AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Bore – Issue 1

Bore, a new publication jointly produced by Sarah Hughes and David Stent, is a welcome addition to the literature on innovative scores. Each issue is dedicated to presenting performance scores of various genres and forms, with a preference for text-based scores. Accordingly, this first issue includes several previously unpublished verbal scores by composer James Tenney.

The scores—2nd Thermocouple (1965); Aphorisms #1 & #2 (1966); and two versions of Chamber Music (for any number of performers, anywhere) (1964)–are from Tenney’s time in New York in the mid- to late-1960s. This was a relatively brief yet fecund period that saw him influenced by FLUXUS and involved with Steve Reich’s and Philip Glass’s ensembles, as well as the Judson Dance Theater. The influence of the latter in particular is apparent in these scores, all of which are for performance pieces that may or may not involve music.

There is a certain surface simplicity to the works, but this initial impression gives way to a sense of the complexities and ambiguities they contain. This is exemplified by Chamber Music, which Hughes and Stent recently performed in Los Angeles. The score consists of six small cards containing brief verbal cues. Five of the cards’ texts are titled for sections of the work—a Prelude, two Interludes, a Postlude, and a kind of wild card titled “etc.” Each section in turn contains a term that describes a given quality of an action—while leaving the action itself unspecified. As speech acts these are ambiguous, falling somewhere in between description and prescription. Even the movements specified by the score participate in this game of elision: preludes, interludes and postludes are normally placed before, between and after some kind of main event. But as with the actions that are neither prescribed nor described by the score, the space that this main event would occupy is left empty—or at best signaled by what in this context is a highly indeterminate “etc.”

Part of the beauty of Bore—in addition to its clean layout and presentation on high quality paper—is that its scores aren’t meant as museum pieces. Rather, they’re meant to be used. All of the scores are detachable, and the Chamber Music cards even come with an envelope. With this issue, Bore is off to a solid start indeed.