James Tenney

James Tenney

James Tenney (August 10, 1934 - August 24, 2006) was an American composer and influential music theorist.


Tenney was born in Silver City, New Mexico, and grew up in Arizona and Colorado. He attended the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music, Bennington College (B.A., 1958) and the University of Illinois (M.A., 1961). He studied piano with Eduard Steuermann and composition with Chou Wen-chung, Lionel Nowak, Paul Boepple, Henry Brant, Carl Ruggles, Kenneth Gaburo, Lejaren Hiller, John Cage, Harry Partch, and Edgard Varèse. He also studied information theory under Lejaren Hiller, and composed stochastic early computer music before turning almost completely to writing for instruments with the occasional tape delay, often using just intonation and alternative tunings. Tenney's notable students include John Luther Adams, Larry Polansky, and Peter Garland. He performed with John Cage, as well as with the ensembles of Harry Partch (in a production of Partch's "The Bewitched" in 1959), Steve Reich, and Philip Glass (the latter two in the late 1960s).

Tenney's work deals with perception ("For Ann (rising)", see Shepard tone), just intonation ("Clang", see gestalt), stochastic elements ("Music for Player Piano"), information theory ("Ergodos", see Ergodic theory), and with what he calls 'swell' ("Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion" for John Bergamo), which is basically arch form. His earliest works show the influence of Webern, Ruggles and Varèse, whereas his music from 1961-64 was largely computer music, arguablyweasel inline|date=August 2008 the earliest significant body of such work in existence. A gradual assimilation of the ideas of John Cage considerably influenced the development of his music in the later 1960s. To this was added an interest in tuning and in the harmonic series, as first evident in the orchestral work "Clang" of 1972, an interest that continued to develop for the rest of his life.

The majority of Tenney's mature works (post-1964) are instrumental pieces, often for unconventional instrumental combinations (e.g. "Glissade" for viola, cello, double bass and tape delay system (1982), "Bridge" for two pianos eight hands in a microtonal tuning system (1982-84), "Changes" for six harps tuned a sixth of a tone apart, 1985) or for variable instrumentation ("Critical Band", 1988, "In a Large Open Space", 1994). His pieces are most often tributes to other composers or colleagues and subtitled as such. As his friend Philip Corner says, "For Ann (rising)", "must be optimistic! (Imagine the depressing effectiveness of it — he could never be so cruel — downward)..."citequote|date=August 2008

Tenney wrote the seminal "Meta (+) Hodos" (one of, if not the, earliest applications of gestalt theory and cognitive science to musicFact|date=July 2008), the later "Hierarchical temporal gestalt perception in music : a metric space model" with Larry Polansky, "John Cage and the Theory of Harmony" (1983, the fullest exposition of his theories of harmonic space), and other works. Nearly a quarter of a 657-page volume of the academic journal "Perspectives of New Music" was devoted to Tenney's music (Polansky and Rosenboom 1987), and in 2008 the UK journal "Contemporary Music Review" devoted a whole issue to his work (vol. 27 part 1).

Tenney was one of the four performers of the Steve Reich piece Pendulum Music on May 27, 1969 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The other three were: Michael Snow, Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman.

Tenney also wrote the in-depth liner notes to Wergo's edition of Conlon Nancarrow's "Studies for Player Piano". (Nancarrow, as a favor, punched the roll for Tenney's "Spectral Canon for Conlon Nancarrow"). Tenney also starred nude in a 1965 silent film of collaged and painted sequences of lovemaking between him and his then partner, Carolee Schneemann, called "Fuses" (Haug 2007, 20 & 25–26).

He taught at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, the California Institute of the Arts, the University of California, and York University in Toronto.

He died on 24 August 2006 of lung cancer in Valencia, California.


