Melody, Ergodicity and Indeterminacy
I fell upon this album by a to me still unknown composer who has early computer music in his program clearly not expressed from an obsession with the technical experiment of it, but with a matured and prepared philosophical composer's viewpoint which makes it interesting because its results will show that important creative bit of which makes the difference.
The album is compiled very well. It was registered by The Barton workshop, an Amsterdam ensemble dedicated to experimental contemporary music and the plan to give, also according to the liner notes, overviews or in-depth representations of the chosen composer's work.
The sub-title of the compilation “melody, ergodicity and indeterminacy” from a theoretical viewpoint show already how the expressions of James Tenney are not about composition in the most commonly followed classical sense of note-reading ideas. In a way you can experience his results also very intuitively.
The first flute solo, a student work called “Poem” (1955) already expresses all. It is an improvisational bird-like meditation with some contemporary harmonies. This feels very natural. When the next piece, “Ergodos I” (1963), an early computer music recording, comes in, this strangely fit into the same rhythm with space and the feeling of creation in space. Different from most electronic music, what is so strong about this electronic piece is that is it mostly the work from the prepared vision of the composer, made possible with the help of the perfect technician (whoever or in case of the computer whatever this might be). What is felt clearly is how tone clusters come to live in space and environment in a very natural way and with very complex, even interactive detail with this space and environment. This is so full of natural detail more than possible with physical playing because of the determination of the skills and materiality of the involved player and instrument.
The booklet also relates such pieces to ergodicity, a term which also relates to indeterminacy. You could also call these compositions, like I mentioned before, like an intuitive description of a reality. There is so much open system involved that the result feels natural. In that way the description of the living event even with his open factor is a closed idea, lives in his own system just like life within its environment, like a ready meeting point.
This is followed by another computer piece called “Ergodos II” (1964) with the same qualitative understanding of the use of sound within bigger structural spaces as the first one.
“Seegersong 1” (1999) is the next clarinet solo, this time a bit longer. This stretches in time and deals with perceptive or natural desire for certain changes when a more minimalist idea is involved under the form of louder parts and climax building, a useful pattern which is obviously chosen.
The next piece, “String Complement” is a bit of a strange completion of the computer piece “Ergodos II” with interactions and interactive contributions. The different players locate their spaces and complete with only theoretically determined responses. The interaction sounds partly intuitive, the complete score becomes more like a more stuffed surface compared to the original computer piece. The factor of communication is limited by filling in the details and more than a new communication unfolds the responses becoming like a field of determination.
This is followed by a different version of the “Seegersong” idea (part 2, 1999), this time played by flute instead of clarinet. Like the previous piece also this you can consider as direction communication though music. Logically it gives a somewhat improvised feeling. The score says it is “written in space-time notations with systems of 10 seconds with beamed note groups like legato phrases separated by rests”. This isn’t just the evolution of a melody, also rhythmically, like in a raga, it finds a climax, followed by “descending pitch range with crescendo and decrescendo form” (quoting the booklet with that).
“Instrumental responses (with Ergodos I)” (1964), is another, older piece with responses to the computer piece. Compared to the previous listed track, this composition and performance has more dynamics, includes voice, string and whistle and horn instruments and percussion. These responses include the outside context ideas of the notions of dance or theatre as well as the direct interactions through percussion, or the synthesis through orchestration. This way the additions tend slightly to break out of its context, which gives the reactions extra life. It keeps the elements fresh, but still tends to fall back on its randomness, and through its open ending.
“Ergodos III” played by piano shows the organisational talent of James Tenney in its basic form through the qualities of the strongly focused pitched instrument of what is the piano. Low and high notes, abruptly played and open tones are mixed together with melodically organised clearly separated notes. Compositionally this piece was organised by patterns of different balances, responses and additions of different characters. Each aspect was played by a different player. For instance one player played the white, the other only the black notes.
The last piece is a “percussion response (with Ergodos I)” (1964). Here the accents of responses are only limited to percussive instruments, which works well with the basic computer piece as a chamber music performance. It also has an open ending, like a statement these compositions expresses experiments based upon a few different values.
A near 80 minutes compilation.
* One of the meditative thoughts I had during the period I was listening to the album and writing the review was about my questioning how many people, including myself, for one part or another are so much driven into time / future that their lives are consumed by so many obligations which are stretched and stretched so far that at the time when their life cycle will be ended nothing serious or any deep change might have been allowed to occur, as if in that case something of the deepest potential was wasted and all that has been wasted before had continued, in a way destructively. Breaking the mechanical, physical and animalistic conditions is that kind of spiritual thought some writers write about. Their purpose is to use the consciousness of the moment or what is needed for each moment much better. This is nothing like a new distinction of more good and bad, but like a practical way to gain back more qualitative attention so that any changes in time can unfold from within, theoretically or practically more in benefit of the true nature of all what happens. When a composer points out a centred situation and gives it an eternal place by giving it a life through sound, repetition and change he creates this with consciousness, less enslaved by habitual pre-concerns. In that way I have to admire James Tenney, for having been involved to some degree or another with this sort of process.
The way our brain functions is that it deals with the different processes of recognition, memorisation and forgetting. It functions like a water surface where thoughts are like ripples that create recognisable patterns. It is a benefit to a person when he could find for himself the right activations and preparations of ideas so that we have on that surface useful and recognisable structures unfolding in which all sorts of potentials become possible. This process is influenced by two tendencies.
You can find 4 levels of consciousness or 4 sorts of people and the way they think or use their thinking process. The first one is the instinctive reactionists, also described as having the strongest animalistic nature. Compared to animals, the animals are often more living in the moment, or are more aware of their horizontal being, while these people can also be vertical in a way they can also be enslaved in time or towards their future by habits which are not particularly necessary in the moment. Instead that they use a direct understanding of the moment they are more instinctive in the vertical processes based upon general human preconditions. The second sort of person is the questioning and becoming more intuitive person who is more ‘human’. Rationality is that which keeps him hung on the verticality, while emotionality readapts him on a horizontal awareness plane. He's nowhere and somewhere, driven between ego-and personal power and honesty. People on the next level can be called the “Holy men”, like the Yogis who are aware of – let’s call it here – diagonal consciousness, which is aware of change through creative synthesis, and about how this process works and can be activated. The last sort of persons are the humans as “Gods” (-just look at the historical context like in the Ancient world of associations-) who are constantly recreating the context, not entirely in a positive or negative way they are the ones who create history. The spiritual messengers and true consciousness-increasing artists are living on the same level as the ‘Holy men’.
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