Author Topic: Terry Riley (b. 1935)  (Read 23351 times)

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Offline Brewski

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Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« on: June 08, 2007, 07:10:09 AM »
One of the first 20th-century works I heard was Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air, and then shortly after I bought the original recording of In C.  Since then I've heard four or five versions of the latter, my favorite being the one by Bang on a Can (below). 

I also like Salome Dances for Peace (with the Kronos Quartet).  Other fans, recommended recordings?



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« Last Edit: June 08, 2007, 07:12:13 AM by bhodges »
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Choo Choo

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2007, 07:31:30 AM »
I've been a huge fan of Terry Riley ever since his Keyboard Studies were played in one of the very first late-night "modern" BBC Proms back in 1970 (which also included a set from the Soft Machine - cue instant outrage from the musical establishment of the time.)

I then bought Rainbow In Curved Air on LP from a NYC dealer who advertised in the back in of the Melody Maker.  You might not have thought this would prove popular with a bunch of spotty teenagers in rural Yorkshire - but I had to buy several more copies as they had a habit of going "missing" every time my friends called around...

Over the years I've bought most of his recordings as and when they became available.  I've also heard Terry in concert a few times, and on one occasion had the privilege of a long conversation with him about his compositional methods.  He is an incredibly likeable fellow.

My favourite recording of In C is probably the original CBS one with Terry himself.  He gave a great performance in London a few years ago at the head of a large-ish ensemble that included the members of the rock band Pulp.

I also heard him give a live performance of Harp Of New Albion back in the '80s (I think.)  This piece seems pretty much to have sunk without trace, though I've always been fond of it.  If I'm in the mood, the Paris performance of Persian Surgery Dervishes is probably my all-time #1, though this too is fairly hardcore and you do have to be in the mood for it.


bwv 1080

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2007, 08:16:59 AM »
Big fan of In C and Rainbow, but am less interested in Salome and the later music. 

lukeottevanger

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2007, 10:38:22 AM »
I also heard him give a live performance of Harp Of New Albion back in the '80s (I think.)  This piece seems pretty much to have sunk without trace, though I've always been fond of it.

It hasn't sunk without trace in my house. It's probably my favourite of Riley's later works, if it counts as later. There is a nice concert CD of him in Padova which includes many of the tracks on the studio CD (obviously differing greatly, as is the nature of the piece).

Anyway, you can count me as a great admirer - Riley has an unusually strong personal style and an attractive aesthetic world.

Kyle Gann does a mean Riley imitation in one of his Disklavier Studies, btw. Cosmic Boogie-Woogie, it's called... 8)

karlhenning

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #4 on: June 08, 2007, 10:41:47 AM »
Jitterbug of the Spheres

Offline beclemund

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2007, 02:17:57 PM »
While looking for something completely different just yesterday, I grabbed this recording of In C:



It is quite a hypnotic piece of work. While repetative, it is never boring. It clocks in at 28 and a half minutes, so it is probably far from the longest translations of In C available. It seems to be gone too fast for my tastes--fortunately, I have a working repeat button. I even played it over speakers for a few of my colleagues at the office to celebrate Friday and it was enjoyed.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this recording is the instrumentation. I have to admit, while I did play in school band (french horn) and I have listened to quite a few records over the years, I am completely unfamilar with instruments native to China (almost all percussion instruments in this recording). It is, however, a terribly fascinating performance. The other two pieces are percussion compositions as well, but I am not sure they fully communicated their subject matter well--or maybe the part of my brain responsible for allegory is on the fritz. ;)

Though I do it less often these days, this was a completely random choice. I was not familiar with Terry Riley in any way, but I was looking for something different (I try to explore at least one new composer every month). Now, however, I will surely be looking for other interpretations of this fine piece and other works.

It just goes to show how little of the surface of music I have scratch after a third of a century to only be discovering Riley now. Definitely recommendable.
"A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession." -- Albert Camus

Choo Choo

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #6 on: June 29, 2007, 03:07:05 PM »
Thanks for posting this interesting review.  I've not heard that recording, and was keen to read an unbiased opinon of it.  28 minutes is short - however the duration depends both on the speed of the pulse and the number of repetitions of each short phrase, at the players' discretion - and it's down to them to judge what's appropriate in the circumstances.

One of the fascinating things about this piece is how the character changes with the different realisations.  The original recording (42 minutes) used a small band of wind instruments (plus the pulse) and has quite a vigorous, punchy feel.  The "25th Anniversary Concert" uses a much larger and more mixed ensemble, giving a more complex sound but IMO the energy dissipates over its 76 minutes:  I heard Terry lead a shorter (again, around 40 minutes) performance live with a similar large ensemble, and thought it hung together much better.

