This week I went to hear Terry Riley’s In C performed at The Carrack by members of the Raleigh New Music Ensemble. (If you don’t know about the piece there’s the obligatory Wikipedia entry, or you can hear Radiolab’s take on it).
People in ‘serious’ music circles like to hate on In C. It’s just so damn pleasant. Unlike other Art Music works written around the same time by the likes of Lutosławski or Milton Babbitt it’s been embraced by a broader audience, with recordings by a number of people.
This cynicism is something I like to participate in too—snidely deriding something so inoffensive as ‘uninteresting’. And to be honest, the piece is a slog. I was guilty of one long blink somewhere around the 35 minute mark. 50 minutes of slowly changing loops? Terry what are you trying to do to me?
But—at least for me—it’s just hipster posturing. An attempt to stay cool and superficial. InsincereDon’t get me wrong, I’m actually a big fan. I wish Terry Riley was my neighbor up in Nevada City. We could have brunch at Ike’s Quarter Cafe..
In C is thoroughly West Coast in it’s intentions and sensibilities. It follows John Cage’s notion of music not as communication, but rather
music as a means of sobering and quieting the mind, thus subjecting it to divine influences“…and it became clear that the divine influences were whatever came to us through our senses”.John cage
Last Tuesday, somewhere in that endless repetition and subtle shifts I hit a meditative moment where I wasn’t thinking about anything. My monkey brain had stopped chattering I was just letting the music pass over me, appreciating the complexities that arise from a bunch of people making something beautiful together. People pay money for that kind of thing, go to spas and such, find gurus. So thanks Terry, the Carrack and the Raleigh New Music Ensemble.
Try it out yourself!
Someone told me before the show that they thought it was more interesting to play In C than listen to it. Luckily, the internet (kinda) provided an option. I found a creative coding project by pixel-to-noise that lets you step through the sequences, playing and visualizing the parts. I made a version that you can try out with no extra setup steps here (probably won’t work on mobile devices, sorry). If you read music you can see the score (and read more about the piece) on New Music Box.
Minimalism was never a word we used for what we did. It was a tag from the art world someone stuck to us later. My heart sinks when I get emails from music students saying they are writing a ‘minimalist piece’. Once you become an ism, what you’re doing is dead.Terry Riley