At last, a re-issue of the 1963 recording of Cowell playing several of his piano works in his casual style, so that the listener regards the unusual sounds and techniques as completely natural within the context of each piece's imagery. A recording of the complete piano works is definitely needed, but this CD, with Cowell's spoken commentary at the end, is a precious thing to have at the moment.
Shakuhachi players of old followed the path of ichion-jobutsu, or “enlightenment in a single tone.” The spiritual element of the simple bamboo flute with its notched mouthpiece and five fingerholes is essential to its existence, and part of what led Henry Cowell to refer to it as “the universal flute.” Ralph Samuelson’s album shares that name, and presents remarkably evocative works for the shakuhachi by American composers.
Tenney has often characterized himself as a kind of “tone scientist”, that is, one working on an almost microscopic level with the primary materials of sound in order to expand our knowledge of its properties (what makes it what it is) and perceptual identity (how we respond to it). To do so, he has composed music that isolates the components of sound production into their most basic acoustic phenomena; music that explores and illuminates the subatomic pitch relationships within the harmonic series; music that combines these pitches into complexes motivated by systematic patterns or chance procedures.
Pieces by nine very different composers make up this fascinating collection of works for string quartet entitled Short Stories, performed by the Kronos Quartet. Elliott Sharp's Digital (1986) is a hard-edged rhythmic study using the instrument bodies as drums, with objects inserted in the strings to create rattling, shaker, and tambourine-like sounds. Steve Mackey's arrangement (1989) of the classic Chicago blues tune "Spoonful" (1960), by the prolific Willie Dixon, exaggerates the gestures of the song and employs complex harmonies and modernistic devices like string crunches, etc. John Oswald's Spectre (1990) opens with the naive sound of the quartet tuning up.