Riley, Terry

views updated Jun 27 2018

Terry Riley

Composer, pianist, keyboardist

For the Record

Selected discography


Composer Terry Riley is best known for starting the Minimalist movement with his work In C in 1964 and introducing repetition to Western music. Rileys compositions and performances with electronic keyboards and tape delays wove sounds together into the sonic fabric that would lay the foundation for the New Age movement. In addition, Rileys desire to create new music for the human mind and ear enlivened the instruments of the highly regarded Kronos Quartet. These accomplishments alone were sufficient for high praise, but with Rileys own personal performances and numerous commissioned compositions, it was fitting that the London Sunday Times newspaper proclaim Riley one of the 1000 makers of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, several popular artists and groups have been influenced by his work, including John Adams, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, The Who, Tangerine Dream, and Curved Air.

Riley recognized that a composer could write and play whatever felt appropriate. With this understanding, Riley set his mind free as he created. His work was described in the Los Angeles Times as derived from many parts of the globe and from different eras. It has the improvisatory flair, the rhythmic exhilaration and the melodic subtly of the music of India, which Riley has studied for decades. But it is also grounded in classical tradition and jazz, in the advanced keyboard techniques of Chopin, the harmonic richness of the Impressionists, in the ecstatic improvisations of [John] Coltrane.

Riley was born on June 24, 1935, in Colfax, California, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He studied composition under Robert Erickson and piano under Duane Hampton at San Francisco State College from 1955-57. He later studied at the University of California at Berkeley during 1960-61. It was during this time that Rileys vision for music began. The first of his primary influences was La Monte Young, whom he met while attending the University of California. Riley told Gamall and Ammon Haggerty of Rhythmos: [Young] had a superb conceptual sense about music, I think his sense about music is what spawned Minimalist music La Montes idea was just to have this one big form that were just long tones, I think that was the real essential heart of Minimalist music.

Riley added repetition to Youngs conceptual view of music and began an era. Rileys early music initiated the Minimalist movement. His seminal work, In C, was composed from 53 simple patterns which were grouped together in a series and repeated to form a structure. Without a melody involved in the sound, the repetition and order of the patterns formed the music. Riley himself explained his contribution to Western music in the Haggerty interview: essentially, my contribution was to introduce repetition into Western music as the main ingredient without any melody over it, without anything just repeated patterns, musical patterns.

During the 1960s, Riley performed his music with a unique flair. Using an old organ harmonium with a vacuum cleaner motor blowing into the ballasts and various tape delays, he would perform concerts lasting all night, entertaining people who brought entire families to just relax and listen to the music until sunrise. He performed a record eight-hour, thirty-minute concert of continuous music at the Philadelphia College of Art in the fall of 1967. A Los Angeles Times article described Rileys shows: Rileys performances are easier to experience than to explain. He is a musician of enormous sophistication and technical ability, a musician who finds the center of tones and enters into them in the genuine hope of discovering something essential about the lifting of our spirits.

Riley avoided the music industry machinery during the 1970s to pursue something more satisfying to his soul. North Indian raga vocalist Pandit Pran Nath took Riley as a student in 1970 and contributed significantly to Rileys artistic expressions. Riley studied under Pran Nath and performed with him as tampura, tabla and vocal accompanist until his death in 1996. During the many trips Riley made to India, in 1993, he began the responsibility of co-directing a music study program in Delhi, India. The Chisti Sabri School of Music had a two-week program focusing on Pran Naths classical works with opportunities to learn the tabla and vocal styles. In addition, Riley gave raga performances during the seminars. A highlight included a concert with Zakir Hussain on tabla.

For the Record

Born on June 24, 1935, in Colfax, CA. Education: Studied composition under Robert Erickson and piano under Duane Hampton at San Francisco State College, 1955-57; University of California at Berkeley, 1960-61.

Began composing and performing in concert, 1958; after meeting La Monte Young, utilized repetition, mid 1960s; started the Minimalist movement with In C, 1964; played all night, continuous concerts, late 1960s; studied under and performed with Indian raga vocalist Pandit Pran Nath; worked with David Harrington for many pieces for the Kronos Quartet; has influenced artists and groups such as John Adams, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, The Who, Tangerine Dream, and Curved Air.

Addresses: Record company New Albion Records, 584 Castro St. #515, San Francisco, CA 94114-2594, phone: (415) 621-5757, fax: (415) 621-4711, website: Publicist Cheryl Batze, Batzer Productions, 4215 Cochran Rd., Dallas, TX 75209, phone: (214) 351-3383, fax: (214) 351-4099, e-mail: [email protected]; Robert Friedman Presents, 1353 4th Ave., San Francisco CA 94122, phone: (415) 759-1992, fax: (415) 759-6663, e-mail: [email protected].

