Born on June 24, 1935, in Colfax, CA. Education: Studied composition under Robert Erickson and piano under Duane Hampton at San Francisco State College, 1955-57; University of California at Berkeley, 1960-61. Addresses: Record company--New Albion Records, 584 Castro St. #515, San Francisco, CA 94114-2594,; Publicist--Cheryl Batze, Batzer Productions, 4215 Cochran Rd., Dallas, TX 75209 Phone: (415) 621-5757; (214) 351-3383; (415) 759-1992 Fax: (415) 621-4711; (214) 351-4099; (415) 759-6663 E-mail:;

Composer Terry Riley is best known for starting the Minimalist movement with his work In C in 1964 and introducing repetition to Western music. Riley's compositions and performances with electronic keyboards and tape delays wove sounds together into the sonic fabric that would lay the foundation for the New Age movement. In addition, Riley's desire to create new music for the human mind and ear enlivened the instruments of the highly regarded Kronos Quartet. These accomplishments alone were sufficient for high praise, but with Riley's own personal performances and numerous commissioned compositions, it was fitting that the London Sunday Times newspaper proclaim Riley "one of the 1000 makers of the 20th century." Not surprisingly, several popular artists and groups have been influenced by his work, including John Adams, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, The Who, Tangerine Dream, and Curved Air.

Riley recognized that a composer could write and play whatever felt appropriate. With this understanding, Riley set his mind free as he created. His work was described in the Los Angeles Times as "derived from many parts of the globe and from different eras. It has the improvisatory flair, the rhythmic exhilaration and the melodic subtly of the music of India, which Riley has studied for decades. But it is also grounded in classical tradition and jazz, in the advanced keyboard techniques of Chopin, the harmonic richness of the Impressionists, in the ecstatic improvisations of [John] Coltrane."

Riley was born on June 24, 1935, in Colfax, California, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He studied composition under Robert Erickson and piano under Duane Hampton at San Francisco State College from 1955-57. He later studied at the University of California at Berkeley during 1960-61. It was during this time that Riley's vision for music began. The first of his primary influences was La Monte Young, whom he met while attending the University of California. Riley told Gamall and Ammon Haggerty of Rhythmos: "[Young] had a superb conceptual sense about music, I think his sense about music is what spawned Minimalist music.... La Monte's idea was just to have this one big form that were just long tones, I think that was the real essential heart of Minimalist music."

Riley added repetition to Young's conceptual view of music and began an era. Riley's early music initiated the Minimalist movement. His seminal work, In C, was composed from 53 simple patterns which were grouped together in a series and repeated to form a structure. Without a melody involved in the sound, the repetition and order of the patterns formed the music. Riley himself explained his contribution to Western music in the Haggerty interview: "essentially, my contribution was to introduce repetition into Western music as the main ingredient without any melody over it, without anything just repeated patterns, musical patterns."

During the 1960s, Riley performed his music with a unique flair. Using an old organ harmonium with a vacuum cleaner motor blowing into the ballasts and various tape delays, he would perform concerts lasting all night, entertaining people who brought entire families to just relax and listen to the music until sunrise. He performed a record eight-hour, thirty-minute concert of continuous music at the Philadelphia College of Art in the fall of 1967. A Los Angeles Times article described Riley's shows: "Riley's performances are easier to experience than to explain. He is a musician of enormous sophistication and technical ability, a musician who finds the center of tones and enters into them in the genuine hope of discovering something essential about the lifting of our spirits...."

Riley avoided the music industry machinery during the 1970s to pursue something more satisfying to his soul. North Indian raga vocalist Pandit Pran Nath took Riley as a student in 1970 and contributed significantly to Riley's artistic expressions. Riley studied under Pran Nath and performed with him as tampura, tabla and vocal accompanist until his death in 1996. During the many trips Riley made to India, in 1993, he began the responsibility of co-directing a music study program in Delhi, India. The Chisti Sabri School of Music had a two-week program focusing on Pran Nath's classical works with opportunities to learn the tabla and vocal styles. In addition, Riley gave raga performances during the seminars. A highlight included a concert with Zakir Hussain on tabla.

Continually at the cutting edge of musical development, Riley played electronic keyboards and utilized tape delay in several projects that were influential to another musical era. Releases such as A Rainbow in Curved Airin 1969, The Persian Surgery Dervishes in 1972,and Shri Camel in 1978, were trance-inducing, multi-layered creations that incorporated Eastern styles. Often containing improvisational components, those works were the predecessors of New Age music.

