James Tenney The Solo Works for Percussion
Matthias Kaul [percussion], Rüdiger Orth [tape delay system on track 5]
hat [now] ART 111. Duration: 77:01.
James Tenney (1934) is not a regular, down-home, traditional composer of percussion works, but then again, Matthias Kaul is not an ordinary percussionist either, which is especially evident on another issue from Hat Hut Records; hat [now] ART 130, where Kaul performs compositions of his own.
The Slovenian/French composer Vinko Globokar wrote in an essay called Anti-Badabum (1989) (which I quote from the CD booklet): Today the world of percussion playing is divided into two diametrically opposed philosophies. He then goes on to describe the differences. One of the two percussion preferences wants one percussive instrument for one specific sound, thus demanding a whole array of instruments for a performance, making the player a sort of circus artist, throwing himself around at incredible speed, transpiring a lot
The booklet then, nota bene; without ridicule, gives examples of famous works in the Badabum tradition: Edgard Varèses Ionisation, John Cages Construction in Metal, Karlheinz Stockhausens Zyklus and Iannis Xenakis Psappha. (Having just witnessed a grand performance of Stockhausens Zyklus as delivered by Professor of Percussion; Herrn Andreas Boettger, I must insert, though, that the Badabum tradition has its highlights too, if anybody was in doubt
The other philosophy, on the contrary, demands of the performer a skill so deep that he can lure a number of different nuances out of each instrument, thus making him a poet rather than a hard laborer (not that the two cannot combine
Maximusic (1965) is the beginner piece here. It comes slowly out of silence, like light slowly and faintly out of darkness. Its indefinable, its just approaching maybe
yes! as the sound of a motorbike on the freeway, heard from afar on a damp June evening; the distant rumble of the speeding motorbike ever so lightly touching your window. Then all hell brakes loose in one insane activity at the percussion. The score a short, verbal one - prescribes just this, in this early piece: A soft roll on a large cymbal; constant, resonant, very long. That was my motorbike from afar on a damp June evening! But then the score says that this distant roll of the cymbals is to be interrupted by a sudden loud, fast improvisation on all the other [percussion] instruments. After that long, drone of the motorbike/cymbal it feels quite uncomfortable to get drenched in this loud jumble of badabum bangs! Its like Donald Duck freaking out in a Disney cartoon! As about two minutes remain, the soft roll on the large cymbal returns, now reversed, slowly dying out, getting fainter until its lost in the reverberation of your room.
Ergodos II (1963 64) for tape and percussion, is a variation on a piece that Tenney dedicated to John Cage. The tape piece just called Ergodos II was Tenneys last piece at Bell Laboratories. The tape is 18 minutes long (though only 12 minutes get used on this CD), and can be played in forward or reverse mode. Tenney also says about the piece that it is possible (allowed and even encouraged) to cut it up in several pieces of about the same duration and play them all simultaneously. The original 18 minute version digitally remastered from the original analog master can be heard on a CD from Frog Peak / Artifact Recordings with the number FP001 / ART 1007, called James Tenney; Selected Works 1961 1969. Larry Polansky said of the piece that it was a fitting, zen-like conclusion to the nature of his [Tenneys] formal and aesthetic investigations.
The variation heard here, with percussion, has a graphic score offering the performer a broad range of timbral and dynamic options with which to react [to the tape piece] (quoted from the booklet). It is very, very beautiful and compelling exciting for anyone truly interested in the properties of sound, rhythm, pitch, dreams, visions
life! I get reminded by the sheer idea of producing this interaction between tape and percussion of Karlheinz Stockhausens Kontakte; the revolutionary and genial early piece, which exists in two versions: for tape only or for tape and two percussionists. Ive heard it lately with Andreas Boettger and Antonio Pérez Abellán at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, and I cant but recommend a re-listen to the magical piece!
Kaul and the Tenney tape of Ergodos II define the poetry of the piece in perfect prismic rays of sound, as they contrast and join each other respectively, amplifying the possibilities to a crackling splendor of sound!
The third entry on the CD is Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion (1971) for tam tam. It calls to mind some early minimalistic experiments by the likes of La Monte Young. Im especially thinking of La Monte Youngs notorious 23 VIII 64 2:50:45 3:11 AM (1964), which shares the same basic rolling-on-down- the-intra-dimensional-freeway type of feeling, even though there is no climax in La Monte Youngs piece, which there is in Tenneys, which begins thoughtfully and silently, slowly rising to a maximum, only to fall back down again. In James Tenneys Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion a single note is to be played as an extended roll on an unspecified percussion instrument [here tam tam], displaying an arch from low to loud to low. The piece lasts in excess of 17 minutes in this hallucinatory performance by Matthias Kaul. Its just to stay perched on your skeleton and let the properties of time cleanse the elementary particles of your anatomy while youre intensely involved in this out-of-the-body experience! Its just like leaving your vehicle at the car wash!
For Percussion Perhaps, Or
(1970 71) has a score that simply asks the performer to create a nocturnal music, very soft, very long, very white. It is reminiscent of Stockhausens verbal scores for the intuitive pieces of Aus den sieben Tagen, which could tell the performer to play a sound in the vibration of the Universe or in the vibration of your molecules.
Matthias Kaul performs in unbelievable sensitivity and sensuality on a prepared hurdy-gurdy, transposing time into an evening meditation filled with all the characteristics of mystical nightfall, such as insects, gleaming eyes of the fox, rustling leaves and this dark, listening, waiting biding - feeling
curled up around its own cat-like mystery. In this fondling music which you feel like spider-light touches all over your face you realize that there is nothing to fear; that you will be cared for, that loneliness is only a necessary, temporary ingredient, and that were part of something much bigger that we cannot understand, but sense and that is so obvious in this music; the sensation of those grander circumstances, that cosmic web, of which we are parts, important parts
and we should not fear, for death is not unnatural, but a passageway, and Man is the larval stage of Spirit
and we have to walk these barren lands
Walk these barren lands...
(Nallo, Swedish Lapland)
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin, July 2001)
The spellbinding experience of For Percussion Perhaps, Or
makes it almost impossible to listen to anything else directly, so I suggest a break and a forest walk before spinning the last piece of the CD, which is Deus Ex Machina (1982) for percussion and tape-delay system.
The pure vibrational forces of this cloud-rolling endeavor make me leave the computer, and still wearing earphones - move over to the bed to lie flat on my back while the sounds well in and out of my existence like the eternal waves of the ocean on the shore. Im the ocean, Im the shore, Im the waves
Even the applause gets reused in this tape-delay mastery, at first taking on the guise of hard rain; then moving on into a reverberating ethereal world of inter-spiritual travel
as the expanses within ourselves open up to us, and we turn inward in wild elation! Travel these lands while the electroencephalogram waves of the body resting on the bed or slightly above the bed? billows in an inter-cosmic superstring vibration at the root of everything! Travel these vast expanses!
Gratitude is extended to Matthias Kaul for his visionary interpretations of James Tenneys scores and an extra bow is directed towards Rüdiger Orth and his tape-delay in the concluding piece!