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Terry Riley - A Rainbow In Curved Air CD (album) cover


Terry Riley


Prog Related

4.37 | 80 ratings

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5 stars I am incredibly excited to see Terry Riley on the 'chives. Although his music is not usually considered progressive, Terry Riley shares the ethos of many late 60's and early 70's groups. The harmonious convergence between progressive/proto-progressive groups of the era and Terry Riley is a great instance of musical styles toppling boundaries-- and isn't that what prog's all about? Curved Air took it's name from this album, The Who's Baba O'Riley is an appellative and stylistic homage to Riley, and there would be no Tubular Bells without this seminal release.

Riley's music is comparable to minimalist composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, albeit technology based-- tape loops, delays, echos and synthesizers galore. But never does the album lose it's sonic rawness; despite how technological it sounds, Riley's music is always honest and organic, never computerized-- less binary coding, more transcendental meditation. This music emulates the sound and aura of electricity as a natural force, just as Native American music strives to capture that of wind and rain. Bear in mind this was 1967, before 70's krautrock, and even longer before 80's synthpop, techno, or hip-hop mixes although these genres seem to steal the limelight on the electric stage.

I mentioned before how Rainbow coincides with the progressive ethos-- and amongst these shared traits is the necessity for multiple active listens, sitting down with the speakers or the cans and really making an effort to get into the music, a la Pawn Hearts or Zappa. I find the best trick to really "getting" this music is to focus on one component in the music. For example, in the title track, listen only to the two repetitive high notes, then scale back-- see how it fits in with the other parts, understand how subtly it changes, and how these little changes cause gradual shifts in mood and timbre in the whole. Riley's minimalism is a river of sine waves, flexing, contracting, expanding their wavelengths into new shapes as they travel across a grid of time and space. There is even an improvisatory element in the music; each new component jitters in, settles into prominence, then dissipates. You never know what's coming next.

The end of the track seems to receive a bit of Indian-influence: tablas and an interlude reminiscent of a sitar, yet it remains distinctly Riley.

But the real gem here (the piece that got me interested in Mr. Riley in the first place) is the B-side: Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band. I first heard this piece in the 2009 documentary: "Prog Rock Britannia", and was instantly compelled by its eerie hollowness. (BBC's prog rock doc provided the perfect counterpart to the music-- footage of smokestacks and grim city life in the cloudy winter, and I would recommend checking it out just for that.) It starts out with a mass of dissonant sounds so tautly wound that their discordance is comparable a Jackson's Polleck painting-- one feels compelled to pull apart and dismantle the many fragments that are converging upon the canvas, in this case the canvas is an unrelenting and quite haunting drone which trudges along the bass floor.

Terry Riley's soprano sax solo on this track is undoubtedly the highlight of the entire album. The first melancholy soaring note seems to reflect nostalgic confusion, taking flight above the drone of social reality.

This one will be in your heads for days, begging you to come back for a second, third, fourth listen, until you're hooked. This is really another world of music; Riley is a bit of a musical misfit, classical but not in the same stuffed-shirt vein as Beethoven, psychedelic, but not in the Floyd sense. I guess that's why he belongs here on ProgArchives!

Rosebud | 5/5 |


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