Copyright © 1988 Folke Rabe and the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation.
Public reproduction - wholly or in part - without the written consent of the copyright owner prohibited.

FOLKE RABE: FROM HOPEFULNESS TO WHAT? Program 2/5, manuscript.
Premier broadcast: 17th February 1988, Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 2. Light adaptation 2006 for the Internet publication.

Terry Riley: Keyboard Study from Untitled Organ /1966/ 1'30

FR: (initially mixed in with the record)
This is a kind of music that may seem to be immobile even though there is lot of fast motion in it. It isn't evolving in any direction. It is static.

If one listens for extended durations one's ears' sensitivity for details becomes gradually enhanced. One starts to notice infinitesimal shifts of focus and emphasis between tones. One begins to discern how the sound is composed of overtones.

After a while you hear many more details than you realized were in place. Therefore I think you can brand this music illusionist. It can cause auditive illusions, like a kind of conjuror's music.

It is no new discovery that repeated, extended sounds can produce psychological phenomena like these. In Africa and Asia alike there are ancient musical traditions that function thus, principally. However, in Western tradition, this music is a rare bird. In fact, it is in direct opposition to terms like question/reply - that a question is followed by an answer - or concepts like dramatic development; that an action leads to another, that there is a continuation.

Those are basic elements in Western culture and music, at least for the last 400 years. In this music, however, changes appear, not because they have to, of some inner necessity… right now, but rather as an expression of a feeling that “now it's enough, now we do it this way instead”. And when this music ends, it's not because it has reached its goal, some kind of apotheosis…, but simply because… well, it's got to end at some point. It could happen two minutes… or three hours later just as well. Often this kind of music ends without any special gesture or marking, just ceases.


The opinion that this music has a hopelessly primitive - not to say sloppy - form, is of course close at hand, if it doesn't matter so much when one thing or other occurs. If one feels like that, I'm afraid one has missed the point, like the professor of harmony who thought that classical Indian music was primitive since it stubbornly kept to one tonality and one tonality only, without modulating over into other keys…

It's pretty common that this - illusionist - music gets kicked at, since it keeps to itself, a little to the side of everything else. The academic establishment believes it too simple and daft, while the avant-garde's more evolutionistic mainstream holds it to be a kind of musical fascism - or populism - to keep so steadfastly to extended tonalities and nagging motoric rhythms and repetitious patterns respectively.

The somewhat ludicrous label that this music got in the beginning of the 1970s is minimalism, and there may be a shade of rejection in that term. On the other hand, this term was imported from the realms of visual arts and sculpture, where it was used for a direction of art that only shows superficial similarities with this form of music. Consequently, I think the term “minimalist music” is unfortunate and misleading.

Well, in the West this music first emerged in the early 1960s. Perhaps it's characteristic that it happened in the USA, where the form of the classical music with its dynamic tendencies of development weren't as rigidly stated as with the European composers. Even more telling is the fact that it happened in a part of the country that lies farthest off from Europe; California, exposed to a tangible oriental cultural influx. The two pioneers are La Monte Young and Terry Riley, who were fellow students at Berkeley University near San Francisco at the conclusion of the 1950s.

Terry Riley has already initiated the show tonight. The opening music was one of his Keyboard Studies, executed by himself on an organ harmonium on a vinyl recording from 1966.

In principal, there are two ways of creating this kind of musical illusion. One is to repeat a sound formula so fast and often that it lingers after a while, all the while present, i.e., not passing along the temporal axis like music mostly does. When it halts in front of you and sort of just rotates, you have the time to perceive all shifts and micro changes in the repetition. It feels like time dissolves, ascending you into a continuous “now”. Repetition was Terry Riley's method during the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s.

The other way is to stretch the sounds for very long durations. This has, for the most part, been La Monte Young's method. His original instrument is the saxophone, and his beginnings were as a modernist jazz musician in the middle of the 1950s. He had already early on developed an interest in extended sounds - the soughing of the wind, the humming of telephone wires - and as early as 1957 he began composing music building on out-drawn drones. La Monte Young may - perhaps with Morton Feldman - be the real pioneer when it comes to - oh well - minimalism. John Cage certainly constitutes some kind of prerequisite behind them all.

During the earliest years of the 60s La Monte Young went through an intermediate time engaging in the loose-knit artist organization Fluxus and made so-called concept art wherein the score could consist of a brief, verbal instruction which oftentimes was more interesting -or illustrious - as an idea, than the sounding result. Several of his Fluxus compositions also build on the drone principle, like for instance Composition 1960 No. 7, which in all simplicity is a fifth - b/f-sharp - with the instruction “to be held out for a long time”.

