only to be suddenly and rudely interrupted by a loud rhythmic attack on drums and percussion, which ends with a final gong hit then reverts back to the opening atmosphere. “Swell Piece” picks up where the first track left off with some string and woodwind drones complete with stop-and-start silences. If you’re a 1950s teenager in a malt shop, you might refer to it as a really swell piece. “A Rose is a Rose is a Round” offers the only real sonic deviation from the rest of the album, as it brandishes layers of repetitive, acapella, melodic singing.

    “Beast” continues the collection’s moody atmosphere with a cave-deep contrabass drone. This track really is a beast! “Swell Piece #2” brandishes rising and falling and stopping and starting trombone tones, while “Having Never Written a Note For Percussion” starts out quietly with a gong wash that builds to super loud, raging frenzy then mellows out again. “Koan” features a woozy, ascending, minimal viola rhythm, followed by “For Percussion Perhaps, or…(night), which closes the disc with more quiet, ebbing drones via trombone and electronics. “Swell Piece #3” openes up disc two with some extended trombone and held vocals approprately dedicated to La Monte Young. As its title suggests, “Cellogram” saws away with an array of dizzy cellos that rise and fall like the sun, or a roller coaster. The 43-minute and deeply meditative “August Harp” closes out disc two with a seemingly never-ending set of single notes plucked from a harp. Just as important as Tenney’s groundbreaking 1960s computer music, which can be heard on Selected Works 1961-1969, the Postal Pieces are a previously unknown monster minimal artifact ripe for discovery.

    Label: New World Records Catalog Number: 80612-2 Format: 2-CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: Disc 1: 8, Disc 2: 3 Total Time: Disc 1: 71:45, Disc 2: 60:50 Country: United States Released: 2004 Related Artists: Larry Polansky More: Discogs, Forced Exposure, Frog Peak, Post Classic, Some Assembly Required, Wikipedia

    Text ©2010 Arcane Candy

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