Terry Riley (born June 24, 1935) is an American composer associated with the minimalist school.
Musical style and techniques
While his early endeavours were influenced by Stockhausen, Riley changed direction after first encountering La Monte Young, in whose Theater of Eternal Music he later performed from 1965-66. The String Quartet (1960) was Riley's first work in this new style; it was followed shortly after by a string trio, in which he first employed the repetitive short phrases that he (and minimalism) are now known for.
His music is usually based on improvising through a series of modal figures of different lengths, such as in In C and the Keyboard Studies. In C (1964) is probably Riley's best-known work and one that brought the minimalist music movement to prominence. Its first performance was given by Steve Reich, Jon Gibson, Pauline Oliveros, and Morton Subotnick, among others, and it has influenced their work and that of many others, including John Adams, Roberto Carnevale, and Philip Glass. Its form was an innovation: the piece consists of 53 separate modules of roughly one measure apiece, each containing a different musical pattern but each, as the title implies, in C. One performer beats a steady pulse of Cs on the piano to keep tempo. The others, in any number and on any instrument, perform these musical modules following a few loose guidelines, with the different musical modules interlocking in various ways as time goes on. The Keyboard Studies are similarly structured – a single-performer version of the same concept.
In the 1950s he was already working with tape loops, a technology then in its infancy, and he has continued manipulating tapes to musical effect, both in the studio and in live performance, throughout his career. He has composed in just intonation as well as microtonal pieces.
Riley's collaborators include the Rova Saxophone Quartet, Pauline Oliveros, and, as mentioned, the Kronos Quartet.
He has also had a notable collaboration with Beat poet Michael McClure, with whom he has released several CDs and most recently contributed music to a London revival of his play The Beard.
A Rainbow In Curved Air inspired Pete Townshend's synthesizer parts on The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Riley", the latter named in tribute to Riley as well as to Meher Baba.