Beginning in 1962 La Monte Young experimented with absolute just intervals, in contrast with the temperate compromise tuning that we've utilized in the West since the Baroque, and which Bach was so happy for. The music that La Monte Young began then - some years into the 60s - required such a high degree of concentration and exact intonation that he founded a group for that purpose: The Theatre of Eternal Music. The music was often supplemented with lightings by La Monte Young's wife, the visual and light artist Marian Zazeela.

I heard The Theatre of Eternal Music in New York in 1965; a memorable experience, but also terribly loud. A few years later - I've heard rumored - the volume was so incredibly loud that the music could be heard at a distance of 10 kilometers when performed outdoors.

La Monte Young, drone music /1969/

La Monte Young's music really is like random samples out of a continuous process. He often marks this in the titles when the music is committed to records. What we now hear in the background since a while, with La Monte Young's and Marian Zazeela's voices and sinus tone drones, is thus entitled 31st July 1969 22.26 - 22.49.

/The record fades out = total duration 3'30/

In 1970 La Monte Young encountered Pandit Pran Nath, a mastersinger of the North Indian Kirana tradition, and along with Terry Riley he took up studies with him. Later they also gave performances with Pran Nath, and also went on tour with him. There was a dream of a permanent installation with continuous, never-ending drones in La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music. In the spring of 1985 I visited La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, for a documentary for the children's and youth's radio program Himmalajja in the Swedish Broadcasting.

Dream House report (FR) 1985. 2'50

In 1979 Young and Zazeela received a grant from a culture foundation in New York, making possible their longest, permanent installation, lasting for 6 years. However, when I visited the grant was withheld, and their Dream House faced closure. It was a pitiful time. On the other hand, La Monte Young's greatest work - The Well-Tuned Piano - had recently been released in a box on 5 CDs or vinyls respectively, with a total duration of circa 5 hours! I hope we can return to it on a later occasion. /The Well-Tuned Piano was later broadcast by the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 2, divided into five different broadcasts, five consecutive weeks/

Let's return to La Monte Young's old pal Terry Riley. At the end of the 50s they had studied together at Berkeley University, as stated before, but Terry also took composition classes with Robert Erickson. In those days Terry Riley wrote music in the modernist style of the day, a little influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen among others. When he had finished his studies, he went to Europe, settling in Paris, sustaining himself as a bar pianist and newspaperman.

Early in the summer of 1963 a modern theatre festival was held in Paris, where, among others, Ken Dewey would stage a play of his own. Ken was a theatre man and had worked in San Francisco with Ann Halprin and her Dancers' Workshop. Ken met Terry in Paris and asked him to compose music for the play, with the jazz trumpeter Chet Baker and his quartet. They were granted studio time by the French Radio.

Terry Riley experimented with tape loops and tapes running between different tape recorders, where the sound is re-introduced, and - as he later wrote - “ an enchanted music emerged, which would absorb me the following ten years.”

Terry Riley: from “She Moves Sh” /1963/, 3'30

That how the beginning of She Moves Sh sounds, Terry Riley's music for Ken Dewey's play The Gift in Paris 1963 with the voice of John Graham, and some tones from Chet Baker's trumpet were heard too. Terry Riley had discovered the possibilities hidden in repetition, delay and layering, and he was completely absorbed by the experience.

During the summer he joined Ken Dewey to Finland, and that was where I met him for the first time. He participated in Helsinki Street Piece, the first of s series of grand scale, notorious happening performances that Ken Dewey arranged in collaboration with local talents in the Nordic countries and England in 1963 - 64. Ken was an outstanding catalyst, shoving people together that hadn't known each other, stimulating them into fruitful collaborations. He played an important role, for example, during the first time of Pistolteatern [the Pistol Theatre] in the Old Town of Stockholm. Ken Dewey was something of a Sergey Djagilev of the 60s.

Anyhow, after Finland Terry Riley spent a few days in Stockholm before scrambling along down to Paris in his VW Beetle. A little later he returned to the USA, and while riding the bus west to San Francisco - a ride that takes three nights and days - he had plenty of time to compose the ensemble piece In C, which became a real classic and a pioneering work within the illusionist repetition music.

