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.

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

4 thoughts on “Terry Riley In C

  1. 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.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend