Tension Studies | 2010

I composed Tension Studies between the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011 in Brooklyn, NY. They came as a request from my friends Andy and Travis not too long after they decided to create The Living Earth Show. I said 'yes' because I admire their nimble, curious musical minds.

Both studies employ superficial narratives of tension: soft to loud, slow to fast. Within this rigid framework I explore other tensions. Some are concrete: between the strings and tuning pegs of the guitar, equal temperament and microtonality. Some are more abstract: between ambition and failure, awkwardness and extroversion.

I designated the pieces 'studies' because their goals are musical and, particularly in the first study, technical.

 Photo Credit: Sam Haynor

Photo Credit: Sam Haynor

I wrote the electronics with a software called Max/MSP. They function primarily to highlight the overtones of the guitar and to transform several samples.

Tension Studies were commissioned by Andrew Meyerson and Travis Andrews.

Instrumentation:

Electric guitar
Percussion [ vibraph(2), kick dr(2), sizzle cym(2), snare drum, bass drum, brake drum, almgl ] / 2 PERCUSSION VERSION
Percussion [ vibarph, kick, sizzle cym, snare drum, bass drum, brake drum, almgl ]

Technical Requirements:

MOTU 828 audio interface (or equivalent)
laptop equipped with Max/MSP
MIDI foot pedal
loudspeakers
amplification of percussion (optional)

Press:

"The evening’s most successful elements came from composers whose work is already familiar. Samuel Adams’ “Tension Study No. 1,” in a slinky rendition by guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson, offered appealingly trippy textures that bent in and out of focus." 

 Photo Credit: Chris Cerrone

Photo Credit: Chris Cerrone

Joshua Kosman, SF Chronicle 

"Adams’s Tension Studies was an exercise in restraint and implication. The version presented was for guitar, two percussionists, and electronics, though there are a few variations of this piece floating around the internet with slightly different instrumentations. (I wonder why Adams keeps tinkering with it.) In all versions, though, the piece is sparsely populated, with guitar and percussion playing plaintive, bending notes and chords while gorgeous electronic textures fade in and out. It’s easy to read this piece as ambient, though the gulfs of near-silence and subtle interlocking rhythms suggest something else to me, like the shape of a building suggested by an unfinished construction site. For all its outward calm, there is an undercurrent of something more unsettled. The overall effect is mesmerizing."

Issac Schankler, NewMusicBox