Terry Riley looks like a wizard. And he sort of is… He’s a wizard of minimalism.
Minimalism being a rather interesting early 60s experiment in escaping song forms through chord repetition in sequences, and exploring how that created rhythmic patterns and pulses.. If that’s a bit complicated to explain his ideas (read them elsewhere) understand they are an influence through Philip Glass to things like Krautrock/Kraftwerk to techno and so on. So we hear extractions of them all around us in modern electronic music.
Riley (along with Reich, LaMonte Young and Philip Glass) is a pioneer and composed several key pieces of which A Rainbow In Curved Air was particularly important and innovative through its use of overdubbing. It’s also mind blowing and psychedelic.
As one reviewer had it:
“I am taken away to distant suns with psychedelic worlds. Colors explode and wash together in a maelstrom of unrestrained joy. I think of the persistent beats of distant pulsars guiding the way for a whole humanity reaching across the great expanse of space to discover places and ideas not yet even dreamed of in this world.”. Yes, you might give it a try.
Then there was Church of Anthrax with Velvet Undergrounder John Cale. The Velvet Underground owed a lot to minimalism, as Cale was a student of Lamonte Young. Church Of Anthrax isn’t the easiest listen, but worth a go if Cale’s Vintage Violence is a favourite of yours.
But maybe Riley’s most famous piece is In C. An epic of repeated and layered phrases where the separate musicians repeat phrases at random to build a whole, but where the random human element means the piece is never the same twice. This is because the musicians repeat their phrases at random and as they feel them, creating an ever-changing mesh. In the middle one musician (stipulated by Riley as a beautiful girl!) must work on the note C and that holds it together. Here’s a bit to listen to if you can’t imagine that.
Now Damon Albarn (of course) looks like a true star. Because he is one.
But he doesn’t only do star things. Instead he has decided to link In C back to African music & its poly-rhythms. Which makes total sense, particularly as next year is the 40th anniversary of Riley’s first effort at In C.
And a little segment has popped up on Soundcloud of Africa Express’ version.
Here’s 5 minutes of the rather beautiful Mali in C
We didn’t catch Damon playing it at his recent Australian shows, which is a shame for us (but not for those who came to hear Song 2).
But he did do his baby elephant song Mr Tembo which is amongst our videos of the year and definitely wins the award in the wonky, kids funk, category.
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