The Squid's Ear Magazine

Tenney, James (Ensemble Open Music Gera): Acoustic Phenomena / Hymnic Sounds (Edition Wandelweiser Records)

Recording in Altes Wannenbad Gera, in Gera, Germany, an ensemble of performers associated with Ensemble Open Music Gera and Ensemble Zeitkratzer perform James Tenney's work exploring concepts of tuning systems, sound/noise, consonance/dissonance, sound/silence, and organisation of time, in three pieces that use a climax-oriented form Tenney refers to as "swell pieces".

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Andreas Nordheim-slide trumpet

Elena Kakaliagou-French horn

Hilary Jeffery-trombone

Rishin Singh-trombone

Robin Hayward-tuba

Peer Salden-alto clarinet

Burkhard Schlothauer-director, violin

David Hummel-violin

Ulrich Phillipp-double bass

Alan Torres-church organ samples

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UPC: 4011778041276

Label: Edition Wandelweiser Records
Catalog ID: EWR 2001
Squidco Product Code: 29824

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2020
Country: Germany
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Recorded at Altes Wannenbad Gera, in Gera, Germany, on September 20th, 2019, by Nils Lauterbach.

Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"In an interview in 2002 James Tenney explained to me that, in his opinion, the subject of tuning systems should be added to the musical fields of innovation named by John Cage: Sound/noise, consonance/dissonance, sound/silence, organisation of time. He gave me the score of critical band, in which he had changed by hand the size of the ensemble from 10 to 16 instruments.

Later, we (the Ensemble Zeitkratzer) rehearsed the works on this cd for three weeks one hour each day, so we could learn to hear and play the different intervals with confidence. Doing this was a revelation to me opening up the rich field of microtonality.

In the compositions assembled on this cd, as in many others, tenney uses a climax-oriented, archaically simple form - Tenney called this form "Swell Piece". However, the position of the dynamic climax varies: Critical band (1988/2000) reaches the greatest number of notes, the greatest expansion (compass of 8 notes including octave doublings) and the greatest volume only in the last bar; in harmonium #2 (1976) it is located approximately in the middle (5 tones). In both works also each tone increases and decreases, increasing and decreasing being about equally long. In harmonium #2, every tone should last between 4 and 12 seconds and is followed by a pause of at least the same length. The musicians may choose their tones from the tonal material of the respective segment.

Critical band begins at concert pitch a - in a performance this evolves from the tuning process - and adds very distant harmonic partials to it, which are located so closely to the a, that the ear perceives them as beatings. 'critical band' is a term from psychoacoustics indicating a frequency range in which the ear combines excitations into a partial sensation. In the last segment the work ends upon a completely natural seventh chord over a = 110 hz, with partials 1 to 8 - all frequencies are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency.

Harmonium #2 introduces a widely spaced just major chord over an existing fundamental, and then immediately lowers the just major third by more than a semitone. This produces a natural seventh, by which the previous fundamental a is reinterpreted as a fifth to the fundamental d, which is added later. This is followed by the fifth partial (major third) of d resulting in a complete chord of harmonic overtones, with d as its fundamental. This process is repeated adding some more partials and leads through g to a hexachord on c including partials 7, 11 and 17. Then the fundamental changes upward to f without preparation, while the tones previously soun- ding above c continue to sound - this results in strong dissonances (f4 to e5 - 14cents; f4 to f#6 - 49cents and a too low fourth f4-bflat4 -31), which are only gradually transformed into tones partials of fundamental f.

A further upward change of the fundamental leads to b (in the cadence it would be b flat) and the tones of the f chord are all reinterpreted immediately through microtonal changes to the chord tones of b7. The final triad with a natural seventh upon e is theoretically the dominant of the opening chord - but it does not sound dissonant in any way. Tenney's undogmatic, humorous and flexible theoretical and practical handling of the sounds from the harmonic series and its combination with psychoacoustics and traditional theory of harmony in my eyes makes these two works so admirable."-Edition Wandelweiser