Continually at the cutting edge of musical development, Riley played electronic keyboards and utilized tape delay in several projects that were influential to another musical era. Releases such as A Rainbow in Curved Air in 1969, The Persian Surgery Dervishes in 1972, and Shri Camel in 1978, were trance-inducing, multi-layered creations that incorporated Eastern styles. Often containing improvisational components, those works were the predecessors of New Age music.

Much of Rileys popular work was done with David Harrington, founder of the Kronos Quartet. They met while Riley was teaching North Indian raga and music composition at Mills College in Oakland, California, during the early 1970s. They collaborated to create numerous string quartets and other award-winning music. The Sands was a concerto for string quartet and orchestra that was the Salzburg Festivals first new music commission. Cadenza on the Night Plain was chosen as one of the Ten Best Classical Albums of the Year by Newsweek and Time magazines in 1985. In 1989, Salome Dances for Peace was nominated for a Grammy Award and selected by USA Today as the Top Classical Album of the Year. Harrington explained how Rileys pieces expanded the Quartets expressive conscious: It was very hard for us as a group, but eventually we arrived at a sound that was different from anything we had ever done before. There was a magical moment when the bow, rather than vibrato, became the major expressor of color. That was one of the first times when Kronos really came together as a group. In the late 1990s, the Kronos Quartet commissioned and premiered three requiem quartets, the third of which, Requiem for Adam, marked the twentieth anniversary of the Riley/Kronos relationship.

Riley has written music for many other modern musicians and groups. Prominent commissions included a piece in 1990-91 by Carnegie Hall for the Centennial celebration. The seven-movement Jade Palace was performed by Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony. The Koussevitsky Foundation commissioned a work based on Jack Kerouacs Mexico City Blues in 1991. Titled June Buddhas, it was a three-movement work for chorus and orchestra. The California E.A.R. Unit, the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, the Rova Saxophone Quartet, the Amati string quartet, Array Music of Toronto, Zeitgeist, pianist Werner Baertschi, guitarist David Tanenbaum, and Stephen Scotts Bowed Piano Ensemble have all commissioned and played Rileys compositions.

During the early 1990s, Riley continued to pioneer new music projects. He formed a group that focused on vocal and instrumental improvisation named Khayal, which means imagination in Hindi. This ensemble performed his works for four years. In 1992, Riley wrote the chamber opera The Saint Adolf Ring, which was based on the eccentric drawings, mathematical calculations, and poetry of Swiss schizophrenic Adolf Wolfli. He then created a theater company, The Travelling Avantt-Gaard, to perform the work. Riley revealed his fascination with Wolflis life and works to Haggerty: The thing that grips us is imagination of the artist, and schizophrenics are some of the most imaginative people. I think what happens to them, their ordinary filters for reality somehow open up. They experience things we can only experience in very altered states, but they experience this all the time.

Riley continued to compose during the late 1990s. One remarkable work was The Book of Abbeyozzud, a set of 24 pieces for guitar and guitar ensemble. The Norwich Festival commissioned a work in 1999 that was performed in Britain by Sounds Bazaar, featuring vocalist Amelia Cuni, titled What the River Said. The Kanagawa Foundation in Yokohama, Japan, commissioned a piece for micro tonal tuned piano titled The Dream, an evening-length composition.

Riley lengthened his performance career in the late 1990s by performing solo piano concerts of his work and joining artists such as saxophonist George Brooks, Indian sitarist Krishna Bhatt, and Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio in duets. In 1999, in Delhi, Riley performed ragas for the Delhi University Music Department and at the Shivratri festival. He toured Russia for the first time in May of 2000, performing at the Sergei Kuryokin Festival in St. Petersburg, the Moscow Conservatory, and at a private contemporary music club, the Dom. Also in 2000, a solo cello work for former Kronos cellist Jean Jeanrenaud was commissioned by artist Bruce Connor.

Early in 2001, Rileys work was included in the restag-ing of Michael McClures play Josephine the Mouse Singer, which played in San Francisco. Y Bolanzero, a piece for a large guitar ensemble, was scheduled to be completed in 2001, as well as a quintet for Kronos Quartet and a new saxophone quartet for the Arte Quartet. The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) commissioned a work by the Kronos Quartet which will include the sounds recorded by the Voyager mission while traveling in deep space. It was to be completed in 2001.