In C was premiered in San Francisco that very year, 1964, and at that time Arne Mellnäs [Swedish composer] happened to be in the audience. The work consists of 53 melodic motifs around the C tonality, which the individual player repeats as many times he wishes, before moving on to the next figure, albeit with a self-evident glance towards how his contribution works in the total context. The result is a complex, manifold canon.

Terry Riley: In C /1964/. Recording from The San Francisco Tape Music Center, spring of 1965. 1'30.

In C immediately stirred a certain sensation and was performed several times in the San Francisco area the following years. This recording is a concert performance at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the spring of 1965, lacking any distinguished technical ambitions, but it's still interesting. The tempo, for instance, is slower and more spaced out than in many later, more vigorous and tight recordings.

On this occasion Steve Reich sat in with the ensemble, as I recall it. In any case, his girlfriend provided the pulse; the repetitious high piano C. In the eyes of the public I think Steve Reich - and Philip Glass - are perceived as the inventors of minimalism, holy smoke, but that is not correct. They were rather the exploiters of minimalism, und dadurch sind sie ganz reich geworden.

In those days - 1965 - Steve reich composed this kind of music, and I hope you're listening in stereo, because here the sounds are, indeed, jumping.

Steve Reich: Livelihood. 2'45

This tape composition is called Livelihood. It, as a matter of fact, builds on recordings from Steve Reich's activity as a cab driver during his study time in San Francisco. If I'm allowed a personal opinion I enjoy this little piece more than the rather pretentious works that have made him famous and established.

Ok, that was a parenthesis. Back to Terry Riley and In C. That piece has become, literally, a classic. I suppose this depends on that it was the first work that was consistently based on repetition, but executed in such a way that the result still became complex as well as varying, and this, what is more, with a minimum of notes. It was also a genially simple way of achieving collective improvisation in a big ensemble. It can be played in any size ensemble, as long as you're able to hear each other. Furthermore, it is very enjoyable to play the piece. You experience your role in the collective palpably.

The consequence has become that In C is a piece you return to. It's on the repertoire in its special genre. When In C turned 20 in 1984, it was performed at that year's New Music America Festival, and the 25th anniversary draws near next year, it will be thoroughly celebrated, I was informed just recently. It will be performed in Peking by a large ensemble with traditional Chinese instruments. Possibly Terry Riley will write a new piece directly for the Chinese ensemble too, and the concert will be recorded and released on a double album. Terry is very much bent on this project; in part the overtone-rich sound of the Chinese instruments is probably very suitable for music like In C, and in part it will be interesting to see how the Chinese musicians will react to this decidedly collective principle of performance practice.

/Added information 15th December 2005: Only one CD came out, and it was with a film music orchestra from Shanghai. Their version of In C became only 29 minutes long. Terry didn't write a new piece, but the CD was filled out with music by the Chinese composer David Mingyue Liang./

Improvisation is thus an important element for Terry Riley as it is for many of his American contemporaries. However, in Terry Riley's case there is also an attraction towards improvisation in the Afro-American sense. Even though he hasn't appeared as a professional jazz or rock musician, his musical attitude comes pretty close to such music.

In San Francisco in 1965 we socialized quite a bit. We often sat all night listening to the radio, to the wildly imaginative disc jockeys that composed - or rather improvised - strange sound paintings during their 6-hour shifts. Terry was impressed and meant that this could be a lesson for you as a composer; that it in fact is possible to create magnificent and complex sound events in an informal and playful way. He'd had the same experience when he heard the saxophonist Cannonball Adderley at a jazz club. In those surroundings too, you had much to learn as a composer, he thought.


Interview with Terry Riley, May 1965, San Francisco: "I think they were learning it from jazz musicians the Composer's Forum it's a part of their social life, and that's about all, he-he-he."

What Terry Riley appreciated so much about Cannonball Adderley that time, 1965, was that with him the music was joy and an integral part of life, while within the group around Composers' Forum in San Francisco, music was just a part of social life, he meant. And by all means, the concert organization Composers' Forum in San Francisco probably was rather petrified around this time - 1965 - and it was discontinued the year after.

When I came home [to Sweden] after this first and enormously rewarding visit, Karl-Birger Blomdahl asked me what I had thought the most interesting.

(Karl-Birger Blomdahl had then recently left his position as Professor of Composition and become Head of Music at the Swedish Broadcast Corporation.) I replied that it was Terry Riley's new music, and Karl-Birger immediately decided: “Then let's bring him here”, and in the spring of 1967 Terry was a guest composer at the Royal College of Music [in Stockholm], performed In C with a group of students and a newly composed work - Olson III - for a choir and orchestra from the Community Music School of Nacka [Stockholm].

