Since I've been pseuding out on SFRP, let me spare you the verbiage here [EDIT: this is a lie. I got carried away, and there is much ink/bytes spilled below. If you want to stick to the music, skip this. But don't say I didn't try to tell you.] and simply say that Tenney would be a postworthy giant without a death to commemorate. Mere death is too little an accomplishment to acknowledge; this man was giant in and throughout his life, and even though he received a bit of the Jacques Derrida treatment upon his passing just recently (he died from lung cancer just this past August 24th), albeit from a more loving and dedicated group of admirers, no doubt knowledgeable of his work and sympathetic, but in providing a retrospect of his accomplishments, perhaps more than a little apologetic--that is, in more than a couple accounts, the "difficulty" of his music, its theoretical rigor and the primacy of theoretical work to the music, etc--again, even though he received this pulling of his own punches by those surviving him, even in the championing, I'm not sure if familiarity with the theoretical edifice behind his compositions is necessary to meet their seductions face-to-face, and to reckon with them.

Not to say that I have any kind of handle on what is at work in Tenney's theoretical apparatus, in any of his pieces. However, his small book META-HODOS gave me ways into what I sought in music that only looked like woodpaths at first glance, even though that "first glance" was a rather painstaking and slow slog, at least at the time. That's the thing about theory that seems to be lost on even/especially the most elaborate hackery: theories are ways, hence that "hodos" business that's "method"'s family name. No way without a where, without a what, without a why: but a why that can't be posed like a vindication or a known-in-advance, not merely, whether posed like the vindictive a-ha! before the fact or after. It's an unfolding, unfolding, unfolding.

An acquaintance of mine visited CalArts just a few years ago or so, and was hanging out in the halls, waiting for some attention, a tour of the facilities, an appointment, something. Tenney apparently spotted this young man, and not knowing him from Adam, invited him into a room where he was in the painstaking process of preparing a piano to his own satisfaction, in order to play the Cage Sonatas. The warmth in the midst of distraction, or rather, intense concentration, was something that stuck with my acquaintance. None of this music seems like bag-carrying (to borrow a term applied by one savvy commentator---Archie Shepp? I wish I could remember---to the opportunist hacks who scraped off a little of the surface-effects of Coltrane's later approach but reached nowhere near as deep as that giant, not in terms of only of risk or demands placed upon oneself in a groping toward the surface, as though for air, as though one's life depended on it: that serious), and maybe not even like that ever-popular encomium, world-creation (can we be over this heritage, already?). I don't know what this stuff is. I don't know what this stuff is. Have you had experience with, in, the cinema, at the movies? Have you been like me in watching Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven, and seen people fighting a fire at night, or a young girl running down the street, and not known what you're seeing? Have you ever not known what you're seeing?

James Tenney, you ripple-inducer. You peeled back a corner. You traced a stain. You guttering wick. I heard the rain, listening to your music.
NOTE: included below are four recordings: The Solo Works for Percussion, Pika-Don, Music for Violin & Piano, and Bridge & Flocking. All are highly recommended. I'd be really interested to know what you think of them, and which one(s) you consider good ways in to Tenney's ways, and what they make you think. The most valuable for me, for the moment, is probably Bridge & Flocking, not least because what seem to be pointy and hard-to-love hypermodernist post-serial type piano music, gradually seems to involve more than that, and to be obsessed with, among other things, obsession: it doesn't seem like music that preaches, even if it knows what it's doing.

If you've never heard his music before, I tentatively suggest getting this stuff downloaded, and waiting just a little while for me to get the second Tenney post up and operating. In that post will be the Forms series, which at the very least (and it's not a mere little) is a gorgeous soundworld to visit (ok, so I use that language....bah): I mean it's killer. After hearing that, Bridge & Flocking meant more to me, and after hearing Bridge & Flocking at that point, Stockhausen's Klavierstucke (some of which I shall also eventually post, in a performance by David Tudor) meant more to me, and then Cage's Music of Changes, then Boulez's fearsome Guitar Center Sonatas (beholdbeholdtheawesomepower). But here's the thing: I don't think any of those composers, apart from Tenney, was particularly concerned with what I thought of their piece: it was dropped into the world aged, sagely, and gray, ready for the beholding, ready to flatten me, even if its system of means needed me (Cage). So what I'm saying is: James Tenney, he cares what you think. Never mind all this nonsense I'm saying.

