Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Terry Riley - In C CD (album) cover


Terry Riley

Prog Related

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Bookmark and Share
2 stars Rainbow In Curved Air's acoustic predecessor, albeit less exciting and less dynamic. Upon first listen, this album will inevitably sound like a mesh of noise (just imagine 11 musicians+overdubbing all playing at once). But before you reach, for the ibuprofen heed my advice. The listening method I suggested in my Rainbow review is even more applicable to this album-- and it's even easier to do.

The method is to pick out one component in the music and scale back, seeing how that one component interplays with the others and how it gradually changes throughout the piece. In C is structured as 53 independent bars. One by one, each instrument makes it's introduction by playing the first bar, and each of the instruments moves onto the next whenever they feel it, thus achieving polyphonic interplay. The significance of this interplay is primarily rhythmic-- I find many of the tonal clashes between the notes nauseating.

If you can read rhythms, there is a PDF file that shows the sheet music (the 53 bars) of this piece, so you can follow along. This makes it easier to pick out certain components within the music, and keeps you off the ibuprofen. For me, this PDF is essential to enjoying the music. But once I had listened to In C for about a month, and gotten over the innovative concept behind it, I didn't find myself craving another listen. This is a mildly enjoyable album, but it never had a huge impact on me. An essential element of music is dynamics and emotion, both of which are entirely absent in this piece. This music can be played just as well by well-programmed automatons. This music quickly becomes drab and static, its oversimplified score constrains creative liberties and has no capacity for emotional expression. In C is not the place to experience the life force of art which I so treasure in progressive music (and many of Riley's other albums)-- its human component.

If you hate it, I understand the sentiment. Just be grateful that you didn't have to sit through Riley's live rendition of this piece in 2000-- it ran nearly an hour and a half!

Report this review (#302733)
Posted Friday, October 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
Easy Money
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars This is it, the mother lode. With the completion of this composition in 1964, western composition and music would never be the same. Starting with the mid-20th century, western composers had been struggling with various ways to break their music free from predictable linear patterns. Much of this creative struggle culminated with John Cage's indeterminate chance operations which allowed for musical pieces to change freely in the course of their performance much like the mobile in visual arts.

Terry Riley sought a more human solution then Cage's intellectual approach, hoping to create a music that might also be pleasing to non-academics. The end result of Riley's efforts was this sound structure composition, In C, in which musicians follow a steady pulse and freely play interlocking tonal parts that are graphed on one sheet of paper. This piece's blatant bland tonality defied almost every harmony stretching composer since Debussy and became the beginning of a new homogenous relaxed musical style known as ambient in the world of western music. Beginning with In C, western music had moved beyond the simplicity of the linear into the more luxurious and sensual world of horizontal movement in music. This piece is the great grand-daddy of so much we would consider modern in today's musical world; post-rock, ambient techno, new age, minimalism, trip-hop, nu jazz, or anything touched by Brian Eno or Bill Laswell.

In C may be a great idea for an experiment and a breakthrough in western musical thinking, but how does it sound as a piece of music. Surprisingly enough, this piece has mostly aged well and still sounds almost as nice, although not near as revolutionary, today as it did in the mid-60s. Credit is due to Riley for writing a mature composition that goes beyond a clever idea and focuses on maintaining relevance and some sort of entertainment value in the centuries to come. If there is a drawback, it is the limited sounds of the small orchestral ensemble used here. Soon after this piece Riley would switch to electric keyboards and tape loops to achieve a much more pleasing and powerful sound for his minimalist improvisations and compositions.

This isn't something I would want to listen to everyday, the constant chirping orchestral instruments can get annoying after a point, but if you can relax and sink into the complex tapestry, it becomes fascinating to hear how similar the resultant musical phrases are to Riley's later electronic pieces. That's another sign of a truly great composer, that his musical vision remains intact while working with almost opposite mediums.