Olson III was constructed in a way similar to In C, albeit rhythmically more elementary. The melodic motifs here strictly build on the common pulse. Over to the assembly-hall in Nacka 27th of April 1967:

Terry Riley: Olson III /1967/, choir and orchestra from the Nacka Community Music School. 3'10.
/An experimental stereo recording from the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. Now available on CD; Organ of Corti 3./

Terry's presence in Stockholm that spring was momentous, I declare, and he made a lasting impression on some composers, but perhaps the most on that which started growing then, that which later would be branded the progressive music movement. I especially think about a group like Träd, Gräs och Stenar.

The concert in Nacka was controversial, for a number of reasons. The day after the concert an evaluation in the shape of a panel debate took place, which you find in the archives of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation under the remarkable header: “Discussion about whether it was appropriate that the composer Terry Riley had been engaged to lead a performance of his composition Olson III with pupils of the Nacka Music School”.

But that was exactly the way it was. That was what it was about. Terry didn't bring any gradual study method, but just sat in with his soprano saxophone and began playing with the choir and the orchestra, who had to struggle ahead to keep it all together through listening to him and most of all to each other.

There are certainly different opinions about the advisability of working that way in the Community Music School. However, at this debate, Terry described his way of working, and that says a great deal about the differences in attitude in his music vis-à-vis the more traditional, serious music making.

He is not the kind of composer who arrives with completed scores, but rather with certain ideas to work with. In addition to ensemble music like In C and Olson III, he also nurtured solo music for keyboard instruments at this time, so-called Keyboard Studies, and it was that kind of music we heard in the beginning of this program. This solo music kept developing all the time during hours of daily, or - for that matter - nocturnal exercises. When he played it at concerts, the music simply appeared in the stage it had reached at that moment of the process of exercises. That way of working - which was the natural one for him - he also wanted to try with the Nacka students, and at the concert he felt that they had reached both affinity and feeling in the performance.

”I'm not any composer in the sense…and no great person has ever been safe.” Declaration by Terry Riley in 1967, in the archive of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation.. 1'37.

A measure of danger has to be present in the music. If you are an obedient little boy and just do as told, life becomes pretty boring and uninteresting. In Nacka we often balanced on the rim of the abyss, and so be it, because it is then you realize what heights you can reach. No great personality has ever been secure, Terry Riley said in 1967, and he has often returned to the significance of danger in music on later occasions.

Terry was influenced by the strong feeling of presence that he experienced in Afro-American music, but it was a mutual communication. I have already mentioned Terry's significance for a group like Träd, Gräs och Stenar.

When he was in Stockholm two years ago [1986] and performed his new, large-scale composition for specially tuned piano - Harp of New Albion - we had a conversation where we also touched upon this matter.

Terry knows for example that The Who - the well-known British rock group from the 60s - and their solo guitarist Pete Townshend, have listened a lot to In C and the solo keyboard work A Rainbow in Curved Air. On one of their albums - Who's Next? - from 1971, there is a little greeting for Terry Riley in the shape of a pseudo minimal track by the title "Baba O'Riley".

The Who: Baba O'Riley, 0'50

Interview with Terry Riley, 1986, Stockholm: "I know that Pete Townshend was very interested....rhythmic pattern music that I'm associated with. ---- /The Who fade out here/ ---- It's possible, though, so I wouldn't be surprised."

Lately Terry Riley has experimented with specially tuned piano, possibly influenced by La Monte Young, and he foresees that such alternative principles of tuning can be something that rock musicians will take a shine to. However, the special intonation requires a kind of listening for subtleties which doesn't really fit in with the strong expression of energy of rock music - but who knows; rock music thrives on elements from many areas… Over all, the lyric synth pop exists in close proximity with minimalism. Sometimes the difference is illusionary.

Now we have slipped a little to far ahead. At the end of the 60s Terry had began working with modal tone caches, which could remind you of the classical ragas of Indian music. 1970 he went all the way, and placed himself with crossed legs on a rug as a student with Pandit Pran Nath, a temple singer and master of the [vocal] North Indian Kirana tradition.

