Terry Riley, organ
About This Performance
Acknowledged as the founding father of Minimalism and revered for his hypnotic, trance-inducing flights at the keyboard, Terry Riley will create a new work especially for the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ, performing it in this unique, one-night-only event.
About the Program
by Terry Riley
A Little History
From 1967 until 1979 I gave numerous concerts on electronic organs coupled with tape delay to pioneer a new kind of extended duration performance that was variously called Pattern, Trance, Meditative, and Psychedelic, and sometimes (shudder!) Minimalist. Some of these concerts lasted all night like the ones given on the Intermedia ’68 tour sponsored by the New York State Arts Council. The organs I owned and preferred were both called dual manual electronic combos. The Vox Super Continental, with its black and white keys, also had drawbars, similar to the ones found on a Hammond B-3. It allowed me to play a pattern with one hand while very slowly manipulating the drawbars to alter timbre and harmonics with the other.
After the Vox, I played a Yamaha YC 45-D for many years that was customized for me by Chester Wood, who often accompanied me on tour as a sound technician. I soon learned that I could open up the case of both these instruments and get at all the little knobs and gizmos on the inside that would let me retune them in order to have pure intervals in just intonation, which contributed to the tonal palette of Sri Camel and other keyboard pieces of this era. A Rainbow in Curved Air and Persian Surgery Dervishes were recorded using these Vox and Yamaha models.
Frequently, while performing in France in the 1970s, I had the opportunity to give concerts in some of the massive cathedrals, such as the one at Notre Dame de Rheims and the Église San Roch in Paris, where, one late night, 6000 flower children filled the sacred space with smoke and kept the resident priests busy stamping out their discarded “roaches” as I attempted to spin out long cycles on the Yamaha.
Occasionally I would get the opportunity to try out a pipe organ in some of the venues I was playing, such as the cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. When I did, I could not help but feel that these were the original “cosmic sound generators” and this, combined with the delicately arched and vaulted spaces they inhabit, could cause the imagination to rocket skyward. These marvelous organs, equal to the task of making the very stones tremble and vibrate, have always moved the listener with their power and sonic range. The sculpted resonance of a 32-foot pipe can drive a humbling thunderbolt through the sternum, or the enchanting sound of flute and reed choirs cascading down from the ceiling can inspire a sense of sublime innocence. It is astounding to contemplate that this power has been available to humankind centuries before the advent of Rock and Roll.
While attending the Minimalist Jukebox festival in 2006 at Walt Disney Concert Hall, I heard for the first time the resident organ. It not only sounded amazing, its 21st-century look pounded the senses as well. “Must play it sometime!” came out of my mouth and the universe opened up to grant the wish.
On June 17, 2007, I made my first visit to sit at the instrument for a few hours of orientation. I was greeted by Manuel Rosales, whose company shared in the organ’s construction with Glatter-Götz Orgelbau of Owingen, Germany.
Being essentially a pianist with some synth and electronic organ skills, I felt vastly inadequate when I first sat at the console. The thought that came first came to mind was, well, I can drive a Honda …BUT THIS IS A 747! Rosales patiently led me through the basics and on my next trip to the hall, the organ’s curator, Phil Smith, gave me another very helpful tutorial… I was off on my adventure.
Since then I have come to Disney Hall every few months for streaks of four night rehearsals…midnight to 6 a.m. The Hall is a magnificent temple, when I am all alone in the wee hours, except for Rocky, the night watchman, who looks in on me from time to time, makes sure the lights are on, etc. On the winter solstice of 2007, Michael and Amy McClure brought a group of friends to hear a private all-night rehearsal. It was a memorable way to relive those all-night concerts of the ’60s and I was grateful to try out some of the new music on these discerning guests.
A Persian Surgery Dervish in the Nursery
APSDITN (2008) goes back to 1965, when I made a keyboard study out of four notes, A-flat-G-B-flat-F. The earliest version of this piece was this motive repeated over and over (in a very fast tempo) with either right or left hand or in octaves with both hands together. Most performances lasted around 20 minutes. The effect was like listening to a motor whose fundamental and harmonic components would phase shift so that any of the four notes could be perceived as the downbeat. Keyboard Study 2 eventually included motives of three, four, six, and seven notes and with motives being combined in right- and left-hand arrangements. In its way, it was as radical a concept as In C, which was composed in the same period, as it was an aural counterpart to the Op Art experiments of the ’60s and even some Pop Art conceptions. For example, it was a sound process that correlated to blowing up a cartoon frame until the pixels were so large that they became the main focus of the image.
