Personalities | Terry Riley | Contemporary | Classical

b. 1935
American composer

Initially influenced by Stockhausen, Riley was profoundly affected by the sustained, minimalist style of La Monte Young, whom he met at the University of California at Berkeley. He had paid for his studies by playing ragtime in a bar. He soon became interested in improvised music and ‘happenings’ and made a serious study of Indian music. For his early solo keyboard and saxophone performances he used both tape loops (where a pre-recorded tape repeats a short figure endlessly, the live player adding further layers of music) and tape delay, where every phrase from the live player is repeated after a brief pause by a tape recorder. He subsequently developed this technique using the ‘time-lag accumulator’ where, by means of a bank of tape recorders, a solo performer can build up numerous layers of sound. Improvisation is central to his work, and very few of his pieces have any pre-determined form (though A Rainbow in Curved Air uses a rhythmic structure akin to the Indian tal). In this he differs from the other minimalists, Reich and Glass, both of whom have shown interest in articulating their longer works in formal structures. Riley has said that the fault with Western music is that it uses too much material; his own music explores simple material as exhaustively as possible.

In his more recent work he has renewed his interest in Indian music, writing for the sitar and tabla, and has written extensively for string quartet. His influence on popular music has been widespread: the American groups Talking Heads and Soft Machine are two examples.

Recommended Recording:
In C, Piano Circus (Argo/Decca)

Introduction | Contemporary | Classical
Personalities | Poul Ruders | Contemporary | Classical


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