Pandit Pran Nath: Raga Darbari. 2'00

That really was staring from scratch. Terry studied for several years, and this changed his music as well as his way of living. “It is an almost impossible mountain to climb”, his old teacher of composition - Robert Erickson - wrote to me in a letter, in a tone that conveyed both concern and admiration.

Terry, by the way, gave a special performance in Stockholm in the beginning of the 70s, partly with a solo concert, partly with Pandit Pran Nath. It was after this change of course that Terry had all his keyboard instruments retuned to just intonation. He works with a raga-like set of tones and now composes vocal music that he sings himself.

Since the middle of the 70s Terry Riley lives in Northern California, on the slopes of Sierra Nevada, in a landscape that is somewhat reminiscent of Norway; forested with steep mountains. There he has a small farm with a music studio in an annex.

When I was transiting a few years ago I slept over in that studio and was somewhat surprised at the altar-like arrangements there. I asked Terry if he'd become a Buddhist in the process, but no. He doesn't feel allied with any religious group, but the music in itself is uplifting without having to be connected to any religious ideas.

Interview with Terry Riley, 1986, Stockholm: "No, I don't actually....a very high feeling of spirituality." 0'33

Solely through practicing playing he reaches a high feeling of spirituality. But I didn't give up. I wanted to know what those altar arrangements represented. Sure there were altars there, he admitted, but Terry means that they can have a function outside of a pure religious practice, as a center of focus in the room, somewhere to let go in devotion, of a non-religious kind.

In India he did meet several saints who inspired him much, but mostly as role models for living.

Interview with Terry Riley, 1986, Stockholm: "Well, there are shrines there ... wouldn't even want to be associated with it."

He doesn't feel the need for a mediator between himself and the divine energy that flows out there, what ever it may be. There are people who feel the need to practice their spirituality collectively, but after a while such groups tend to alter the message in such a way that the original founder well would want distance himself from it all, could he only. This development has been obvious many times through history.

This spiritual posture of Terry Riley's, which of course also permeates his music, has attracted criticism from various quarters, accusing him of being detached, unworldly and irresponsible, but that isn't really the case. He doesn't believe that spirituality in any way is in opposition to the practical and material sides of life. On the contrary, it provides clear-sightedness, and he doesn't hold back when talking about the current US administration, and he calls the president the most dangerous man alive. /This was in 1985 and the president at that time was Ronald Raegan./

Terry would like to perform in Cuba and Nicaragua and in other places where there is a living revolutionary spirit and an ongoing fight against poverty and oppression. He wouldn't make his music politically offensive, but he'd like to stand shoulder to shoulder with the freedom fighters.

The fact is, that the music he made at the conclusion of the 60s for Ken Dewey's happenings in some cases even had a drastic, politically provocative function, when the subject was racial oppression. It was terrible music wherein tape loops with outrageous utterances from racist politicians were repeated and layered, thundering out of the loudspeakers.


In the middle of the 80s Terry Riley, out of the blue, began composing music in a traditional way, with notation and thorough scores. That was because he got in touch with the Kronos Quartet; a distinguished string quartet from San Francisco with a very original and modern repertoire. That contact spurred a row of Terry Riley string quartets, and as of now [1988] they are rehearsing a piano quintet wherein Terry of course plays the piano part (on a specially tuned grand piano!).

On the whole, he has ceased using electronic keyboard instruments and means of manipulation. He is involving himself mostly in just, non-tempered tunings now, which brings with it some practical problems. When he toured two years ago [1986] and visited Stockholm, he didn't have to carry with him and hook up a lot of electronic gadgetry, but instead he had to bring a piano tuner along. In addition to being tuned in just intonation, it is also prepared - or muted - with the aid of rubber wedges.

We will listen to a section of the composition he played then. It's called The Harp of New Albion, and has recently been released, on CD and vinyl simultaneously. This work is the third in a series Ancient American Mythological Portraits, building on a legend about a harp that one of Sir Francis Drake's crewmen brought along. When they landed on the strip of land on the American West Coast, which nowadays is San Francisco, Francis Drake named the area New Albion.

The ship sailed on, but the harp was forgotten on the beach. Later it was discovered by a shaman from the aboriginal people. He considered it a holy object, and placed it on an altar on a cliff high above the sea. There the westerleys played it, and alterations of temperature and atmospheric humidity created continuous shifts of modes.

Terry Riley: The Harp of New Albion, movement 5 "Cadence on the Wind", 5'02
Celestial Harmonies CEL 018/19, 03.01


English translation: Ingvar Loco Nordin