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He was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1945, the adopted son of Dorothy and Meyer Sheff. He studied piano with Meta Hertwig and Rodney Hoare, and composition with Otto Wick and Frank Hughes. He taught at Mills College from 1971 to 1982 and also worked at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills. He moved to New York in 1983 and received a Bessie in 1988 and in 1989 a Composer Fellowship from the NY Foundation for the Arts.
Tyranny began his performance career in high school, playing pieces by major composers (such as John Cage) with Philip Krumm in a concert series in San Antonio. He has toured with the Carla Bley Band and The Prime Movers (which included Iggy Pop and Michael Erlewine) as well as Iggy & The Stooges (in 1973). He has performed on albums by Laurie Anderson (Strange Angels), David Behrman (On the Other Ocean), John Cage (Cheap Imitation and Empty Words), Peter Gordon, and Robert Ashley (Perfect Lives, Dust, Celestial Excursions), with whom he frequently collaborated. Tyranny's albums include Out of the Blue (1977 Lovely Music LML 1061 [LP], 2007 Unseen Worlds UW01 [CD]), The Intermediary (1982 Lovely Music [LP] 1063, 2008 Lovely Music [CD]) Country Boy Country Dog (How To Discover Music in the Sounds of Your Daily Life) (1994 Lovely Music LCD 1065), Free Delivery (1999 Lovely Music LCD 1064), and The Somewhere Songs/The Invention of Memory (2008 Mutable 17529-2 [CD]).
Tyranny was a contributor for Allmusic, reviewing albums and creating biographies for many notable contemporary artists.
According to Kyle Gann in the Village Voice, Tyranny has "Cecil Taylor's keyboard energy, [and] Morton Feldman's ear. The most original aspect of [his] works is the way they create continuity: they're tonal, yet rigorously asymmetrical. They satisfy the ear without letting it take anything for granted. They evolve...with the labyrinthine irreversibility of deep psychic forces."
In October 2020, Just For the Record: Conversations With and About "Blue" Gene Tyranny, a documentary film directed by David Bernabo, is set to premiere at the TUSK Festival 2020.
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