Selected discography

Reed Streams, Mass Art, 1966.

In C, CBS Masterworks, 1968.

A Rainbow in Curved Air, CBS Masterworks, 1969.

The Church of Anthrax (with John Cale), CBS, 1970.

Happy Ending, Warner Bros., 1972.

The Persian Surgery Dervishes, Shandar, 1972; reissued on New Tone, 1993.

Le Secret de la Vie, Phillips, 1974.

Shri Camel, CBS Masterworks, 1978.

The Descending Moonshine Dervishes/The Ten Voices of the Two Prophets (2 CD Package), Celestial Harmonies, 1982.

No Mans Land, Plainisphare, 1985; reissued, 1996.

The Ethereal Time Shadow (Music from Mills ), 1985.

Cadenza on the Night Plain, Gramavision, 1985.

The Harp of New Albion, Celestial Harmonies, 1986.

(With the Shanghai Film Orchestra) In C, Celestial Harmonies, 1989.

Salome Dances for Peace, Nonesuch, 1989.

June Buddhas (Lou Harrison 7 Pastorales), Music Masters, 1991.

The Padova Concert, Amiata Arnn, 1992.

Tread on The Trail, In Good Company/Jon Gibson Point Records, 1992.

Cactus Rosary, Artifact Music, 1993.

In C 25th Anniversary Concert, New Albion, 1993.

Chanting the Light of Foresight, New Albion, 1994.

Lisbon Concert, New Albion, 1996.

Poppy NogoodAII Night Flight V1, Organ of Corti, 1996.

A Lazy Afternoon Among the Crocodiles, AlAl, 1997.

The Piano Music of John Adams and Terry Riley, Telare, 1998.

Reed Streams, Organ of Corti 2, 1999.

Olson III, Organ of Corti 3, 1999.

The Book of Abbeyozzud, New Albion, 1999.

Vigil of the Snow Clam, Solar/Helios Sol y Samba Records, 1998.

Music for the Gift, Organ of Corti 1, 2000.

Cortejo Funebre en el Monte Diablo, Nonesuch, 2000.

IN C Ictus Live, Cypres, 2000

IN C SMCQ Live with Walter Boudreau, ATMA, 2000.

Good Medicine, The Smith Quartet, 2000.



American Music (Champaign, IL), Summer 1999.

Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1997; May 4, 1997.

Washington Post, November 15, 1998.


Cortical, (December 22,2000).

Excite Music, (December 22,2000).

Kronos Quartet, (December 22,2000).

New Albion Records, (December 22,2000).

Other Minds, (December 22,2000).

Rhythmos, (December 22,2000).

Robert Friedman Presents, (December 22,2000).

Terry Riley Official Website, (December 22,2000).

Nathan Sweet

Riley, Terry (Mitchell)

views updated May 11 2018

Riley, Terry (Mitchell)

Riley, Terry (Mitchell) , significant American composer and performer; b. Colfax, Calif., June 24, 1935. He studied piano with Duane Hampton at San Francisco State Coll. (1955–57) and composition with Seymour Shifrin and William Denny at the Univ. of Calif, at Berkeley (M.A., 1961). In 1967 he was a creative assoc. at the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at the State Univ. of N.Y. in Buffalo. From 1971 to 1980 he was assoc. prof. at Mills Coll. in Oakland, Calif. In 1979 he held a Guggenheim fellowship. In 1970 Riley was initiated in San Francisco as a disciple of Pandit Pran Nath, the North Indian singer, and followed him to India. He subsequently appeared frequently with him in concert as tampura, tabla, and vocal accompanist until the master’s death in 1996. From 1993 Riley has served as co-director along with Sufi Murshid, Shabda Kahn of the Chisti Sabri India music study tours. From 1989 to 1993 he formed and led the ensemble Khayal; he also performed regularly in solo piano concerts of his works, and appeared often in duo concerts with Indian sitarist Krishna Bhatt, saxophonist George Brooks, and Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio. In 1992 he formed a small theater company, The Travelling-Avantt-Gaard, to perform his chamber opera, The Saint Adolf Ring, based on the drawings, poetry, Writings, and mathematical calculations of Adolf Wölfli, an early 20th century Swiss artist who suffered from schizophrenia and whose entire output was created while he was confined in a mental institution. Riley’s contribution to and influence upon the music of the last half of the 20th century is likely incalculable, his In C for Variable Ensemble notated in fragments to be played any number of times at will in the spirit of aleatory latitudinarianism, all within the key of C major, with an occasional F sharp providing a trompe l’oreille effect (1964; San Francisco, May 21, 1965) now being ;de rigeur at concerts attempting serious historical overview. His Concerto for String Quartet and Orch., The Sands (1991; N.Y., May 3, 1992), was the first-ever new music commission from the Salzburg Festival, his recording of Cadenza on the Night Plain for String Quartet (1983) was critically lauded as one of the best classical albums of the year, and his epic 5-quartet cycle, Salome Dances for Peace for String Quartet (1985–87), was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 1990–91 he composed his first orch. work, Jade Palace, for the centenary celebration at N.Y.’s Carnegie Hall, which was performed there by Leonard Siatkin and the Saint Louis Sym. Orch. (Feb. 4, 1991). Riley is currently at work on a set of 24 pieces for guitar and guitar ensemble, The Book of Abbeyozzud, as well as 2 fairy tales for String Orch. and a new piano concerto to feature himself as pianist with the Paul Dresher Ensemble.


