Postcards from the Edge: Interview with James Tenney


“It’s not all been done. That would be impossible, because the creative spirit is just too unpredictable and too lively for that to ever be true...” –J.T.

This video offers a glimpse into the creative spirit of James Tenney, whose compositions challenge preconceived notions of musical processes. “How do people hear?,” he asks; “what is the listener’s experience?” He believes his most important contribution to be his exploration of the “concept of tolerance”, as he calls it, assessing the boundaries of musical sounds which we find agreeable and those we do not. In this interview, he describes how his particular definition of experimental music is different from that of other avant-garde composers such as John Cage: “(Experimental music actually) means you’re doing something that you’re not sure what the result’s gonna be... because you haven’t done it before. No one’s done it before!”

Tenney speaks about his fascination with continuous textures and forms, forging connections across forms and genres, as in The Road to Ubud, where he explores the commonalities of gamelan and prepared piano. This piece exemplifies one of the composer’s primary interests to “explore the continuous transition from one place to another,” encompassing several of Tenney’s definitions of musical ‘process’. Tenney’s experimental compositions are always forward-looking, each emerging as a challenge to specific musical conventions. “What you want to do is find out what you don’t know how to do (...) and then proceed in that direction.”

Credits:Frank Oteri, New Music Box;
Subject:James Tenney
Related People:James TenneyJames Tenney
Created Date2005