Improv Session – The Mysterious Tenuto

Picking up where we left off with my “avante garde jam session” writeups, when we last left our heroes, they were about to tackle a new piece.  A piece steeped in mystery, hauled from the darkest dredges of the internet.  A piece whose name is whispered in the most hushed of tones…a piece named…”Tenuto.

Seriously, this piece is something of a mystery.  I found it a long time ago while Googling “graphic scores” and ended up at a cool website called “Scores/Improvisations/Texts” (with a name and mission statement like that, how could I not love it?)

I didn’t want to get too deep into the graphic scores, so I found this nice, brief “prose” piece:


And that’s it all there is to it!  Cool, no?  Who is the composer?

I Googled, I posted on the internet — but I could find no source for this piece.  Which is a shame, because we got a lot of mileage out of it.

Instead of approaching the piece linearly (top to bottom and we’re done), we decided to read it three times and thus give it three iterations:

  • Once from top to bottom (starting with tenuto and making our way to ppp)
  • From bottom to top (from ppp to tenuto)
  • Then once again from top to bottom

Ternary form, baby!

We also expanded on our Agrell improv and decided to use different intervals for each section: for the first section, the A section, we  again used 7ths and augmented fourths; the B section was again perfect fourths and fifths; and back to 7ths and augmented fifths in the last section.

We lacked a clear consensus on how to interpret the markings (++) and (–) in the score, so we left them unexplained, to be interpreted individually and perhaps in the moment.  Personally, I took them to mean “magnify” and “lessen” whatever I was doing, respectively, along a pretty much exponential curve.  If I was played loud, (++) became a big, quick crescendo.  If I had long gaps between notes, (–) lessened the space between notes.  Leaving these two directions as uninterpreted added some nice spontaneity.

Personally, I also got some mileage out of “cross-fading” between the instructions.  For example, if I took the repeat sign as cueing an ostinato, in moving on to the next direction, I would slowly “mute” the ostinato (whatever that could mean) and slowly make my way to the next direction in the piece.

All in all, the piece fueled two lengthy improvs – enjoy!


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