"On Acoustic Phenomena/Hymnic Sounds, Ensemble OPEN MUSIC Gera perform two James Tenney compositions, "Harmonium #2" and "Critical Band," which highlight the late composer's proficiency in sound synthesis, tuning systems, spectral music, microtonality, and listener perception trickery. Members of Zeitkratzer and Zinc + Copper plus local musicians formed the ensemble to bring more avant-garde performance to the German city, and they do so here with a unique expertise. Zeitkratzer recorded these same two compositions 10 years earlier on James Tenney [old school] , and at that time the compositions were already in the group's repertoire for 10 years. Zeitkratzer's Jeffery, Phillipp, and Schlothauer no doubt bring their deep experience with these compositions to produce a more refined recording. There's less woody vibrato from the strings, less tinny distortion from the horns, the discrete contributions of the piano are abandoned for a more unified approach of only sustained instruments, and there's a feint rattling (which I assume is from the piano) in that recording which is absent here. The sound seems more distilled. As extensions of Tenney's climactic swell pieces and with their sustained instrumentation, these works at least succeed as exciting drone music. Of course, there's more going on beneath the surface.

"Harmonium #2" is a complex layering of chords, fundamentals, and partials that causes the listener to reinterpret the previous chord, toying with the listener's perception of dissonance. Sonically, sustained tones enter and exit like theatrical players, partially overlapping. Creating texturally rich chords as they do. Tones overlap most in the center of the piece, and the musicians build volume to accentuate this climax, gradually decreasing again towards the end of the piece. The sustain is less sinuous, more straight-line than many acoustic drone pieces. The feeling throughout is almost simultaneously tensing and soothing.

"Critical Band" gets its name from the psychoacoustic term for "a frequency range in which the ear combines excitations into a partial sensation." Or, creating the illusion of harmonic beatings - clear, sinuous, pulsing resonances - by adding distant partials close to a pitch. From the beginning, a sine wave is at the forefront of the music, dancing like a dragonfly on a placid stream of quieter sustained sounds. The ear is drawn to its fluctuating frequency. There's not audible synthesis or a polyrhythm of multiple resonances. The contributions are more frequent and overlapped; this is more conversation and less monologue than "Harmonium #2." The sustained soundings build volume as the piece continues, growing louder than the wave, drawing the ear from the illusion to its components.

As with James Tenney [old school], there's a bonus track here as well. A short Scholthauer composition, "Accidental Microtonal Sounds - Together." Wholly alternating between silence and sustained tones from all the musicians. Of slightly varying duration throughout the piece. Like bold brush strokes on a fresh canvas. Like "Having Never Written a Note For Percussion" on the previous recording, it serves as a kind of quirky contrast to Tenney while also being inspired in how fitting it seems.

I'm ill-equipped to understand or talk about the theoretical or technical aspects of this music. But, the tensing/soothing emotivity of "Harmonium #2" clearly indicates its methods. And something about the resonance in "Critical Band" seems off, in its build and its character, queuing the listener to its trick. Most importantly though, I'm consistently drawn back to this recording simply for its sounds, its textures. Highly recommended for fans of the quieter, sustained side of conducted improvisation, as sometimes performed by ONCEIM , CoÔ , or Golden Fur."-Keith Prosk, The Free Jazz Collective

Get additional information at The Free Jazz Collective

Artist Biographies

Andreas Nordheim is a german trumpeter, pianist and percussionist, a member of the groups Ensemble Open Music Gera, and Simultanquartett.

-Andreas Nordheim Website (

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"Elena Margarita Kakaliagou is a greek-austrian french horn player and performer, currently based in Berlin. Starting out with piano lessons, she moved on to the French horn at the age of 18. After completing her studies in Athens/GR with Vangelis Skouras, she moved on to KUG-Graz/AT to continue her education under the teaching of Hector McDonald. Instructed by Erja Joukamo-Ampuja, Elena obtained her Master's degree from Sibelius Academy/FI in 2010 in French horn and chamber music. During her career, Elena has received scholarships from Klangforum, Impuls Academy and Ensemble Modern with teachers like Mike Svoboda and Bill Formann.

