Terry Riley

Terry Riley
Born Terrence Mitchell Riley
(1935-06-24) June 24, 1935
Colfax, California, US

Terrence Mitchell "Terry" Riley[1] (/ˈrli/; born June 24, 1935) is an American composer and performing musician[2][3] associated with the minimalist school of Western classical music, of which he was a pioneer. His work is deeply influenced by both jazz and Indian classical music.


Terry Riley at Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, 1985

Born in Colfax, California, in 1935, 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.

Riley also cites John Cage and "the really great chamber music groups of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, and Gil Evans" as influences on his work,[4] demonstrating how he pulled together strands of Eastern music, the Western avant-garde, and jazz.

Riley began his long-lasting association with the Kronos Quartet when he met 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 is married to Anne Riley.[5]

Riley continues to perform live and was part of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in May 2011.[6]

He has three children, one daughter, Colleen,[7] and two sons, Shahn and Gyan, who is a guitarist.[8]


Riley's music is usually based on improvising through a series of modal figures of different lengths, such as in In C (1964) and the Keyboard Studies. The first performance of In C was given by Steve Reich, Jon Gibson, Pauline Oliveros, and Morton Subotnick. 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.[9] 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.

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. An early tape loop piece titled The Gift (1963) featured the trumpet playing of Chet Baker. Riley has composed using just intonation as well as microtones.[10] A longtime friend of LaMonte Young, he played with him in New York City in the mid 1960s, as well as tabla player Angus MacLise and John Cale, who were founding members of The Velvet Underground. Riley is credited as inspiring Cale's keyboard part on Lou Reed's classic composition All Tomorrow's Parties, which was sung by German actress Nico and included on the iconic The Velvet Underground and Nico album recorded in 1966.

Riley's famous overdubbed electronic album A Rainbow in Curved Air (recorded 1968, released 1969) inspired many later developments in electronic music. These include Pete Townshend's organ 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.[11]

Riley's collaborators have included the Rova Saxophone Quartet, Pauline Oliveros, the ARTE Quartett, and, as mentioned, the Kronos Quartet. Riley's 1995 Lisbon Concert recording features him in a solo piano format, improvising on his own works. In the liner notes Riley cites Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans as his piano "heroes", illustrating the importance of jazz to his conceptions.



Further reading


  1. "Free Family Tree, Genealogy and Family History - MyHeritage".
  2. Hooper, Greg (June–July 2006). "Hear and now: Terry Riley in Australia". RealTime. Australia (73): 33.
  3. "Terry Riley's benefit performance for Old First Concerts". Examiner.com. 2012-03-24.
  4. ""
  5. HERSH, HOWARD (10 January 1993). "A Composer on the Edge : Minimalist Terry Riley, on a journey of spiritual and artistic discovery, is deeply moved by the concept of artist-as-madman" via LA Times.
  6. "The 10 Best Moments Of All Tomorrow's Parties". 16 May 2011.
  7. http://larecord.com/interviews/2009/11/19/terry-riley-interview-droning-dark-darkness Terry Riley: Droning Dark Darkness, L.A. Record, November 19, 2009. Interview by Dan Collins
  8. "Terry And Gyan Riley: Together IN C".
  9. Honigmann, David. "In C, Barbican, London – review". Financial Times. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  10. Holmes, Thomas B. Electronic and Experimental Music, Taylor & Francis (2008) p. 132, 362 ISBN 978-0-415-95781-6
  11. This album also produced the name of psychedelic band Curved Air. The Who: The Ultimate Collection (Media notes). The Who. MCA Records. 2002. p. 12.
  12. "Shri Camel - Terry Riley - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
  13. "Terry Riley: Cadenza on the Night Plain - Kronos Quartet - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
  14. "Terry Riley - No Man's Land".
  15. "The Harp of New Albion - Terry Riley - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
  16. "Terry Riley: Chanting the Light of Foresight - Rova Saxophone Quartet - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
  17. "Salome Dances for Peace - Kronos Quartet - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
  18. "Piano Music of John Adams & Terry Riley - Gloria Cheng - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
  19. "Sun Rings, for string quartet, - Details - AllMusic".
  20. "The Cusp of Magic - Kronos Quartet - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
  21. "Banana Humberto - Terry Riley - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
  22. "Terry Riley: The Last Camel in Paris - Terry Riley - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic".
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