In Geneva, Parc Lagrange, this Wednesday, August 3, the Ensemble Batida and La Nòvia are playing “In C”, Terry Riley’s masterpiece which has subjugated rock and techno since its creation in 1964. exceptional meeting.
A single A4 sheet. When you play it in concert, there’s no need to turn the page of this score: everything fits on this simple sheet of 53 brief musical motifs. Welcome to “In C”, the first major work of what we will soon call minimalist music or serial music.
In 1964, the Californian Terry Riley wrote with the help of magnetic tapes and traditional instruments a masterpiece, a hit even, whose influence endures in most current music, whether rock, pop, techno and of course contemporary music.
>> To listen: “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, a 1971 song whose title is a combination of the names of Indian guru Meher Baba and Terry Riley, two major influences in the composition of this song by Pete Townshend
Great freedom of interpretation
“In C” means “in C”. In this case in the key or scale of C. An instrumentalist starts the tempo with this note, his comrades follow by playing variations around said note and the affair can last between 50 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes, depending on the inspiration, the pleasure of the moment or the surprises that each instrumentalist can propose to the whole orchestra. Yes, surprises. As a good American hippie, Terry Riley left almost complete freedom to the performers of his score.
The choice of instruments? The number of instrumentalists? The duration of the work? His speed? Do as you see fit. The composer has just left a few indications to orchestrate what could be likened to a joyful musical chaos: “All the performers play the same score of 53 motifs to be repeated. Each performer is free to choose the number of repetitions before he does not continue to the next pattern. There is no rule for the number of repetitions.” Terry Riley, 87 this year and looking like a mischievous monk, however recommends that performers listen to each other and play the patterns in order.
>> To listen: “In C” by Terry Riley, published on the album “Terry Riley in C” in 1968. The composer plays the saxophone on it
Inspired by traditional Indian music
It was undoubtedly his practice of traditional Indian music at the very beginning of the sixties that familiarized him with this idea of repetition, improvisation and the search for an almost spiritual intensity in the creation of a kind of carpet. sound or orchestral flow. Familiar with the route to India, the Californian accompanied the classical Indian singer Pandit Prân Nath on the tablas while sometimes playing the piano on the side of… Pigalle with the jazzman Chet Baker or his fellow bohemian Australian Daevid Allen, future guitarist of the fairly hot pop groups Soft Machine and Gong.
At the same time, we note the presence of Terry Riley in New York, in the company of experimenters La Monte Young, Angus Mc Lise and John Cale, the latter being the future co-founder of the Velvet Underground, a cult rock formation by a certain Lou Reed who also owes a lot to the sweet Californian’s sonorous, curly dreams.
>> To listen: “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by Velvet Underground whose piano part, played by John Cale, is inspired by the style of Terry Riley
A version proposed by the Batida Ensemble and La Nòvia
Let’s go back to this “In C”. The Geneva Batida Percussion Ensemble has chosen to perform it in the company of La Nòvia, a French group focused on the radical reinterpretation of traditional Auvergne music (hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes and other violins). The Ensemble has just released its house version of “In C” doubled with a version inspired by the work of Riley on its CD “Double Face #3” published by Gallo.
Note that a few months ago, this same Ensemble Batida rubbed shoulders with “In C” with the rock trio Young Gods, which trio will soon release an album with its own version of “In C”. We told you that this composition was a hit…
>> To listen: “In C” by Terry Riley performed by the Batida Ensemble
“In C” was therefore created in 1964 in San Francisco by an orchestra including a certain Steve Reich, future New York legend of contemporary music, who did not miss a beat. The discographic version appeared in 1968 and a year later, equipped with a synthesizer, Terry Riley released another masterpiece, “Rainbow in a curved air” (“rainbow in a curved air”, but that had he then consumed?) whose hypnotic sound loops continue to fascinate, musical wave after musical wave.
“In C” by Terry Riley, Ensemble Batida and La Nòvia, Ella Fitzgerald Stage, Parc La Grange – Les Eaux-Vives, Geneva, August 3, 9 p.m. Free.