Zeitkratzer [Old School] – JAMES TENNEY


“The aggregate harmony is the criteria, single pitches are often non audible as such but only as beat frequencies, amalgamations, sharpness, or the strange power of resplendence”, writes Burkhard Schlothauer in the CD booklet. The level of understanding is not the same for everybody, though, the conviction here being that not even comprehensive ear training would be enough to solve the countless problems met by close-minded listeners when tackling works that may be simply conceived, yet which are full of physical and spiritual implications ending in the impossible-to-transmit intuition of cosmic vibration about which clueless “experts” keep babbling on.
James Tenney’s interest in pure tunings is well represented by the three minor classics chosen by Zeitkratzer for this edition, the group captured live at Philharmonie Luxembourg in October 2009 in a performance whose confidence reflects the decade-long experience of Reinhold Friedl’s ensemble with this composer’s oeuvre. Critical Band (1988) starts with a standard A pitch progressively surrounded by “harmonic neighbours”, until the massive superimposition (in which Matt Davis’ trumpet and Hilary Jeffery’s trombone play bodybuilders amidst the grace elicited of strings, bowed percussion and reeds) shifts the balance towards a tonality that remains affirmed just partially regardless of the force of the harmonics, all belonging to the starting tone’s series. The result is vacillating certainty, so to speak. Harmonium #2 (1976) is a fine illustration of Tenney’s notion of “swell pieces”; the juxtaposition of consonant tones, bordering auras and better delineated elements (the recurring hammered piano notes, for example), whose ebb and flow is proportional to the impact on the receiver’s consciousness, places the music where the annihilation of meaning lies just a couple of steps ahead, despite the apparent signs of security furnished by a substantial contrapuntal enlargement. Contrariwise, the diminishing vitality with which the whole ends recalls a fragile organism trying to survive in its oldness, and it is all the more poignant for it. 1971’s Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion revolves around the gigantic resonance of the tam-tam. Fusing cavernous rumble and violent metallic clangour – not to mention the distortion generated by the resulting accumulation – it’s a hard-hitting, addictive piece that still sounds fresh forty years on, and both Mark Wastell’s Vibra cycle and some of David Jackman / Organum’s brutal mantras owe at least a little something to it.


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