Filler by Proxy XLVII: Great Drinker, Great Thinker

Tuesday 20 February 2007

The late, great James Tenney’s For Ann (rising) wins the inaugural Black Torrent Guard Most Annoying Song Tournament (found via Soho the Dog). Luckily, he includes an mp3 of the piece as well, but get it quick because I think it’s one of those temporary links.
For some reason I didn’t mention Tenney’s passing last year: he was one of the sharpest musical thinkers and composers of the latter part of the 20th century. He’s often pigeonholed as a musical version of a conceptual artist, but his music beautifully embodies his understanding of the nature and perception of sound and, in turn, his theoretical writings illuminate the ways in which we do and don’t “get” contemporary music, in ways that conventional talk of harmony and structure fails.
In one of the nerdiest seductions ever, I once turned a girlfriend on to the avant-garde by taking her to a performance of Tenney’s Having Never Written a Note for Percussion. (That piece is usually more of a knockout than the Sonic Youth performance in the link, but I like the way they take an idea and run with it.)
Some short pieces by Tenney are online at the CalArts site (Firefox users: dodgy website alert!) including the classic tape piece Collage #1 (“Blue Suede”). People’s memories of Tenney piled up at PostClassic.