* [http://www.newmusicbox.org/article.nmbx?id=4247 James Tenney: Postcards from the Edge] James Tenney in conversation with Frank J. Oteri (includes video) NewMusicBox Published: June 1, 2005
* [http://kalvos.org/shows/kalv0802.ram Hermits of Re-Tuning (Show 115)] James Tenney interviewed on Kalvos & Damian New Music Bazaar, August 2, 1997 (click to listen)
* [http://www.artistshousemusic.com/alpert_dl/node/5369/163 Artist House:Video interviews with James Tenney]
* [http://musicmavericks.publicradio.org/features/rafiles/interviews/interview_tenney.ram James Tenney interviewed by] [http://musicmavericks.publicradio.org/ American Mavericks] (click to listen)
*James Tenney and Lucky Mosko interviewed by [http://artboy.info/border/ Border Patrol] (click to listen)
* Interview with Douglas Kahn on years at Bell Labs [http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/LEA/ARTICLES/TENNEY/kahn.html]


* Hasegawa, Robert (ed.). 2008. "The Music of James Tenney". [http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=issue&issn=0749-4467&volume=27&issue=1 "Contemporary Music Review" 27, no. 1 (February)] . Routledge (subscription access).
* Haug, Kate. 1998. " [http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/wide_angle/v020/20.1schneemann.html An Interview with Carolee Schneemann] ". "Wide Angle" 20, no. 1:20–49. (Accessed 3 February 2007)
* Polansky, Larry, and David Rosenboom (eds.). 1987. "A Tribute to James Tenney". "Perspectives of New Music" 25, nos. 1 & 2 (Fall-Winter & Spring-Summer): 434–591.

Further reading

* Garland, Peter (ed.). 1984. "Soundings Vol. 13: The Music of James Tenney". Santa Fe, New Mexico: Soundings Press.
* Tenney, James. 1986. "META+HODOS: A Phenomenology of 20th Century Musical Materials and an Approach to the Study of Form, and META Meta+Hodos". Edited by Larry Polansky. Oakland, Calif.: Frog Peak Music. ISBN 0-945996-00-4.
* Tenney, James. 1988. "A History of 'Consonance and Dissonance"'. New York: Excelsior Music Publishing Co. ISBN 0-935016-99-6.

External links

* [http://composers21.com/compdocs/tenneyj.htm The Living Composers Project: James Tenney]
* [http://www3.uakron.edu/ssma/composers/Tenney.shtml James Tenney biography] from Smith Archives at the University of Akron
* [http://www.cdemusic.org/artists/tenney.html CDeMUSIC: James Tenney]
* [http://www.artifact.com/bio.php?name=Tenney Artifact: James Tenney: Selected Works]
* [http://www3.uakron.edu/ssma/composers/Tenney.shtml The University of Akron Bierce Library: Smith Archives: Composer Profile: James Tenney]
* [http://www.frogpeak.org/unbound/index.html The Early Works of James Tenney] (book)
* [http://www.plainsound.org/JTwork.html James Tenney at plainsound.org] including a complete list of works and a selection of Tenney's writings.

Groups who often perform Tenney's worksQuatuor Bozzini*{http://www.quatuorbozzini.ca}The Barton Workshop *{http://web.inter.nl.net/users/BartonWorkshop}Motion Ensemble* [http://www.motionensemble.com]
* [http://www.calarts.edu/schools/music/faculty/tenney.html CalArts: James Tenney]
* [http://www.artsjournal.com/postclassic/2006/08/james_tenney_19342006.html James Tenney reminiscence] by Kyle Gann
* [http://www.rhizomecowboy.com/spectral_variations Spectral Variations 1 to 3] test realisations and notes by Ciarán Maher


* [http://artofthestates.org/cgi-bin/composer.pl?comp=27 Art of the States: James Tenney] "Having Never Written a Note for Percussion" (1971)
* [http://www.soundnet.org/concerts/mov_refs/2002.shtml#cage John Cage works performed by James Tenney] Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano and 4'33" at the SASSAS sound. concert archive and at SASSAS @ YouTube - [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ve-M4Wbs0c excerpt one] and [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUoiPBD8EK4 excerpt two]
* [http://www.dnk-amsterdam.com/media/music/02Tenney-SpactralVariationsNo1.mp3 Spectral Variation No 1] recording of premiere at DNK amsterdam by Ciarán Maher


* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY_FAqKs6Yw Tenney's "WAKE for Charles Ives"] performed by members of the William Winant Percussion Group.

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