Terry Riley

Terry Riley

born on 24/6/1935 in Colfax, California, United States

Terry Riley

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Terry Riley
Birth name Terrence Mitchell Riley
Born June 24 1935
Origin Colfax, California, USA
Genres Minimalist
Occupations Composer
Instruments Piano, keyboards, saxophone
Labels CBS Records
New Albion Records
Website terryriley.net
Notable instruments
Electronic organ

Terrence Mitchell Riley,[1] born June 24, 1935, is an American composer associated with the minimalist school of Western classical music.


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.

Also during the 1960s were the famous "All-Night Concerts", during which Riley performed mostly improvised music from evening until sunrise, using an old organ harmonium ("with a vacuum cleaner motor blower blowing into the ballasts") and tape-delayed saxophone. When he finally wanted a break, after hours of playing, he played back looped saxophone fragments recorded throughout the evening. For several years he continued to put on these concerts, to which people came with sleeping bags, hammocks, and their whole families.

Riley began his long-lasting association with the Kronos Quartet by meeting its 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 has a son named Gyan Riley, who is a guitarist.[2] Riley still performs live. He has been chosen by Animal Collective to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that they will curate in May 2011.[3]


While his early endeavors were influenced by Stockhausen, Riley changed direction after first encountering La Monte Young, in whose Theater of Eternal Music he later performed in 1965-66. The String Quartet (1960) was Riley's first work in this new style; it was followed shortly after by a string trio, in which he first employed the repetitive short phrases for which he and minimalism are now known.

His music is usually based on improvising through a series of modal figures of different lengths, such as in In C and the Keyboard Studies. In C (1964) is Riley's best-known work and one that brought the minimalist music movement to prominence. Its first performance was given by Steve Reich, Jon Gibson, Pauline Oliveros, and Morton Subotnick, among others, and it has influenced their work and that of many others, including John Adams, Roberto Carnevale, and Philip Glass. 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. The Keyboard Studies are similarly structured – a single-performer version of the same concept.

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. He has composed in just intonation as well as microtonal pieces.

Riley's collaborators include the Rova Saxophone Quartet, Pauline Oliveros, and, as mentioned, the Kronos Quartet.

A Rainbow in Curved Air inspired Pete Townshend's synthesizer parts on 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.[4]


  • 1965: Reed Streams
  • 1968: In C
  • 1969: A Rainbow in Curved Air
  • 1970: Church of Anthrax, with John Cale
  • 1972: Persian Surgery Dervishes
  • 1975: Descending Moonshine Dervishes, Kuckucku Records
  • 1978: Shri Camel for solo electronic organ tuned in just intonation and modified by digital delay
  • 1984: Terry Riley: Cadenza on the Night Plain, a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet
  • 1986: The Harp of New Albion, for piano tuned in just intonation
  • 1987: Chanting the Light of Foresight, with Rova Saxophone Quartet in just intonation
  • 1996: Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band
  • 2002: Sun Rings for the Kronos Quartet
  • 2004: The Cusp of Magic, with Kronos Quartet, composed for his seventieth birthday, an ode to the rite of Midsummer Eve
  • 2010: Two Early Works, the first-ever recordings of two of Riley's early compositions, performed by the Calder Quartet


  • 1970 - Corridor. Film by Standish Lawder.
  • 1976 - Crossroads. Film by Bruce Conner.
  • 1976 - Lifespan. Film by Sandy Whitelaw. Soundtrack released as La Secret De La Vie.
  • 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. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104061137
  3. ATP: All Tomorrow's Parties
  4. The Who: The Ultimate Collection, (2002), The Who, MCA Records,


  • [Anonymous] (2002). Album notes for The Who: The Ultimate Collection by The Who, 12. MCA Records.
  • Potter, Keith (2000). Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass. Music in the Twentieth Century series. Cambridge, UK; New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Edward Strickland, "Terry Riley". Grove Music Online (subscription access).

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Terry Riley

  • Official home page
  • [Terry Riley at All Music Guide Terry Riley page on Allmusic]
  • Terry Riley page on Ubu Web (audio and video)
  • Davidson, Robert. Short Biography of Terry Riley. 1999.
  • Elision Fields, Rileys management and CD label
  • Otherminds.org score of Rileys In C (PDF)
  • A Concert in Honor of Terry Riley on his 50th Birthday, featuring the Kronos Quartet .
  • Epitonic.com: 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 in 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. Musicaround.net. (Italian)
  • Oteri, Frank J. Terry Riley: Obsessed and Passionate About All Music. Interview from 16 February 2001 (includes video). NewMusicBox  People & Ideas in Profile, 1 June 2001.
  • Interview with Terry Riley.
This page was last modified 23.02.2011 23:43:24

This article uses material from the article Terry Riley from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.