DRAMATIC: Chamber Opera: The Saint Adolf Ring (1992). Tape And Instrumental: Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Cello (1957); Spectra for 3 Winds and 3 Strings (1959); Concert for 2 Pianos and Tape (1960); Earpiece for 2 Pianos and Tape (1960); String Quartet (1960); String Trio (1961); I Can’t Stop No, Mescalin Mix, and She Moves for Tape (1962–63); In C for Variable Ensemble (1964; San Francisco, May 21, 1965); Tread on the Trail for Jazz Musicians (1965); Olson III for Any Instruments and Voices (1966); G-Song for String Quartet (1980); Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector for String Quartet (1980); Cadenza on the Night Plain for String Quartet (1983); The Medicine Wheel for String Quartet (1983); Salome Dances for Peace for String Quartet (1985–87); Chanting the Light of Foresight for Saxophone Quartet (1987); The Room of Remembrance for Vibraphone, Marimba, Piano, and Soprano Saxophone (1987); Chanting the Light of Foresight for Saxophone Quartet (1987); The Crows Rosary for Keyboard and String Quartet (1988); Cactus Rosary for Chamber Ensemble (1990); The Sands, concerto for String Quartet and Orch. (1991; N.Y., May 3, 1992); June Buddhas, concerto for Chorus and Orch., after Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues (N.Y., Nov. 9, 1991); Wölfli Portraits for Flute, Clarinet, Piano, 2 Percussion, Violin, and Cello (1992); Ascension for Guitar (1993); El Hombre, piano quintet (1993); Ritmos and Melos for Violin, Piano, and Percussion (1993); Night Music for Piano (1996); Remember This…loi Voice and 10 Instruments (1997); DeepChandi for String Orch., Dancer, and Tape (1998); MissiGono for Mixed Instruments (1998); 3 Requiem Quartets for String Quartet (1998); Vieux Chateaux for Piano (1998). WITH SYNTHESIZERS: Poppy Nogoods Phantom Band (1966); A Rainbow in Curved Air (1968); Genesis ’70, ballet (1970); Chorale of the Blessed Day for Voice and 2 Synthesizers or Piano and Sitar (1980); Eastern Man for Voice and 2 Synthesizers (1970); ChoraleoftheBlessedDay for Voice and 2 Synthesizers or Piano, Synthesizer, Sitar, Tabla, and Alto Saxophone (1980); Song from the Old Country for Voice, Piano, Sitar, Tabla, String Quartet, and Synthesizer (1980); The Ethereal Time Shadow for Voice and 2 Synthesizers (1982); Offering to Chief Crazy Horse for Voice and 2 Synthesizers (1982); Song of the Emerald Runner for Voice, Piano, String Quartet, Sitar, Tabla, and Synthesizer (1983); Jade Palace for Orch. and Synthesizers (1990–91; N.Y., Feb. 4, 1991); Diamond Fiddle Language for Synthesizer and String Bass (1998; in collaboration with S. Scodanibbio); Shiv-Ji-Ki-Rung for Synthesizer and String Bass (1998; in collaboration with S. Scodanibbio). Other: Various improvisational pieces.


W. Mertens, American Minimal Music: La Monte Young, T. R., Steve Reich, Philip Glass (London, 1991).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Riley, Terry (Mitchell)

views updated May 18 2018

Riley, Terry (Mitchell) (b Colfax, Calif., 1935). Amer. composer and saxophonist. Frequent tours of Europe as perf. of his own works, which ‘take the form of charts of repeated patterns and series, which must assume a form during rehearsal and performance’. Assoc. prof., Mills Coll., Oaklands, Calif., 1971–80.

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