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Terry Riley

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Posted (edited)

The Wire 278, April 2007

Exclusive web only feature by Julian Cowley

Photo: Steve Jaffe

Terry Riley

Happy Endings

The minimalist composer discusses his film soundtracks. By Julian Cowley

"I never did have a desire to write film music, says Californian

minimalist composer Terry Riley. "But people approached me." The initial

approach came in 1972. "I was living in India at that time," he recalls,

"studying vocal music with Pandit Pran Nath. Director Joël Santoni

called from Paris and said he was making a film and he thought my music

would work well with it." Riley flew to France at the end of March that

year and recorded the soundtrack for Les Yeux Fermés (The Eyes Closed)

at Strawberry Studio, a converted chateau near Paris favoured during the

early 1970s by fashionable figures such as Elton John and David Bowie.

The vinyl release that transpired from that session was called Happy

Ending. It's long been a sought-after rarity and now, following

rediscovery of the original master tapes, it's being reissued on CD by

Tom Welsh's Elision Fields label, together with Riley's soundtrack to

Alexander Whitelaw's 1975 movie Le Secret De La Vie (Lifespan). In each

case the director had been captivated by Riley's "A Rainbow In Curved

Air" and "Poppy Nogood And The Phantom Band", paired in 1969 on a

Columbia LP. In both instances a version of the film had been made using

extracts from that pre-existing music and Riley had been shown those

versions prior to entering the studio. "I wasn't involved in any other

way in the production process but I knew what their atmosphere was," he

recalls.

Happy Ending comprises two side-long pieces: the title track and

"Journey From A Death Of A Friend". Riley multi-tracked, played piano,

electronic keyboard and soprano saxophone with delay. Less

psychedelically brilliant and a little more homespun than A Rainbow In

Curved Air, it's nonetheless cut from the same cloth, hypnotically

repetitive yet energized by an improvisatory openness reminiscent of

ragas and of modal jazz. Les Yeux Fermés has lapsed into cinematic

obscurity. It involves a duel between friends, a suicide and a character

who feigns blindness with unexpected consequences. "It's a very static

film, with not a lot going on," Riley remarks. "The last 20 minutes or

so is a single shot. But it's a very interesting film psychologically. I

think if it were revived it would achieve cult status. Once when I

played in Japan it was shown there and was very well received."

Le Secret De La Vie has recently been resuscitated on DVD, generating

interest in part because the cast includes legendary German actor Klaus

Kinski. "It's another suicide film," Riley points out with an ironic

laugh. The twist in this tale is that the victim is a scientist who

claims he has discovered the secret of eternal life. He takes his life

while attending a conference in Amsterdam and the story then

investigates that paradoxical action. "It has a strange cartoon like

quality," Riley observes. "All the actors' voices are dubbed - even

though they were speaking English. Sandy Whitelaw had worked previously

as an engineer dubbing soundtracks and voiceovers. It was made on a low

budget; he filmed scenes of ordinary people in Amsterdam... with Kinski

wandering amongst them."

Riley flew from California to Holland to record the music for Whitelaw's

film. As before he approached the project as essentially the making of a

self-sufficient album - with more available studio time than he was

accustomed to. Although his compositions were designed to enhance mood

they were not tailored to the visual dimension in a narrowly

programmatic way. The issued disc has six tracks, Riley playing

keyboards and saxophone and singing too on the moody and mesmeric "In

The Summer". There's also the solo original of his alluring "G. Song",

which recurred with variations on Cadenza On The Night Plain

(GRAMAVISION CD), a 1984 collaboration with The Kronos Quartet.

In 1984, in Geneva on a concert tour, Riley and sitar player Krishna

Bhatt were approached by Swiss director Alain Tanner who asked them to

record versions of some of the music they were then performing as a

creative starting point for a film he was planning. They provided the

impetus and colouration Tanner required and the glistening, pulsating

music for No Man's Land documents another stage in the flux of influence

and invention that makes Riley's music so suggestive and exhilarating.

At the end of the 1990s Gary Todd's Cortical Foundation retrieved some

fascinating archival material of Riley music from the early 1960s,

derived in part the composer confides from "stuff sitting out in the

barn. The rats had eaten part of it and I was going to throw it away. I

was sceptical at first but after Gary did it I felt it there was

actually a case for it." Now after protracted research and negotiation

Tom Welsh's re-issue shifts attention to Riley's 1970s output.

Completists may have noted that Riley is credited with supplying music

for Michel Polac's 1973 film La Chute D'Un Corps (The Fall Of A Body)

but although selections from his earlier work were used he wasn't

invited to contribute anything new to that project. There is, however,

one more original soundtrack that remains tantalisingly unavailable at

present. In 1958 a five minute long documentary called Polyester Moon

celebrated the work of sculptor Claire Falkenstein. Photographed by

Anthony Denny, its improvised soundtrack featured Riley playing piano,

Pauline Oliveros on French horn and Loren Rush on koto. Nearly half a

century later, Riley keeps his music current. In May 2007 he will be

performing live at festivals in Scotland and Ireland.

By Julian Cowley

_____

This was an article published online only in addition to the cover

feature on Terry Riley from issue #278 April 2007

© 2007 The Wire.

http://www.thewire.co.uk/

Edited by 7/4

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Such a great photo. This came up in a conversation last night... what a gorgeous instrument.

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That is a Pandit Pran Nath tambura, apparently he had specific specifications. I'd own one but I don't have room for it, plus those Indian instruments with gourds are so sensitive to temp and humidity I'd spend all my time tuning instead of singing. I'd love to have one...

