Terry Riley

Terry Riley, an avant-garde composer, was there at the birth and development of minimalism. Riley abandoned his initial plans to be a concert pianist and instead studied composition at San Francisco State College alongside Robert Erikson. While working as a ragtime piano player in a local saloon’s ragtime section, Riley enrolled at University of California at Berkeley. Riley made a strong connection at Berkeley with La Monte Young, a fellow composer and, some might argue, the father of Minimalism. After graduating from Berkeley with an M.A. In 1961, Riley graduated with an M.A. in composition and moved to Europe where he performed at officers’ clubs. The music for The Gift by Key Dewey was composed in 1963 by Riley for the ORTF (French National Radio). Riley took advantage of a new invention called the time-lag accumulater. It was made up of two reel-to–reel tape recorders that were connected together to create a loop of layered echos. Riley claims that Music for the Gift was the “forerunner” of In C, which used repetition as an integral part of musical form. In C was Riley’s direct inspiration. He was riding a bus from San Francisco to the Gold Street Saloon. In C was released by Columbia Records in 1968. It became the platform on which the Minimalist movement was founded. Riley was then living in New York and performing in Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music. Riley shifted his focus to improvisation and stopped notating his compositions. Riley also stopped using his time-lag accumulator. Riley was able experiment with his “self interpretive improvisation” techniques in 1969’s album that included the works Poppy Nogood, the Phantom Band, and Rainbow In Curved Air. Terry Riley started to study Indian music in the 1970s. He studied with Pandit Pran Nath, a singer. Riley discovered a new way to compose music by traveling often to India with Pandit Pran Nath, and also teaching Indian music at Mills College, Oakland, California. Riley was influenced by the raga and began creating long melodic lines with raga-related scales. Riley also became interested in just intonation. This ancient form of tuning allows for intricate intervallic arrangements. This period saw the creation of Shri Camel (1976) and Persian Surgery Dervishes (1971). For his creative endeavors, Riley was awarded both a grant from NEA in 1979 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1979. Riley returned to musical notation in the 1980s, and he composed several works for Kronos String Quartet. G-Song (1981) and Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector (1981), require string quartet, voice, and synthesizer. These pieces do not rely on the layers of structural motives found in Riley’s 1960s works or the keyboard improvisations of the 1970s. Riley’s string quartets, which are more lyrical, include influences from American jazz, Indian Raga and traditional Classical music, while still remaining in Minimalist fashion. But no Riley work has had the same impact as In C.

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