Much of Riley's popular work was done with David Harrington, founder of the Kronos Quartet. They met while Riley was teaching North Indian raga and music composition at Mills College in Oakland, California, during the early 1970s. They collaborated to create numerous string quartets and other award-winning music. The Sands was a concerto for string quartet and orchestra that was the Salzburg Festival's first new music commission. Cadenza on the Night Plain was chosen as one of the Ten Best Classical Albums of the Year by Newsweek and Time magazines in 1985. In 1989, Salome Dances for Peace was nominated for a Grammy Award and selected by USA Today as the Top Classical Album of the Year. Harrington explained how Riley's pieces expanded the Quartet's expressive conscious: "It was very hard for us as a group, but eventually we arrived at a sound that was different from anything we had ever done before. There was a magical moment when the bow, rather than vibrato, became the major expressor of color. That was one of the first times when Kronos really came together as a group." In the late 1990s, the Kronos Quartet commissioned and premiered three requiem quartets, the third of which, Requiem for Adam, marked the twentieth anniversary of the Riley/Kronos relationship.

Riley has written music for many other modern musicians and groups. Prominent commissions included a piece in 1990-91 by Carnegie Hall for the Centennial celebration. The seven-movement Jade Palacewas performed by Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony. The Koussevitsky Foundation commissioned a work based on Jack Kerouac's Mexico City Blues in 1991. Titled June Buddhas, it was a three-movement work for chorus and orchestra. The California E.A.R. Unit, the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, the Rova Saxophone Quartet, the Amati string quartet, Array Music of Toronto, Zeitgeist, pianist Werner Baertschi, guitarist David Tanenbaum, and Stephen Scott's Bowed Piano Ensemble have all commissioned and played Riley's compositions.

During the early 1990s, Riley continued to pioneer new music projects. He formed a group that focused on vocal and instrumental improvisation named Khayal, which means imagination in Hindi. This ensemble performed his works for four years. In 1992, Riley wrote the chamber opera The Saint Adolf Ring,which was based on the eccentric drawings, mathematical calculations, and poetry of Swiss schizophrenic Adolf Wolfli. He then created a theater company, The Travelling Avantt-Gaard, to perform the work. Riley revealed his fascination with Wolfli's life and works to Haggerty: "The thing that grips us is imagination of the artist, and schizophrenics are some of the most imaginative people.... I think what happens to them, their ordinary filters for reality somehow open up. They experience things we can only experience in very altered states, but they experience this all the time."

Riley continued to compose during the late 1990s. One remarkable work was The Book of Abbeyozzud, a set of 24 pieces for guitar and guitar ensemble. The Norwich Festival commissioned a work in 1999 that was performed in Britain by Sounds Bazaar, featuring vocalist Amelia Cuni, titled What the River Said.The Kanagawa Foundation in Yokohama, Japan, commissioned a piece for micro tonal tuned piano titled The Dream, an evening-length composition.

Riley lengthened his performance career in the late 1990s by performing solo piano concerts of his work and joining artists such as saxophonist George Brooks, Indian sitarist Krishna Bhatt, and Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio in duets. In 1999, in Delhi, Riley performed ragas for the Delhi University Music Department and at the Shivratri festival. He toured Russia for the first time in May of 2000, performing at the Sergei Kuryokin Festival in St. Petersburg, the Moscow Conservatory, and at a private contemporary music club, the Dom. Also in 2000, a solo cello work for former Kronos cellist Jean Jeanrenaud was commissioned by artist Bruce Connor.

Early in 2001, Riley's work was included in the restaging of Michael McClures' play Josephine the Mouse Singer, which played in San Francisco. Y Bolanzero, a piece for a large guitar ensemble, was scheduled to be completed in 2001, as well as a quintet for Kronos Quartet and a new saxophone quartet for the Arte Quartet. The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) commissioned a work by the Kronos Quartet which will include the sounds recorded by the Voyager mission while traveling in deep space. It was to be completed in 2001.

by Nathan Sweet

Terry Riley's Career

Began composing and performing in concert, 1958; after meeting La Monte Young, utilized repetition, mid 1960s; started the Minimalist movement with In C,1964; played all night, continuous concerts, late 1960s; studied under and performed with Indian raga vocalist Pandit Pran Nath; worked with David Harrington for many pieces for the Kronos Quartet; has influenced artists and groups such as John Adams, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, The Who, Tangerine Dream, and Curved Air.

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