Terry Riley Biography

24 June 1935, Colfax, California, USA. A former ragtime pianist on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, Riley forged an exceptional, avant garde minimalist style which pioneered the use of tape loops and a delay/feedback system. Having studied with fellow radical La Monte Young, he completed his revolutionary piece, ‘In C’, in 1964. Here, Riley’s piano part, the pulse, strikes a uniform tempo as an ensemble plays 53 separate figures. Each musician moves at his/her own pace and the composition is only complete when every player reaches figure 53. Riley found a more widespread audience with A Rainbow In Curved Air, which comprised two lengthy compositions, the title track and ‘Poppy Nogood And The Phantom Band’. Electric organ and electric harpsichord ebb and flow in cyclical patterns, creating a mood adopted by the Soft Machine, Brian Eno, Philip Glass and a host of new age practitioners.

In 1970, Riley travelled to India to study with the North Indian vocal master, Pandit Pran Nath (over the years he would frequently appear as an accompanist to Nath). Church Of Anthrax, a joint effort with John Cale, which for the most part was a unsatisfying collaboration, brought Riley a small degree of commercial success, but he preferred to pursue an irregular release schedule rather than capitalize on any new-found fame. Indeed, it was 1980 before he recorded for the American market, although intermediate releases had been undertaken for European outlets. Riley has frequently collaborated with the acclaimed Kronos Quartet over the years, producing several string quartets and ‘The Sands’ concerto.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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