Elena's field of specialization is free improvised and contemporary music, next to classic chamber music. She has performed premiers with ensembles like Ensemble Linea, Schallfeld and KNM Berlin in Festivals like Ultraschall Berlin/DE, Maerz Music/DE, Randspiele/DE, Musica Nova/FI, Lá-bas/FI, Musica/FR, Warsaw Autumn/PL, New Adits/AT, Ultima/NY, Kaleidophon/AT, newadits/AT, Tour de Babel/FR, Sound Live Tokyo/JA ao. She has worked with individual artists as Riikka Innanen, Phill Niblock, James Andean, Ingrid Schmoliner, Katharina Klement, CC Hennix, Robin Hayward, Simon Martin, Matias Guerra, Thomas Noll, to name but a few.

Elena is the co-founder of the Helsinki-based 'Rank Ensemble', the Austrian trio 'PARA', the Duo Kakaliagou/Schmoliner, the Duo Guerra/Kakaliagou and is a member of Zinc & Copper, Zeitkratzer and the ensemble of CC Hennix."

-Elena Kakaliagou Website (

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"Rishin Singh (born 1985, Kuala Lumpur) is a musician/artist/writer living in Berlin. He studied classical trombone at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (Bachelor of Music Studies) and received Honours 1st Class in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney.

As a composer and performer, Rishin's work investigates modes of perception, quietude and repetition. He has performed across Asia, Australia, Europe and Canada with collaborators such as Ensemble Offspring (AU), Toshimaru Nakamura (JP), Konzert Minimal (DE), Koen Nutters (NL), Catherine Lamb (USA), Karen Power (IR), John Godfrey (UK), Cathy Milliken (AUS), Johnny Chang (DE), Jon Rose (AU), and his own ensemble Songs (DE). Selected festival appearances include DAAD Mikromusik (DE), The NOWnow (AUS), Lacking Sound Festival (TW), Audio Art (PL).

He has premiered new works by composers such as Clare Cooper (AU), Martijn Tellinga (NL), Eva-Maria Houben (DE), Antoine Beuger (DE) and Goh Lee Kwang (MY), and has been commissioned to compose for artists such as Claire Edwardes (AU), Ur 1st Luv (AU), and Ensemble Manteia (AU).

His writing has been published by Editions Kahn (CH), RealTime (AUS), Insub (CH), and Lateral Addition (USA).

Selected exhibitions include at ArtSpace Sydney (AUS), Ithaka Festival Leuven (BE) and Errant Bodies (DE)."

-Making Waves (

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"The tuba player and composer Robin Hayward was born in Brighton, England in 1969. He studied classical music at the University of Manchester and tuba at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he graduated in 1991. In following years he was active in the improvised and experimental music scenes in Manchester and London. Since 1998 he has been based in Berlin.

He has introduced revolutionary playing techniques to brass instruments, initially through the discovery of the 'noise-valve' in 1996, and later through the development of the first fully microtonal tuba in 2009. In 2012 he invented the Hayward Tuning Vine, partly out of a desire to visualise the harmonic space implicit within the microtonal tuba. In 2005 he founded the ensemble Zinc & Copper to explore brass chamber music from an experimental music perspective.

Robin Hayward has toured extensively both solo and in collaboration, and been featured in such festivals as Maerzmusik, Fri Resonans, Donaueschingen, TRANSIT festival, Ghent Festival of Flanders, Ostrava New Music Days, Sound Symposium, Kieler Tage für Neue Musik and Wien Modern. Collaborations include such musicians as Charles Curtis and Roberto Fabbriciani, along with composers such as Christian Wolff, Alvin Lucier and Eliane Radigue. His approach to the tuba has been documented in the solo releases Valve Division, States of Rushing, Nouveau Saxhorn Nouveau Basse and Rubble Master, along with numerous collaborative releases, such as with the microtonal tuba trio Microtub and the tuba and double bass duo Reidemeister Move. He has lectured at such institutions as Stuttgart Musikhochschule, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, UDK Berlin, Dartmouth College and Wesleyan University. He has also worked regularly with such orchestras as the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, and from 2002 to 2012 was a member of the new music ensemble KNM Berlin.

