Terry Riley

Terry Riley In C

American composer Terry Riley turned 80 on Wednesday. He was one of the earliest pioneers of minimalism and experimental music. Riley’s music blends a variety of elements, including jazz and Indian music. A Rainbow in Curved Airrecorded in the late 1960s, influenced ambient and rock musicians, including Pete Townshend and The Who.

One of Terry Riley’s earliest and most influential works is the gradually unfolding In C, written in 1964. In C is built on a continuous repeating pulse on the pitch “C,” which serves as a “metronome” for the other parts. Elements of improvisation make In C sound different every time it’s performed. Instrumentation is left open to the performers. The piece’s blueprints call for 53 short, numbered musical phrases which can be played by any performer. In C’s counterpoint and duration are open to chance as each performer controls when they move on. They must stay within two or three phrases of each other.

It’s important to slow down and enjoy the moment as you approach this music. Listen to the way the music gradually develops out of the opening pulse, moving from one spontaneous adventure to the next. There are moments of incredibly exciting tension and conflict as motives collide and the canonic counterpoint becomes dense. Complex rhythms begin to form as the parts weave together.

This 1990 performance by the keyboard ensemble Piano Circus involves a concert grand piano, upright piano, Rhodes piano, harpsichords, and vibraphone:

Now, for comparison, listen to this contrasting recording by the group Bang on a Can. Also check out Jad Abumrad’s In C Remix

  • Find Terry Riley’s music on iTunes
  • Find Terry Riley’s music on Amazon

If you feel inspired, leave your thoughts on In C and Terry Riley’s music in the thread below. Describe your listening experience.

, , , , , , ,

4 Responses to Terry Riley In C

  1. jonathan valdez July 4, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    i was reading about igor stravinsky’s arrangement of “the national anthem” and saw this article on the side…here’s a recording i did of “In C” using a visual programming language called Max/MSP

    https://soundcloud.com/jonathan_valdez/in-c

    the experience of making this made me realize how brilliant the form of riley’s composition was and how innovative it still is.

    • Timothy Judd July 4, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

      Thank you for sharing this, Jonathan. I’m glad you found “The Listeners’ Club.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Common Tones in Simple Time: John Adams’ Gradually Shifting Sonic Landscape | The Listeners' Club - August 22, 2016

    […] ascending lines converse, I’m always reminded of Terry Riley’s semi-improvisational In C from 1964. But Common Tones in Simple Time moves beyond these minimalist predecessors in at least […]

  2. Steve Reich at 80 | The Listeners' Club - July 31, 2017

    […] Reich, who remains one of contemporary music’s most influential and iconic voices. Along with Terry Riley and Philip Glass, Reich was at the forefront of Minimalism, a style of music which emerged in the […]

Leave a Reply

The Listeners' Club

Send this to a friend