Terry Riley Is Cool

by Bob Schwartz

Terry Riley
You probably think you’re cool. You might be right. You can list a bunch of qualifications. They might be good enough.

But if you’ve never listened to Terry Riley’s magical music, there’s a cute trick in store for you. When you listen, you will simultaneously learn that you were not as cool as you thought and instantly become cooler than you ever were. Now that’s magic.

Terry Riley is one of the earliest American minimalist musicians. Some consider him one of the fathers of trance and ambient music, which immediately turns some people off from even considering listening. Don’t be put off. Trance and related genres have gotten a bad rap and rep from too many players who were adept at the technology but neither artful nor soulful.

At age 77, Terry Riley still has enough art and soul for any thousand composers and players. He has a long list of compositions and performances, but everyone should start with In C (1964) and A Rainbow in Curved Air (1969). In C is composed of 53 separate patterns based on the C note, played  over the course of 42 minutes. That may sound boring, but sex sounds boring when you describe it clinically too. A Rainbow in Curved Air is differently kinetic, brightly climbing and wiggling way up and down and all around the aural universe.

For a view of Terry Riley’s place in music history, listen to this show from the WFMT San Francisco series 13 Days When Music Changed Forever. The day is November 4, 1964: The Premiere of Terry Riley’s In C (as a bonus, the series is hosted by Suzanne Vega).

You can find Terry Riley on Spotify and other music outlets. Try the original recordings, which have been remastered, first. If you like, go on to newer performances of these and later compositions. You have nothing to lose but your last vestige of uncool. Of course, you’re never going to be as cool as Terry Riley. But who is?

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