Recently I bought this version, with just voices and percussion:



The percussion consists almost entirely of marimbas, which lay down a gamelan-like groundwork - over which the voices chant: like being part of an exotic ceremony in a temple to an unknown religion.  It's a beguiling listen, and its 55 minutes are just about the right length.

[I'd like to hear Bruce's comments on that Bang On A Can recording, which I've also never heard.]

Meanwhile, welcome to the small - but infinitely discerning - group of Riley appreciators!




Offline beclemund

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #7 on: June 29, 2007, 04:00:18 PM »
Recently I bought this version, with just voices and percussion:



[...]

Meanwhile, welcome to the small - but infinitely discerning - group of Riley appreciators!

I had to order that one too... it has, among its list of players, the magic words Paul Hillier who can do no wrong. His masterful Pärt interpretations have made me a committed fan.

Thank you for the welcome. :)
« Last Edit: July 01, 2007, 03:51:05 PM by beclemund »
"A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession." -- Albert Camus

Offline Brewski

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #8 on: June 30, 2007, 09:26:04 AM »
Ah, The Terry Riley Appreciation Club, a.k.a. TRAC!  :D

Beclemund, thanks for writing comments on the Shanghai version -- it's compelling, isn't it!  And may I applaud you, totally sincerely, for trying out something that was "a completely random choice."  Not to get on a soapbox here, but if a listener never allows something new to enter his circle, how does he know that something as yet unheard won't become one of his absolute favorites?  In 30 years of listening, I only discovered Janáček operas about five years ago, and now several are among my alltime favorite works.  I wish I had somehow been exposed to these decades ago, so I could have had even more time with them. 

Anyway, back to Riley.  Your comments on the Shanghai recording make me want to get it out again, since I haven't listened to it for some time.  As another huge fan of Paul Hillier, I am most interested in that version Choo Choo comments on, which sounds absolutely great.  (Just as an aside, I haven't yet heard the 25th Anniversary reading yet.)

About the Bang on a Can recording, if you'll excuse the cut-and-paste job, here is my review of it on Amazon, from 2003:

A minimalist classic in a bold new rendition

Usually the pianist in this piece is saddled with "the pulse," a series of repeated octaves acting as a rhythmic spine holding the score together for its mesmerizing 45 minutes. Fortunately in this case, the outstanding Australian artist Lisa Moore is given more interesting tasks, while the monotony of banging out these notes is handed over to a laptop computer.

For those who are inclined toward Riley's pioneering experiment, this will be arresting and rewarding listening. The score fits on a single page, and consists of a series of 53 short instrumental figures, designed to be played in order by any combination of instruments. Each musician performs a given figure as many times as desired before moving on to the next one. The score is designed so that all figures mesh with each other, resulting in a huge wall of sound, slowly evolving as the musicians reach new plateaus.

Compared to the relative innocence and sunshine of the original, this one has a raucous, fiery quality that I like even better. The go-for-broke Bang on a Can crew gives it a loud, intense performance that is especially satisfying in the climactic thickets, when the entire group seems immersed in throbbing harmonic waves. It would be hard to single out musicians, but Evan Ziporyn's beautiful clarinet cannot go unnoticed, as well as David Cossin's excellent work on glockenspiel and vibraphone, and Maya Beiser on cello. But pretty much everyone here seems to be having a great time, and the effect is flat-out exhilarating.

The original version, still available on Sony, has its own charms, and there is an intriguingly delicate one with the Shanghai Film Orchestra (Celestial Harmonies), but this is now my favorite -- involved, committed and extremely powerful. Cantaloupe's sound is crystal-clear, and the lively packaging is excellent, too -- mostly bright orange and green graphics that do both Terry Riley and the group proud.


* * * * *

The BOAC players are used to scores with lots of energy, often with electric guitar, drum kits, etc. -- they think of themselves almost as a rock band sometimes -- so the performance has commensurate power.  There is very little that is delicate about it; it's a very intense, "in-your face" reading -- loud and punchy, but still with nuance.

--Bruce
"Do you realize that we're meteorites; almost as soon as we're born, we have to disappear?"

~Iannis Xenakis

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

bwv 1080

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #9 on: June 30, 2007, 01:14:08 PM »
Have heard a few of the more recent recordings of In C, but for me there is a raw energy and sense of exploration in the original CBS that it hard to beat (plus it has Jon Hassell playing on it)

Choo Choo

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #10 on: July 01, 2007, 10:08:57 AM »
The BOAC players are used to scores with lots of energy, often with electric guitar, drum kits, etc. -- they think of themselves almost as a rock band sometimes -- so the performance has commensurate power.  There is very little that is delicate about it; it's a very intense, "in-your face" reading -- loud and punchy, but still with nuance.

