One of the giants of minimalism, Terry Riley’s influence on the music of today is profound. Pulling together strands of eastern music, the western avant-garde and jazz, his work is perhaps the most eclectic of the original minimalist composers. It is also the most chaotic. There is a ramshackle joy that runs through Riley’s music, and it’s this that makes his live performances such a pleasure to watch. Returning to Manchester for the first time in eight years, this master of minimalism will be joined at RNCM by his son Gyan Riley for an intimate and stripped back concert during which the pair will take a trip through Riley Sr’s awe-inspiring catalogue of works.
Riley is best known for his 1964 composition ‘In C’ and his 1969 album A Rainbow in Curved Air. Both represent landmarks in minimalist music. Employing repetition in a way that had never been done before, these ground-breaking works were informed by Riley’s experimentation with tape machines. For his tape work ‘Music For the Gift’, Riley and his technician created The Time Lag Accumulator – a tape delay/feedback system which utilised two tape machines in order to accumulate audio over time. Piquing Riley’s interest in repetition as a musical form, this system and this piece led him to seek a similar result with an orchestra. Built out of 53 rhythmic patterns and very little else, ‘In C’ was like nothing like nothing that had preceded it in Western music.
This wasn’t where Riley’s exploration ended, though. Whilst teaching in Oakland in the 1970’s he met David Harrington, the founder of Kronos Quartet. This sparked an incredibly fruitful relationship which has now lasted more than thirty years, and which has so far produced 27 works. Another important meeting for Riley was with Prandit Pran Nath, an Indian vocal master with whom Riley studied for many years. It’s this study that led Riley to more fully embrace improvisation, which is a crucial aspect of his music. When it comes to interpreting his works live, part of what makes Riley’s concerts so exciting is the fluidity with which he approaches them. Whether it’s in his piano solo concerts, or his concerts for small ensembles, improvisation is everything, and it keeps his music wonderfully alive.
Riley will share the stage with his son, Gyan Riley. Riley Jr is a composer and guitarist whose writing and playing is adventurous and virtuosic in equal measure. His musical approach combines elements of Spanish classical, contemporary, French jazz and Indian classical. Regarded as one of the most inventive American guitarists in the genre, he has played with the likes of Lou Reed, John Zorn and The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Passionate and deeply personal, his latest album Sprig is gorgeous. There is a stark beauty in tracks like ‘Time is Only a Number’ which is utterly enchanting. Who knows… we might even get a glimpse of a few of these tracks at RNCM.
A rare opportunity to witness the synergy between father and son, it will surely be a thrill to see how Gyan’s intricate and enigmatic style fuses with that of his father. Speaking about his collaboration with Gyan, Terry Riley clearly holds this run of concerts very dearly:
“Nothing I have done in this life has given me more satisfaction than improvising on these songs with Gyan. Nothing I have done can match the intuitive synchronicity we have shared many times on the stage. Gyan supplies a brilliant counterpoint to the strands and moods of these pieces always surprising me with a virtuosity that serves and energizes his musical invention. I could not have dreamed up a better marriage of mind and spirit than this collaboration.” – Terry Riley
Clearly, this is not a concert to skip!