In 2012 the International Tuba and Euphonium Association (ITEA) presented him with the Clifford Bevan Award for Excellence in Research for his 2011 article on the history and development of the microtonal tuba. In 2016 he received the ITEA's Jim and Jamie Self Creative Award for his work with the microtonal tuba and Hayward Tuning Vine."

-Robin Hayward Website (

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Clarinetist Peer Salden is a member of the German music group, Ensemble Open Music Gera.

-Squidco 2/16/2024

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"Born in 1957 Burkhard Schlothauer is German composer, multi-instrumentalist, educator and producer who lives in Gera in Eastern Germany. With Antoine Beuger he was the founder of Editions Wandelweiser in 1992. He performs with Zeitkratzer and the Wandwelweiser Composers Ensemble."

-Last.FM (

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"Stefan David Hummel (born August 13, 1968 in Würzburg, Lower Franconia ) is a musician, conductor, composer and cultural manager.

Stefan David Hummel received extensive musical training as a child: violin, viola, piano and organ as well as composition lessons from his father Bertold Hummel, from Claus Kühnl and Zsolt Gárdonyi. After graduating from high school (1988) at the Musisches Gymnasium in Würzburg, she moved to Salzburg to study music at the Mozarteum (viola with Peter Langgartner) with additional studies in Luxembourg (composition with Alexander Müllenbach) and in Cologne (chamber music with the Amadeus Quartet ). This was followed by intensive concert activities (including Corona Quartet Salzburg, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg ) and conducting lessons with Karl-Heinz Bloemeke and Constantin Alex. Starting in 1992, Hummel gained experience as a cultural manager at Pro Musica Salzburg, the Austrian Ensemble for New Music and the Festival Aspects Salzburg.

Since 2000 he has been President of the IG Composers Salzburg. In 2001 he founded the Salzburg regional section of the International Society for New Music in Austria and has been its chairman ever since. In 2002 and 2005 he acted - together with Klemens Vereno - as artistic director of the Salzburg Music Festival. From 2008 to 2015, Hummel was a board member of the Salzburg Biennale.

Since 2006, Hummel has been an advisor to the rectors Reinhart von Gutzeit, Siegfried Mauser and the rector Elisabeth Gutjahr at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. In this function he performs various board functions and organized a series of contemporary concert projects together with the IGNM and the Salzburg section of the IG Composers. He has been the coordinator of the International Mozart Competition since 2014. As part of a teaching assignment for orchestral didactics at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, Hummel developed various basic cultural and cross-generational music projects in cooperation with German, Italian and Austrian cultural institutions and schools. Since 2016, Hummel and the conductor Kai Röhrig have been leading the European youth orchestra "BELLA MUSICA - Orchestra Giovanile Europea" organized by the Mozarteum University.

As a composer, Hummel has published a number of solo, vocal, chamber and orchestral works, as well as chansons and music for children. Some of his works have appeared on CDs.

Stefan David Hummel lives in Salzburg with his wife Gabriele, a violinist and teacher, and two daughters."

-Wikipedia (

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"Ulrich Phillipp (* 1956 ) is a German contrabassist of free jazz and new improvisational music.

Phillipp founded the Wiesbaden improvisation ensemble with Dirk Marwedel and Wolfgang Schliemann. He is one of the founders of the Wiesbaden musician co-operative New Jazz (1979), from which the ARTist collective hervorging in 1983. In addition to the concert activity, the inclusion of other genres, such as Tanzimprovisation, where Phillipp performed with Fine Kwiatkowski, Günter Christmann , Erhard Hirt and others. He also worked with Birgit Ulher and Roger Turner . In 2013 he was involved in the Grand Orchestra of the ensemble."

-Wikipedia (translated by Google) (

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Alan Torres is a member of the German ensemable Open Music Gera.

-Kulturhaus Häselburg Gera (

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Track Listing:

1. Harmonium # 2 - For Lou Harrison (1976) 19:32

2. Critical Band For Any 16 Or More Sustaining Insturments (1988/2000) 17:16

3. Accidental Microtonal Sounds - Together (2019) 6:06

Related Categories of Interest:

Compositional Forms
European Improvisation, Composition and Experimental Forms
Large Ensembles
Staff Picks & Recommended Items
New in Compositional Music

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