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Terry Riley

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Subject: Steve Reich, Minimal music, Tape loop, Electronic music, John Adams (composer)
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Terry Riley

Terry Riley
Birth name Terrence Mitchell Riley
Born (1935-06-24) June 24, 1935
Colfax, California, US

Terrence Mitchell "Terry" Riley[1] (; born June 24, 1935) is an American composer and performing musician[2][3] intrinsically associated with the minimalist school of Western classical music and was a pioneer of the movement. His work has been deeply influenced by both jazz and Indian classical music.


Terry Riley at Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, 1985

Born in Colfax, California, Riley studied at Shasta College, San Francisco State University, and the San Francisco Conservatory before earning an MA in composition at the University of California, Berkeley, studying with Seymour Shifrin and Robert Erickson. He was involved in the experimental San Francisco Tape Music Center working with Morton Subotnick, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, and Ramon Sender. His most influential teacher, however, was Pandit Pran Nath (1918–1996), a master of Indian classical voice, who also taught La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela. Riley made numerous trips to India over the course of their association to study and to accompany him on tabla, tambura, and voice. Throughout the 1960s he traveled frequently around Europe as well, taking in musical influences and supporting himself by playing in piano bars, until he joined the Mills College faculty in 1971 to teach Indian classical music. Riley was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Music at Chapman University in 2007.

Riley also cites John Cage and "the really great chamber music groups of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, and Gil Evans" as influences on his work,[4] demonstrating how he pulled together strands of Eastern music, the Western avant-garde, and jazz.

Riley began his long-lasting association with the Kronos Quartet when he met founder David Harrington while at Mills. Over the course of his career, Riley composed 13 string quartets for the ensemble, in addition to other works. He wrote his first orchestral piece, Jade Palace, in 1991, and has continued to pursue that avenue, with several commissioned orchestral compositions following. Riley is also currently performing and teaching both as an Indian raga vocalist and as a solo pianist. He is married to Anne Riley.[5]

Riley continues to perform live and was part of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in May 2011.[6]

He has three children. One daughter and two sons- Shahn Riley,and the other, Gyan Riley, who is a guitarist.[7]


Riley's music is usually based on improvising through a series of modal figures of different lengths, such as in In C (1964) and the Keyboard Studies. The first performance of In C was given by Steve Reich, Jon Gibson, Pauline Oliveros, and Morton Subotnick. Its form was an innovation: The piece consists of 53 separate modules of roughly one measure apiece, each containing a different musical pattern but each, as the title implies, in the key of C. One performer beats a steady pulse of Cs on the piano to keep tempo. The others, in any number and on any instrument, perform these musical modules following a few loose guidelines, with the different musical modules interlocking in various ways as time goes on.

In the 1950s he was already working with tape loops, a technology then in its infancy, and he has continued manipulating tapes to musical effect, both in the studio and in live performance, throughout his career. An early tape loop piece titled The Gift (1963) featured the trumpet playing of Chet Baker. Riley has composed in just intonation as well as microtonal pieces.[8]

Riley's collaborators have included the Rova Saxophone Quartet, Pauline Oliveros, the ARTE Quartett, and, as mentioned, the Kronos Quartet.

Riley's famous overdubbed electronic album The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Riley", the latter named in tribute to Riley as well as to Meher Baba.[9]

Riley's 1995 Lisbon Concert recording features him in a solo piano format, improvising on his own works. In the liner notes Riley cites Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans as his piano "heroes", illustrating the importance of jazz to his conceptions.



  • 1970 - Corridor. Film by Standish Lawder.
  • 1976 - Crossroads. Film by Bruce Conner.
  • 1976 - Lifespan. Film by Sandy Whitelaw. Soundtrack released as Le secret de la vie in France, on Philips LP 9120 037 (1975).
  • 1976 - Music With Roots in the Aether: Opera for Television. Tape 6: Terry Riley. Produced and directed by Robert Ashley. New York, New York: Lovely Music.
  • 1986 - In Between the Notes...a Portrait of Pandit Pran Nath, Master Indian Musician. Produced by Other Minds, directed by William Farley.
  • 1995 - Musical Outsiders: An American Legacy - Harry Partch, Lou Harrison, and Terry Riley. Directed by Michael Blackwood.
  • 2008 - "A Rainbow In Curved Air" features in the in-game soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto IV. It can be found when listening to the fictional radio station, "The Journey".


  1. ^ Family Tree Legends
  2. ^ Hooper, Greg (June–July 2006). "Hear and now: Terry Riley in Australia". RealTime (Australia) (73): 33. 
  3. ^ "Terry Riley's benefit performance for Old First Concerts". 2012-03-24. 
  4. ^ "[1]"
  5. ^
  6. ^ The 10 Best Moments of All Tomorrow's Parties
  7. ^ Terry And Gyan Riley: Together IN C
  8. ^ Holmes, Thomas B. Electronic and Experimental Music, Taylor & Francis (2008) p. 132, 362 ISBN 978-0-415-95781-6
  9. ^  


External links

  • Official home page
  • 2014 in-depth interview on Innerviews
  • Terry Riley page on Allmusic
  • Terry Riley discography at Discogs
  • Terry Riley page on Ubu Web (audio and video)
  • Davidson, Robert. "Short Biography of Terry Riley." 1999.
  • Elision Fields, Riley's management and CD label
  • A Concert in Honor of Terry Riley on his 50th Birthday, featuring the Kronos Quartet .
  • Terry Riley featuring tracks from The Book of Abbeyozzud and The Light of Foresight (with Rova)
  • Art of the States: Terry Riley In C (1964)
  • Free scores by Terry Riley at the International Music Score Library Project
  • Golden, Barbara. "Conversation with Terry Riley." eContact! 12.2 — Interviews (2) (April 2010). Montréal: CEC.
  • Leopizzi, Marco. "Terry Riley — Il guru del minimalismo." Interview from 1 June 2008. (Italian)
  • NewMusicBox: "Obsessed and Passionate About All Music" (1 June 2001). Terry Riley in conversation with Frank J. Oteri on 16 February 2001. (includes video)
  • Interview with Terry Riley.
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