If you’ve never heard “In C” by Terry Riley, you really should.
But think about when. It’s not the kind of tune you can chuck on yr iPod and blast out while you are getting ready for work/school/a date.
It’s an experience.
It will consume and transport you.
My first time was lying down in a church in Totnes. I’d bought my own pillow, so it was fine. It utterly blew my mind.
It’s part of the Minimalism ouvre. Which is a pretty amazing one, as ouvres go. Phillip Glass and Steve Reich are other Minimalist composers. Check them out too.
Every performance of “In C” is quite different. It’s designed to be. The score is quite fantastic – 53 “phrases” of varying length, played by each member of the ensemble, starting at different times, repeating each phrase as often as they feel like before moving to the next. They can even skip phrases if they want. The one unifying thread is a constant pulse of the note C played in quavers, or eigth notes if you are american. The result is a mesmeric ephemeral tapestry of sound, at once vivid yet ungraspable, and utterly unique to that performance, that moment, that listener. I’ve wondered often if the constantly shifting patterns that emerge from the chaos of such a deliberately anarchic score exist as a function of the combinations of notes happening accidentally at that time, or if they are completey subjective results of the human brain’s proclivity for finding patterns and order – you know, the way a face appears in the moon, or jesus on a piece of toast. Extrinsic or imputed.
But then I’ve wondered that about everything at some time or another. A result of abusing LSD and then resorting to a bastardised version of Tibetan Buddhism to help repair the mess the LSD made. I don’t recommend either for too long.
So far I’ve only been a listener. A passive observer. Which is a beautiful thing, but I think there’s more to be unlocked in this piece. I want to see what it’s like from the INSIDE. That means playing it. I have a couple of barriers to overcome first: I can’t play any instrument at all. And I can’t read music.
This could take a while.
But I’ve got no deadline to meet, so what the hell.
So I’m not planning on playing this live to an audience. I’d need years of practice to do that. But I could feasibly learn the phrases individually on a few instruments. A piano, a xylophone, maybe a guitar and a recorder. I’d kill several birds with this stone, learning not only instruments, but reading music and learning recording/mixing sofware. A proper Project.
Tomorrow is the real beginning. Beth has offered to help me learn the first couple of phrases on piano. I’m so excited!!!
I’m also finding out a lot more about the recorded versions of this amazing piece – there are so many! Most are ensembles, of various composition. But part of writing this blog entry has pointed me to a recording by Hans Balmer on flute – it’s just him, playing different flutes, overdubbed. It sounds incredible. Here’s a link to the MP3 version on Amazon. I totally recommend it. I’ve been listening while writing this. The “Piece in the shape of a square” he plays (By Phillip Glass) is ace too. I’ve never heard it before. Definitely be looking for more versions of this 🙂
I haven’t decided if I’ll upload my phrases as I go, or wait till I’ve got a whole part. If you get me.
Wish me luck.