Terry Riley and Olson III -- Folke Rabe

Liner notes to the ”Organ of Corti 3” CD with orchestra and singers from the Nacka Community Music School

I first met Terry in a Finnish summer cottage in 1963. He had just arrived from Paris along with Ken Dewey the late playwright, theater director, and happening creator. In Paris they had staged a version of Ken's The Gift with music by Terry in which he had collaborated with Chet Baker. A part of this music called She Moves was produced using tape loop and feedback techniques and opened up to him the potential of repetitious sound patterns.

In the Spring of 1965 I spent two months in San Francisco working with Ann Halprin's Dancers Workshop and the composers connected to the legendary San Francisco Tape Music Center: Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, and Terry Riley. I took part in performances of In C and spent "All Night Flights" with Terry and his family in their house with Terry playing on the piano for hours his Keyboard Studies that used just four notes played with one hand constantly repeated at a very high speed with subtle changes of the down beat.

On my return to Stockholm, Karl-Birger Blomdahl, the music director of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and my former composition teacher asked me what was my greatest experience in the United States. I immediately replied "Terry Riley!". He said let's bring him over.

This idea was developed into an educational joint venture involving the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, the Community Music School of Nacka, and the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. Terry was commissioned to compose a work for the orchestra and chorus of the Nacka Music School which was to be included in the Contemporary Music Series of the Swedish Broadcasting. The composition students at the College of Music were to take part in the event and to start other projects with Terry during his one month residency in Stockholm.

Terry made two sketches entitled Olson Sound as a homage to Sweden. He sent them to us by mail -- we tried them but we didn't manage to get them off the ground. Terry arrived in Stockholm in 1967 and wrote a new and different version, Olson III. It was based on the same principle as In C, i.e., a series of short motives which the musician is supposed to repeat several times before he moves to the next motive. However, in Olson III there is just one note value whereas there is quite a variety of values in "In C".

The rehearsals with the musicians and singers of the Nacka Music School were difficult because of the newness of the music. Terry did not conduct but led the performance by taking part on soprano sax. The teachers at Nacka suggested conducting but Terry refused. The performers simply had to get used to listening to each other. Slowly they brought themselves together, opened their ears, and consequently managed to keep the pulse, changing and shaping motives individually. A few of the less motivated students left the project but some forty remained who were dedicated to carry out a good performance.

The premiere took place in the Nacka Auditorium on a beautiful spring evening of April 27, 1967. The temperature in the audience is easy to follow in the recording and you can also hear the struggle among the performers when they get exhausted, when they strain every nerve, when they are fighting the audience, when their coordination is beginning to fall apart, when they triumphantly are getting together. It is simply like life.

Some of the people who were working with Terry that spring month in Stockholm got impressions which have never left their hearts. Among these were some students at the Royal College of Music. But his influence also extended to a number of musicians working in the Swedish alternative music movement of the seventies. I am thinking of groups such as Traed, Graes och Stenar and Arbete och Fritid.*)

The concert in the Nacka Auditorium was recorded in mono which by that time was the normal recording standard of the Swedish Broadcasting. The recording engineer Bengt Nyquist also made a parallel stereo recording as an experiment. When comparing the mono and stereo versions we found that the stereo version, after some digital "no noise" dry cleaning, would make a far better master for the CD.

*) Trees, Grass and Rocks, and Work and Leisure Time.

--Folke Rabe

Copyright © 1997 Folke Rabe and Cortical Foundation