A pioneer in the realm of electronic music and computer-aided composition, James Tenney began his professional career at Bell Laboratories, where he helped create important materials and methods for creating music with computers and furthered the development of digital synthesis tools. His first composition created at the lab, Analog #1: Noise Study, was inspired by Tenney's daily routine in New York City: passing through the Holland Tunnel in his travels between New Jersey and lower Manhattan.
Despite the narrative title, the piece is constructed according to rather complex algorithms, of the kind which Tenney had developed as a graduate student of Lejaren Hiller at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and expounded in his groundbreaking theoretical work, "Meta+Hodos." (In fact, the piece was originally released as part of a collection entitled "Music for Mathematics.") The piece is constructed of washes of broadband noises of various "widths"; that is, sounds consisting of a spectrum of frequencies within a certain range. Individually, these sound like generic whooshes and whistles, but gradually, as the ear becomes accustomed to their sonic properties, they begin establishing relationships with each other. A sense of pitch emerges from the blasts of noise, particularly as these are counterpoised with each other and overlapped into blurry melodic shapes. Tenney likewise applies electronically generated "Doppler effects," shaping his whirring bands of sound into curving frequency contours. Thus, his carefully calculated sonic landscape actually assumes the appearance of the sounds that supposedly inspired it: the busy traffic speeding through the resonant, echoing space of the Holland Tunnel.