Monday, July 4, 2011

Terry Riley's "In C" Live on Governor's Island

by baad lamb
The mesmerizing musical minimalism of Terry Riley's seminal 1964 work "In C" was the kickoff performance of what one hopes will become a (much larger) annual contemporary classical music festival.  "Rite of Summer" has two more scheduled dates of live performances on Governor's Island this summer. (Take the free ferry from the Maritime Building- and bring your bike!).

Whether you find this piece brilliant or boring may depend on your musical adventurism. Saturday's performance of In C began with the first repetitive staccato "C" notes plunked out on a toy piano by the conductor/keyboardist Jed Distler, setting an insistent but measured tempo that does not change for the length of the performance. There is no melody in the conventional sense. Instead, 53 single-bar patterns are played in sequential order by the collected group of musicians. According to the performing directions Mr. Riley wrote to accompany the musical notations, "A group of about 35 is desired if possible, but smaller or larger groups will work." There were approximately 40 musicians on Saturday.

As the piece progresses, individual musicians choose when to enter or depart, and how many times to repeat the phrase they are on. The directions also state the musicians should occasionally drop out and listen, stay within two or three patterns of each other, and alter their alignment with others if there is too much unison. This carefully controlled randomness allows for individual and group improvisation, with the resulting chance-patterns and harmonic overtones giving the piece its sonic depth.

If all this "instruction" leads you to believe that only studious lefty-leaning adults can enjoy this music, you would be wrong. There were plenty of very young children in attendance, and they danced, shook, ran around, or just plain gazed thoughtfully throughout the 45 minutes of this shimmering, engaging outdoor performance.

More pictures, the sheet music and Terry Riley's original performance instructions after the jump...

...and everything embigggens nicely.

           Tony anticipates                the left half of the musicians                 the tempo ticker taps away

e-cello & guitars                               the toy piano

follow this link to the PDF of the instructions and musical patterns shown in jpeg above

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