In the genesis of this work, Keyboard Study 2 became The Persian Surgery Dervishes by expanding the length and shape of the original motive and having the tonal center shift from F to C. Also the dominance of five-note motives and multiples of five changed the character from the original four-note motive and presented combinations of more complex polyrhythms. Persian Surgery Dervishes starts with a 40-beat repeating motive (8X5) played against a five-note repeating motive in triplets. Also, for the first time melodic non-repeating elements were introduced.
With the composition of A Dervish in the Nursery around 1990, the genesis included a song I wrote that seems to fall somewhere between John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Harold Arlen’s “This Will Be My Shining Hour.”
With the advent of this version, the whole concept has been freed up to include spontaneous intricately linked melodies and patterns that move through many key centers as they weave in and out of the song, occasionally settling into the idling mode of that initial four-note motive from 1965.
Salome Dances for Peace
Originally written as a cycle of five string quartets and commissioned by the Kronos Quartet in 1985, this epic 2-hour work has also been the quarry for Salome’s Excellent Extension, arranged for the new music performance group Zeitgeist and for my own piano excursions on its various themes.
Salome was conceived as a ballet, and a simultaneously composed libretto tells the story of how the ancient wicked temptress is reincarnated in some future age to come back as a shaman to redeem herself as an instrument for world peace.
The “Peace Dance” is in a seven-beat cycle and draws heavily on the Indian raga Bhairavi (the raga of the Divine Mother) for its melodic contours.
“The Ecstasy” which occurs in the fourth quartet is an adagio pas de deux for Salome and her shamanic mentor Half Wolf. It is a fantasy with many sections.
“At the Summit” is also in the fourth quartet and is set in a fast 15-beat pattern.
These three sections are arranged for the Disney Hall pipe organ.
This new work is the centerpiece of the concert and was commissioned for tonight’s world premiere performance. It will be the closing half of the evening.
Each time I am involved in the creation of a new composition or project I am aware that that activity is what is teaching me in that particular time. The Universal Bridge is what is teaching me now…in this moment. As I write these notes it is more than six weeks before the performance and I am in the exciting stage of creating the building blocks that will go into the finished work. My notebook is filling up with fragments, which I will draw on to work through each rehearsal.
Although there are through composed sections, many music fragments are models that need to be fleshed out with improvisation, the key element that brings the unexpected to both the performer and listener and that extends the creative process into the moment of realization. There are a few ideas about Universal Bridge that I would like to share.
1) Metaphorically it might stand for a connection between our physical and spiritual body.
2) It could be the bridge in a standard from the American songbook that you substitute when you can’t remember the real one.
3) It could be the bridge between what we think we know and what we could never imagine.
4) It could be the link between musical ideas that on face value seem unrelated.
5) It may be the magic avenue that leads us instantaneously from Galaxy to Galaxy…our escape route to survival.
6) So far, my notebook tells me that what I am planning to play will have some of these components:
Newly created chord progressions.
An anthem for Disney Hall. (Such a special place needs its own anthem.)
A long looping bass pattern, which invites in melodic excursions in counterpoint.
Dance-like motives that shift along a polymetric grid which are modeled along the lines of my Keyboard Studies.
Newly created Universal Bridge raga-like modes.
A huge, slowly expanding unison that goes from the tiniest pipe to the full complement and back again.
7) I could not fail to consider the result of the brilliant idea of its designer to tilt many of the pipes at an angle, especially the 32-foot ones. When one is sitting up close to the organ loft, it is especially noticeable that there is a wonderful spatial effect as adjacent notes on the keyboard are heard originating from vastly different places. This creates marvelous antiphonal effects, which are explored in the Universal Bridge.
8) Somewhere inside the Universal Bridge is a section called The Shape of Flames.
Inside The Shape of Flames it is still and the tiniest particles
spin in the coolness
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