For James Tenney, composing was akin to science and he was constantly conducting research. He experimented with alternative scales, with stochastic music and with live electronics. The work he did in the 1960s with computer-generated music was cutting edge. He studied with influential composers and thinkers such as Harry Partch, Edgard Varèse and John Cage.
One of Tenney’s most remarkable pieces is the cycle Changes: Studies for Six Harps from 1984. Harry Partch divided the octave into 43 pitches, which can be heard in a concert by Ensemble Scordatura. James Tenney refined this even further and ended up with a 72 pitch division. In a similar way to Bach, who had explored the equal tempered scale to its outer limits in his Well-tempered Clavier, Tenney wanted to deepen his microtonal scale. He composed the studies using two computer programs and the I Ching. Six harpists will perform the first 16 etudes of this heroic piece.