Thanks for the review, Bruce.  The one thing this piece won't stand is a boring performance - and it sounds like the BOAC one is anything but. :D

I have to say, I too was impressed by beclemund's readiness to try something new.  All too easy to fall into a groove endlessly replaying old favourites.

lukeottevanger

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #11 on: July 01, 2007, 10:46:44 AM »
Just wanted to amplify something I said earlier re The Harp of New Albion particularly. This piece is in certain respects the closest music I know to the sort of music I [try to] write, though I don't as yet use improvisation as part of the process as it is central to this piece. Riley's modal system, which uses in this case a particular tuning and then circles around it, taking various notes as modal centres, is like a more refined, purer form of something I do. Deeper down, too, some of Riley's aesthetic and philosophical concerns as revealed in this piece and elsewhere are strikingly close to the ideas which obsess me. The Harp of New Albion is relatively little known, is very narrow in its concerns - but it is an intensely beautiful work, and beginning to hold a really central significance for me personally.

Offline beclemund

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #12 on: July 01, 2007, 04:01:34 PM »
Thank you for that note, Luke. I've added this:



to my must buy list.
"A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession." -- Albert Camus

Offline beclemund

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #13 on: July 03, 2007, 03:37:01 PM »
This In C arrived today:



It is really quite astounding. The addition of vocal performers really creates an amazing sound scape. I am at a loss how to describe it, but I do not plan to stop listening to it--gorgeous.
"A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession." -- Albert Camus

Offline beclemund

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #14 on: July 30, 2007, 01:16:15 PM »
I finally got a chance to listen to The Harp of New Albion today and I must admit, it was an up and down experience for me. There were some parts that were truly sublime. The first movement, The new Albion chorale; The discovery I found every bit as engaging as In C, but for very different reasons. The Premonition rag on the other hand, did not come off well for me at all. I suppose that is the nature of improvising off of a theme, there will be peaks and valleys. There is enough good here for me to seek out more, so I have added a few more Riley discs to my "must buy" list--a list that grows significantly every time I peruse the "listening" thread and the opera forum here.

With the last three posts on *this* thread, I feel like I am talking to myself, so I'll stop now and make this one short. ;)
"A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession." -- Albert Camus

Offline Brewski

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #15 on: July 30, 2007, 01:22:30 PM »
With the last three posts on *this* thread, I feel like I am talking to myself, so I'll stop now and make this one short. ;)

But we're enjoying reading!  ;D

--Bruce
"Do you realize that we're meteorites; almost as soon as we're born, we have to disappear?"

~Iannis Xenakis

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Choo Choo

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #16 on: July 31, 2007, 03:20:31 AM »
But we're enjoying reading!  ;D

--Bruce

Yes, that's right, we are.

However we shouldn't leave you to make all the running either, so - somewhat against my usual tendencies - I may have a shot later at posting a short review of some of my recent TR listening.

Choo Choo

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #17 on: July 31, 2007, 05:18:09 AM »
Recently I have been listening to this:



It's an unedited recording of a solo piano recital given by Terry at the Moscow Conservatory in April 2000, and successfully recalls the experience of attending a very similar recital, containing much the same material, at around the same time in Oxford, England.

The recital starts with a 5-minute spoken introduction in Russian, and then leads into the following:

Arica which segues to Havana Man        23'06"
Negro Hall                                         13'31"
The Ecstacy whch segues to Missigono  14'47"
Requiem For Wally                               7'34"   
Song From The Old Country                 10'35"

At the Oxford recital Terry talked a bit about each piece before playing it.  For this disk he's provided liner notes instead:

Quote from: Terry Riley
The following pieces appear without any editing of the performance.  Large sections of these pieces are improvised and I have attempted to preserve the spontaneity of this special evening by presenting my first concert in Moscow exactly as it was played.

“Arica” is a composition that is based on an early work of mine, “A Rainbow In Curved Air” and shares some of the 14 beat cycle structure although having very different tonalities and overall approach to improvisation.  It alternates the Lydian and Phrygian modes with  tonal centres ½ step apart.

“Havana Man” dates from the late 1980s although some of the themes I composed as early as 1966 in Sweden.  It is intentionally Latin in temperament and contains many themes, which are sometimes reordered in sequence according to spontaneous choices that are made during performance.

