Terry Riley

Like a Rainbow in Curved Air Terry Riley

Along with his former Berkeley classmate La Monte Young, Terry Riley is the big daddy of the school of composing formerly known as Minimalist, and best known for groundbreaking works such as In C (1968), A Rainbow in Curved Air (1969), Persian Surgery Dervishes (1971) and Cadenza on the Night Plain (2006). Riley's curious path has led him from the outer reaches of modern jazz to Euro serialism/musique concr¸te/electronics, and has found him drawing deeply as well on "West Coast" ideas of indeterminacy via John Cage and the alternative-tonality worlds of Harry Partch and Lou Harrison. Long foregoing his "minimalist" style (a creaky old term useful only to music critics, he says with a patient laugh), he's engaged in ongoing studies in Indian, North African and Asian musics that have enabled him to compose, somewhat full-circle-like, chamber and orchestral pieces, albeit of a decidedly non-European flavor. These works include many in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, including Salome Dances for Peace, Requiem for Adam and a fantastically transcendent recent piece called The Cusp of Magic.

The very shape, scope and execution of In C was, in retrospect, a perfect example of a California composer thinking outside the rhombus. Riley recently talked about its genesis and his longtime residence in the musical none-of-the-above.

BLUEFAT: Is there something about Left Coast composers that might indicate a different way of thinking about music, and life? Can you see yourself fitting into that category of composers?

TERRY RILEY: I guess I fit in as well as anybody. I've lived here all my life in California, and worked here, and whenever I go anywhere and do anything, that's what I'm known as. So yeah, I think I fit in pretty well. I don't think there's a stylistic link between all the people who live on the West Coast.

You're originally from the Bay Area, aren't you?

I was born up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, where I live now. Three and half hours from the Bay Area.

How much did your physical environment affect your views about music and art?

Well, I grew up in the country, and just the fact that I got used to relating to nature a lot, as a kid, does maybe affect the way you feel in the rhythms of music and even the tones of music. The environment does affect it pretty strongly. I didn't spend much time in an urban environment; I think that shapes it some way. I can't say exactly how, because you can live in a very nice urban environment and make quiet, peaceful music if that's what you want to do. In general I'd say that there's something in these environments which definitely affects the way we perceive music.


Photo: Stuart Brin

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