“Blue” Gene Tyranny, born Joe Gantic and then adopted as Robert Nathan Sheff, lived a life dominated by music.
Blue’s approach to music is best demonstrated through his own words:
Music is my way of being in the world. It teaches subtle feelings, natural growth, social interaction, and more. Music is the art of time passing filled with motion, emotion, locomotion, love of sound, and much more in bits and pieces. Music takes care of two basic needs that last throughout a lifetime: the need to relate to others and the need for freedom.
He created over 50 works for various electronic and acoustic instruments and voices, which research mysterious natural and social phenomena. Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1945, Tyranny lived in each of the four corners of mainland U.S. During the late '50s, he studied with pianists Meta Hertwig and Rodney Hoare, composers Otto Wick and Frank Hughes, and organized new music events in Texas with composer Philip Krumm, including several festivals at the McNay Art Institute – premiering works by Cage, Corner, Maxfield, Ono, and others. After earning a BMI Student Composer's Award in 1961, he moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
During the '60s and '70s, he toured with jazz and rock groups (Carla Bley Band, Iggy Pop, the Prime Movers Blues Band, etc.). From 1971 to 1982, as a Lecturer and Instructor in Music, he taught "Recording Studio Techniques", "Harmony and Counterpoint" (three levels)," and "Jazz Improvisation and Literature," and served on graduate committees in the Music Department of Mills College in Oakland, California. He also worked as a technician at the Center for Contemporary Music, a non-profit, community-access facility located at Mills College.
He moved to New York in 1983, where he was a self-employed composer-performer of solo and group concerts, audio consultancy, film soundtracks, and commissioned work. He performed extensively in hundreds of concerts throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, and also in Mexico, Brazil, and Japan.
"Blue" produced, recorded, and performed on many albums of other composers' music (Laurie Anderson's Strange Angels, David Behrman's On the Other Ocean, John Cage's Cheap Imitation and Empty Words, etc.), and he composed the harmonies and piano improvisations for Robert Ashley's television opera Perfect Lives. He created over 40 soundtracks for film and video, collaborating on projects with video artists Kenn Beckman and Kit Fitzgerald. His theater and dance collaborations include pieces with the Talking Band, performance artist Pat Oleszko.
"Blue" Gene Tyranny died on December 12, 2020 in Long Island City, New York at the age of 75; his death was brought on by complications from diabetes.