(Hat[now]ART 111, released 1998; performed by Matthias Kaul)

Part 1: http://www.filefactory.com/file/ebaab1/ (123.987 MB)
Part 2: http://www.filefactory.com/file/5ffc5e/ (145 MB)
(ripped to ALAC, then APE, then RAR)

James Tenney: BRIDGE & FLOCKING(hatART CD 6193, 1996)

Bridge (1984)
01. Part 1, Section 1
02. Part 1, Section 2
03. Part 2

04. Flocking (1993)

first recordings by
Thomas Bachli, piano;
Erika Radermacher, piano;
Gertrud Schneider, piano;
Manfred Werder, piano

http://rapidshare.com/files/5508113/Tenney_BridgeFlocking.zip (download at 192)

James Tenney: PIKA-DON
(hat[now]ART 15

(VBR ~240)

James Tenney:
(hat[now]ART 120, 1999)


01. Ergodos II with instrumental responses (1964)
02. 3 Pages in the Shape of a Pear (1995)
03. Diaphonic Toccata (1997)
04. Chorale (1974)
05. Koan (1971)
06. Diaphonic Trio (1997)

first recordings by
Mark Sabat: violin, Stephen Clarke: piano

recording March 11-13 1998 at the Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto
recording producer: David Jaeger
recording supervisor: David Quinney
Produced by CBC Radio 2 for broadcast on the CBC radio program Two New Hours

More to come.


grasp, release said...


grasp, release said...

I am NOT a fucking idiot

I have used computers before

grasp, release said...

I will not edit in HTML, it's a waste of damn time and it is UGLY. That is why we have PROGRAMMERS. Because they sprout CHUBBIES when they look at CODE.

I do NOT.

grasp, release said...

I have wasted so much time trying to get this fucking formatting straight. And it is UGLY. Fuck this shit!

zhao said...

graspy lays it down raw. the way we like it. formating is a bitch within this dumb template. my suggestion is to forget the fancy stuff and do the minimal... your use of the english language is dramatic enough! :)

grasp, release said...

Sorry to be kicking walls in public, Zhao. I been compressin. I had to rarify. More posts very soon.

jed_ said...

thanks for deleting my comment.

i'm not sure what you guys are trying to achieve here. by posting an almost entire discography you're ripping off an artist and a quite small label. some memorial to James Tenney!

grasp, release said...

information wants to be free

grasp, release said...

you sheep

zhao said...

jed_ I deleted your comment because I don't want anyone to have to waste time having this conversation/argument for the 30,000th time.

I for one did not even know James Tenney existed until Graspy posted these. and now when I'm at a record shop I will be looking for this composer, and you bet your credit cards that I'll be taking mine out if I see something.

with this kind of music, spreading awareness is the most important thing. etc, etc.

yawn... I'm kinda tired. gonna go take a nap...

Anonymous said...

FYI, track 6 on "music for Violin and Piano" devolves into s-s-s-sk-sk-skipping CD, which has its charm but probably should be repaired.

Thanks for the great post. I eagerly await the arrival of Part 2.

grasp, release said...


i will attend to it, give me some time

zhao said...

hey graspy, I'm a step in and just fix a couple of minor lay-out problems with your post, is that OK with you?
(i.e. the large gap of empty space - unless it was a deconstructive meta design device employed to reveal the inner workings of the creative process, or to illustrate a vast expansiveness as such evoked by the music itself)

bb said...

wow. lose yr internet for a day and look what happens.

grasp, release said...

No, kidding of course; it's always more than fine for you to reformat until I get over longstanding fear of HTML and get inside the inner workings of Blogging101. A FOR DUMMIES book would probably behoove me. Have at it, maestro! And thanks. More on the way.

As for the cd-skipping degeneracy of track 6, thanks for that heads-up, Anon, though I think that is actually part of the piece, i.e. Tenney Goes For The Glitch Market. Something for the Kids, Jimmy T! Unfortunately, my own cd languishes in storage, but we'll see soon enough...your felicitous post made me do a little digging...and I found the MUSIC FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO disc at the library. Oh dearest Lord. So I will resposting anyway, but lossless and with (quite interesting and helpful) liner notes as well, with rather thankfully extensive comments by Tenney rendering my amateur phenomenology....Obsolete. So revisit this page very soon for that.

Jason said...

fuck yes