|James Tenney was born in 1934 in Silver City, New Mexico, and grew up in Arizona and Colorado, where he received his earliest training as a pianist and composer. He attended the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music, Bennington College (B.A., 1958) and the University of Illinois (M.A., 1961). His teachers have included Eduard Steuermann, Chou Wen-Chung, Lionel Nowak, Carl Ruggles, Lejaren Hiller, Kenneth Gaburo, and Edgard Varese. A performer as well as a composer and theorist, he was co-founder and conductor of the Tone Roads Chamber Ensemble in New York City (1963-70) and has performed with ensembles of Harry Partch, John Cage, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass.
He has long been active in the field of electronic and computer music, working with Max Mathews and others at Bell Telephone Laboratories in the early 1960 s to develop programs for computer sound-generation and composition. He is the author of numerous articles on musical acoustics, computer music, musical form, and perception, and two books: Meta + Hodos: A Phenomenology of 20th-Century Musical Materials and an Approach to the Study of Form (Frog Peak Music, 1988) and A History of 'Consonance' and 'Dissonance' (Excelsior Music Publishing, 1988). He has received grants and awards from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Fromm Foundation.
He has taught at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, the California Institute of the Arts, and the University of California, and is currently Professor of Music at York University in Toronto.