“Negro Hall” was composed for a scene of my opera “The Saint Adolf Ring”, and is based on the writings and drawings of Adolf Woelfli, the great Swiss artist, musician, and poet who created a vast body of work during his 35 years stay in a mental institution. This solo piano rendition is an abbreviated concert version of the music that appears in the opera.

“The Ecstacy” was first written for the Kronos String Quartet as one of the quartets in the “Salome Dances For Peace” cycle, a large 2-hour work.  Here the themes are reworked in an improvisatory manner for solo piano.

My granddaughter Simone Riley, who has a large cast of imaginary playmates, inspired “Missigono”.  I liked the sound of the made-up name and so starting with this title I created the music.  It has a companion piece called “Uncle Jard” which is also the name of one of her imaginary playmates.

“Requiem for Wally” was written in memory of Wally Rose, a great American ragtime piano player ands a close friend and teacher.  In the early 1960s Wally and I played together at the Gold Street Saloon on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast.  Some of the interior themes are unusual for ragtime as they are written in 7/8 time instead of 4/4.

“Song From The Old Country” dates from around 1978 and has numerous sections including some songs with vocals.  All the sections are in 5/4 or 10/4 time and I used this piece often as an exercise to learn what I could do with this meter.  In the USA everyone except Native Americans have immigrated or have ancestors that have immigrated from some other country and this song honors those memories we have of our country of origin.

I would comment that when he says that Arica has "very different tonalities" to Rainbow, he is not kidding:  the links are there, but you have to use a deal of imagination to make them:  Rainbow Mk 2 it is not - and it stands on its own feet perfectly well.

Despite the note about vocals in Song From The Old Country, on this occasion Terry chose not to treat the audience to his impression of a 150-year-old Janis Joplin - which can be either a plus or a minus, according to your preference.

And once again we are teased with another fragment from the legendary St Adolf Ring.  When this work is ever going to be presented in complete form to a wider audience, I have no idea.  The notes on Terry's website are not encouraging:

Quote from: Terry Riley
THE SAINT ADOLF RING  (1993)   a 2 hour chamber opera created in collaboration with John Deaderich, Sally Davis, Mikael Graham, Frank Ragsdale and Karen Ezekiel.  This Opera is based on the writings and drawings of Adolf Woelfli. It requires the presence of the above artists for performance.

That's a pity.  I heard the "California EAR Ensemble" perform a couple of lengthy-ish sections one time, and it was very impressive - no obvious reason why they couldn't have done the whole lot - but if that's how he wants it, I suppose we have to go with that, and hope that one day he gets around to recording it.  Everything I've heard of it just whets my appetite.
 
The recital is strongly jazz-oriented.  Aside from the ragtime in "Requiem For Wally" and the latin jazz in Havana Man, to which the notes already referred, he riffs across the spectrum of jazz idioms, from the 12-bar blues which begin "Negro Hall" through to bebop.  This disk reinforces the impression which I've taken away from every one of his recitals, that quite apart from the compositional inventiveness, the man is a superb keyboard artist.

The recital as a whole manages to combine a survey of his compositional history with a distillation of his recent performance practice, and together makes for a listening experience that is immediate and enjoyable.  There are some Riley CDs that I admire more than I enjoy - but this isn't one of them:  it has substance, but it's an easy disk to listen to.

Offline Brewski

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #18 on: July 31, 2007, 05:53:38 AM »
Thanks so much for that detailed report on what sounds like a very interesting disc.  (And I do love the cover art, too.)  Also reminds me that I need to add more Riley into my collection.  And love the idea of a "150-year-old Janis Joplin."  ;D  Thanks for that little window.

--Bruce

"Do you realize that we're meteorites; almost as soon as we're born, we have to disappear?"

~Iannis Xenakis

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Choo Choo

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Re: Terry Riley (b. 1935)
« Reply #19 on: July 31, 2007, 07:05:35 AM »


Another recent purchase was this disk featuring music from the soundtracks of two films: Les Yeux Fermés (1972) and Lifespan (1974).

The dates put this music somewhere between Persian Surgery Dervishes and Shri Camel.  The sound world created (on electronic organ) is probably closest to the latter.  It lacks that work's concentration and focus - which in one sense makes it easier listening - but at the same time gives it a less substantial quality.  It has this in common with the Moscow recital reviewed above, that it presents samples from a number of directions - one of the tracks from Lifespan, for example, re-appeared in longer form 10 years later on Cadenza On The Night Plain with the Kronos Qt - yet is very much rooted in its time, and with the benefit of hindsight can seem in places not completely formed.  This makes it interesting from a historical or enthusiast's view - and an enjoyable listen - if not a major work to rank alongside the others mentioned.