This Wednesday, August 3, in Geneva, Parc Lagrange, the ensemble Batida and La Nòvia perform “In C”, Terry Riley’s masterpiece that has subjugated rock and techno since its creation in 1964. an extraordinary meeting.
A single A4 sheet. If you play it in concert, you need not turn the page of this score: everything fits on this simple sheet of 53 short musical motives. Welcome to In C, the first major work of what we shall soon call minimalist music or serial music.
In 1964, using magnetic tape and traditional instruments, Californian Terry Riley wrote a masterpiece, even a hit, that has had an influence on most of today’s music, whether rock, pop, techno, and of course contemporary music.
>> Listen: “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, a 1971 song whose title is a combination of the names of Indian guru Meher Baba and Terry Riley, two main influences in the composition of this Pete Townshend song
Great freedom of interpretation
“In C” means “in C”. In this case in the key or scale of C. An instrumentalist starts the tempo from that note, his comrades follow by playing variations around that note, and the affair can last anywhere from 50 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes depending on inspiration , pleasures of the moment or the surprises that any instrumentalist can propose to the whole orchestra. Yes, surprises. As a good American hippie, Terry Riley gave the performers of his score almost complete freedom.
The choice of instruments? The number of instrumentalists? The duration of the work? Its speed? Do what you think is right. The composer left only a few clues to orchestrate what might be likened to joyful musical chaos: “All the performers play the same score of 53 motifs that are repeated. Each performer is free to choose the number of repetitions before not moving on to the next pattern. There is no rule for the number of repetitions.” However, Terry Riley, 87 this year and looking like a mischievous monk, recommends that the performers listen to each other and act out the patterns in turn.
>> Listen: “In C” by Terry Riley released on the album “Terry Riley in C” in 1968. The composer plays the saxophone on it
Inspired by traditional Indian music
It was undoubtedly his practice of traditional Indian music in the very early 1960s that introduced him to this idea of repetition, improvisation and the search for an almost spiritual intensity in creating some sort of tapestry, sound or orchestral flow. The Californian, who is familiar with the Road to India, would accompany Indian classical singer Pandit Prân Nath on the tablas while sometimes playing piano alongside… Pigalle with jazzman Chet Baker or fellow Australian bohemian Daevid Allen, the future guitarists of the pretty hot pop groups Soft Machine and Gong.
At the same time, we note the presence of Terry Riley in New York, accompanied by the experimentalists La Monte Young, Angus Mc Lise and John Cale, the latter the future co-founder of the cult rock formation Velvet Underground, a certain Lou Reed, dedicated to the sonorous, curly-haired dreams of the also owes a lot to the sweet Californian.
>> Listen: “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by the Velvet Underground, whose piano part, performed by John Cale, is inspired by the style of Terry Riley
A version proposed by the Batida Ensemble and La Nòvia
Let’s go back to that “In C”. The Geneva Batida Percussion Ensemble has chosen to perform it accompanied by La Nòvia, a French group focused on radical reinterpretations of traditional Auvergne music (hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes and other violins). The ensemble just released their house version of “In C”, which was doubled with a Riley-inspired version on their Gallo-released CD “Double Face #3”.
Note that the same ensemble Batida rubbed shoulders with rock trio Young Gods a few months ago with “In C”, which trio will soon be releasing an album with their own version of “In C”. We told you this composition was a hit…
>> Listen: “In C” by Terry Riley performed by the Batida Ensemble
“In C” was therefore created in San Francisco in 1964 by an orchestra that included one Steve Reich, who later became a New York legend of contemporary music and who never missed a beat. The discographic version was released in 1968 and a year later Terry Riley, equipped with a synthesizer, released another masterpiece, “Rainbow in a curved air”, its hypnotic sound loops continue to fascinate, musical wave after musical wave.
“In C” by Terry Riley, Ensemble Batida and La Nòvia, Ella Fitzgerald Stage, Parc La Grange – Les Eaux-Vives, Geneva, August 3rd, 9pm Fri.
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