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There's more photos in the magazine. No, I don't own interest. :rfr

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I'm really excited about being able to replace LPs of

Les Yeux Fermes and Lifespan

with wonderfully clear (<cross-fingers>) CD sound.

These albums helped me thru stressful times in high school.

I hope TR decides to bring this Yamaha organ out of storage

for new works - lovely sound.

Other Music has decided to modernize

and offer digital downloads - plus they're

offering long(ish) samples of each cut from new releases.

The Riley is one of them.

R~~

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I'm really excited about being able to replace LPs of

Les Yeux Fermes and Lifespan

with wonderfully clear (<cross-fingers>) CD sound.

These albums helped me thru stressful times in high school.

I have 'em on vinyl, but haven't heard them in years. Amazon just pushed back my delivery of this album - Delivery estimate: May 25, 2007 - June 11, 2007. I wonder if I can find it in NYC before they ship.

I hope TR decides to bring this Yamaha organ out of storage

for new works - lovely sound.

Me too. He's been talking about it for years. I'm all for him creating new music, but I'd really like to hear him play organ again.

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Call 'em up at Other Music and see if it's in stock.

If you've got the Riley "jones", apparently you can download it for $9.99.

R~~

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Call 'em up at Other Music and see if it's in stock.

If you've got the Riley "jones", apparently you can download it for $9.99.

R~~

That's exactly where I was going, unless DMG has it. I can wait for the CD.

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Posted (edited)

I'm really excited about being able to replace LPs of

Les Yeux Fermes and Lifespan

with wonderfully clear (<cross-fingers>) CD sound.

These albums helped me thru stressful times in high school.

I have 'em on vinyl, but haven't heard them in years. Amazon just pushed back my delivery of this album - Delivery estimate: May 25, 2007 - June 11, 2007. I wonder if I can find it in NYC before they ship.

I saw it in a local(Philly) store today.

Edited by Chalupa

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Posted (edited)

I'm really excited about being able to replace LPs of

Les Yeux Fermes and Lifespan

with wonderfully clear (<cross-fingers>) CD sound.

These albums helped me thru stressful times in high school.

I have 'em on vinyl, but haven't heard them in years. Amazon just pushed back my delivery of this album - Delivery estimate: May 25, 2007 - June 11, 2007. I wonder if I can find it in NYC before they ship.

I saw it in a local(Philly) store today.

I'll probably end up killing the Amazon order and getting it locally. It would be typical for them to have issues with a small label.

Edited by 7/4

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That is a Pandit Pran Nath tambura, apparently he had specific specifications. I'd own one but I don't have room for it, plus those Indian instruments with gourds are so sensitive to temp and humidity I'd spend all my time tuning instead of singing. I'd love to have one...

7/4, do you sing Indian classical music?

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That is a Pandit Pran Nath tambura, apparently he had specific specifications. I'd own one but I don't have room for it, plus those Indian instruments with gourds are so sensitive to temp and humidity I'd spend all my time tuning instead of singing. I'd love to have one...

7/4, do you sing Indian classical music?

About 6 years ago I took a bunch of lessons, but didn't stick with it. I'm just not much of a singer. It sure would be nice to have a tambura to play, they sound amazing.

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Posted (edited)

Call 'em up at Other Music and see if it's in stock.

Looks like I'll pick up a copy in the morning! :D

Edited by 7/4

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Great! Not sure what I'm gonna do here.

I'll check a couple of possibilities in the morning as well.

I love the tambura too!

Here's a short excerpt from a long performance of mine

that used multi-tracked tamburas:

Helsinki - March 31, 2007

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Nice.

Did you ever hear the Tamburas of Pandi Pran Nath cd by La Monte Young? They love it because it's so in tune (it is, I've check it with a tuner).

Anyways...I picked up my Riley CD, it's great to hear it again after so many years. It's a mellower, different approach than the kaleidoscope of Shri Camel. But then, all those organ/tape delay albums were not Shri Camel.

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Nice.
Thanks, it was originally billed as a half-hour performance after I agreed to an hour. :wacko:

Then, they asked me if I was free to extend the performance, so I did - to three hours.

Did you ever hear the Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath CD by La Monte Young? They love it because it's so in tune (it is, I've check it with a tuner).
Yeah, it's a wonderful disc. Those tunings were the source of the Helsinki gallery piece that went thru various transformations.
Anyways...I picked up my Riley CD, it's great to hear it again after so many years.

It's a mellower, different approach than the kaleidoscope of Shri Camel.

But then, all those organ/tape delay albums were not Shri Camel.

I still haven't got it yet. I'm hoping that it'll be this weekend.

Haven't taken the time, but I've already convinced a couple of other people to pick it up.

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TerryRiley.jpg

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Anyways...I picked up my Riley CD, it's great to hear it again after so many years.

It's a mellower, different approach than the kaleidoscope of Shri Camel.

But then, all those organ/tape delay albums were not Shri Camel.

I still haven't got it yet. I'm hoping that it'll be this weekend.

Haven't taken the time, but I've already convinced a couple of other people to pick it up.

Did you get your copy yet? :party:

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eh? I can't hear you...

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Posted (edited)

Ooops! Sorry, it seems that your question slipped past me somehow.

I suppose that it took tonight's scanning of the article for a friend to

steer me here.

YES! I got it from Caiman in an instant a month ago

and I love it...still!

How many spins has it had around your place?

Now I know that somewhere around this house

is a copy of Persian Surgery Dervishes...

®ø∂

Edited by rostasi

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How many spins has it had around your place?

Quite a few. There's that first few initial listens, then it sits until it gets rediscovered and makes it's way back over to the stereo.

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hmm...close, but they're different.

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