The world of western composition in the 50s and 60s was a wild and wacky place. Sometimes revisiting old pieces from that period is like opening a time capsule to a culture that was open to almost anything except anything that happened previously. I enjoyed re- visiting this old minimalist war-horse, and hopefully others who are interested in the history of modern and ambient music might set their pre-conceptions aside and give it a chance too. On another interesting note, future founder of nu jazz, Jon Hassell, plays the trumpet part.

Report this review (#303183)
Posted Sunday, October 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
5 stars This is where a lot of things in modern music began. When Terry Riley composed in C I was just two years old, so I have to admit that I have discovered it recently.

It's an unusual composition in classical sense. I have seen a print of the musical score: it's just a chord of C major. Eight notes repeated for a discretional amount of time by a discretional amount of instruments of a discretional type, starting each one from discretional moments. Of course the length of the notes is discretional.

The discretion is decided by the director.

Little variations over repetitions (Heterophony). Isn't this the same kind of "structure" that we can find in German psychedelics like Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese and so on?

The fact of it being made of a major chord, makes it light. I'm reviewing the execution recorded in 1968, but with a score like this you can imaine how many very different versions of it can be found. Wikipedia mentions 24 official releases and one of them is the one made by Acid Mothers Temple (They did also "in D" and "in E" on the same album). Sooner or later I'll review that version, too.

It has been defined as "minimalistic" music. I don't know how to define it but I think it's where a lot of today's art music is from.

Is it progressive? I don't know, but it's a masterpiece.

Report this review (#383905)
Posted Friday, January 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Terry Riley's In C is a modernistic piece of art from the mid 20th century. This is very progressive music and inspired a lot of musicians afterwards. I have to capitulate for it. Well it's rather monotonic and hard listened music but it's easy to hear how intelligent it is. Even if it sounds monotonic it changes a lot from the first minute to the fourty-second. The record features a bunch of great musicians. Terry Riley himself plays saxophone. What carries this music is the woodwind and brass instruments and a marimba that lies in the background the all the time. This is sounds from a modern time and sounds from the city. I got some flashbacks from the Medieval period in some moments. This tells us how music can be, totally wrong but also right. It's honest and almost religious in it's approach. I wouldn't consider this as my kind of music but I have to admit this is quality. It could also be a record that I will appreciate more in the future.
Report this review (#960306)
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars Although TERRY RILEY actually composed his famous IN C way back in 1964, it didn't find a release as a recording until four years later. RILEY is famous for his minimalist approach to Western classical music with a healthy helping of jazz and Indian classical music as influences. Apparently the 60s was a time when composers were obsessed with finding ways to break down the barriers and limitations of the status quo by throwing all the accepted norms out the window and freeing themselves of set chord changes, scales and anything else that was thought to be "normal" for composers to accept.

IN C is interesting in that when played live it has no set duration. It can last a few minutes to several hours and every performance is improvised and therefore completely different. This one album is but a particular snapshot serving as a mere example of what you might hear if you happen to witness a live rendition. The whole thing is quite technical to explain and all the terminology including the term heterophonic which refers to different rhythmic displacements can easily be found on the internet.

Basically the whole thing begins on a C major chord with different patterns that recur by adding and subtracting different instruments. I would say it's kinda like you were walking down a very long hallway with rooms on each side and in each room there is a different instrument playing a subtly different part off of the C major chord. As you continue to walk you would hear the instruments you've already passed fade away while the ones you approach getting more prominent. Of course while all this is occurring some instruments begin and stop randomly.

It is all strange and unpredictable as to which rhythms and timbres will occur yet totally predictable as to which notes will continue during the 45 minutes of length, at least on my CD. Of course RILEY would go on to redefine music in other ways but on this album he shows that you can be academic in your approach and still make something pleasurable to listen to. Of course, this is one of those occasional listens since it is so strange as to be almost alien. I can hear how artists like Philip Glass and others were influenced by some of RILEY's approach. It seems the Acid Mother's Temple has done a version of this as well as many others.

Report this review (#1196756)
Posted Saturday, June 21, 2014 | Review Permalink

TERRY RILEY In C ratings only

chronological order | showing rating only

Post a review of TERRY RILEY In C

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.