At this point of his long career, there are many ways to introduce composer Terry Riley. Some call him a modern musical innovator, others say he is a pioneer of the minimalist movement - either answer is right. Over the past five decades, Riley's minimalist, long-form synthesizer pieces have earned him many titles, and have inspired musicians ranging from The Who (who named half of their "Baba O'Reilly" after him) to Phillip Glass.
The legendary composer has recently been announced as the School of the Arts' Artist in Residence, and will play the Nightingale Concert Hall for one night only on Friday, Feb. 15. During his weeklong residency, Riley will lead a series of lectures and master classes, which will culminate with the concert at NCH of Riley's master work In C performed by UNR's own music faculty.
Widely considered one of the most important contributions to experimental classical music of the mid-to-late 20th, Riley's seminal 1964 composition In C remains the musician's most lauded work. Hauntingly beautiful and meticulously minimal, In C remains a truly transcendent aural journey. The mere fact that In C is still discussed, analyzed and performed nearly 50 years later from when it originally debuted speaks volumes to its legacy and influence.
"Of course I could not have foreseen In C 's vast influence and popularity," Riley says. "But from the beginning I was aware it was a unique and ground breaking work on many levels that solved the problem most effectively of how to integrate composition and improvisation within a 'classical' music context. We knew something was up with the enormous success of the world premiere in San Francisco in 1964!"
Riley has said that In C's biggest contribution to Western music was introducing repetition as the main ingredient without any melody over it - without anything, just repeated musical patterns. In fact, one could trace the lineage of In C's influence on popular music all the way from the repeated patterns of Disco in the 1970s to contemporary techno music. According to him, he drew a lot of the composition's inspiration from Indian and African melodies.
"Simple repeated patterns [possess such a powerful effect because they] aid in focusing the mind's attention and have the same intent as the repetition of Mantra in Hindu devotion or African or Gospel riffs," says Riley. "It makes stationary the musical landscape so that so that one notices and is drawn into the details. It is a short cut to ecstasy."
Riley, who has been steadily releasing new work since 1963, says he already has plans for a follow-up release to his 2012 album "Aleph". The album marked his first collaboration with his son Gyan Riley, who played guitar on the record. According to Riley, he will be recording another duo album with Gyan in May for avant-garde composer John Zorn's Tzadik record label, and it should be available sometime later this year. He cites Hindustani classical master vocalists such as Pandit Pran Nath, Bhimsen Joshi, and Badea Ghulam Ali Khan as inspiration, saying he spent so many years immersed in the music of India that it was especially interesting to revisit western music from that vantage point.
"At the moment I am not drawn to popular music forms because I feel the music there has stagnated to the point that it doesn't speak to me," Riley says. "But I am listening to a lot of early 20th century classical music because I have been writing a lot of orchestral music in recent years and have no formal training in orchestration. Up to a point this can be an advantage, producing an original voice but at the same time I feel a need to be more educated by what those masters were up to in those years."
SEEING TERRY RILEY
Terry Riley will be on the University of Nevada, Reno campus for one night only on Friday, Feb. 15. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. in Nightingale Concert Hall. Tickets are $20 general and $5 for University students. Tickets are available at the Lawlor Events Center Box Office, online at Performing Arts Series or by phone at (800) 325-7328.
Call (775) 784-4278 for more information.