"In C" was composed by Terry Riley in 1964. In the year of my birth, 1968, Columbia Masterworks (MS 7178) released a recording of "In C" made by Terry Riley and ten members of the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts in the State University of New York at Buffalo, one of three records released as part of its newly inaugurated "Music of Our Time" series.
In 2006, I was listening to that same recording of "In C" for the nth time, relaxing in the rapture, re-reading the liner notes, and checking out the score printed on the inner gatefold sleeve of the record. And it occurred to me -- why not translate all 53 figures into MIDI and perform a solo electronic version?
Why not? Well, it is counter to Riley's original conception of the piece, which was to be played by a very large ensemble of sensitive and complementary musicians well prepared to improvise their way through the 53 parts at their own initiative and in response to each other's musical instincts and/or decisions.
"Why not" also presented itself as a whole host of decisions i had to make in order to realize the piece live and by myself. How large an ensemble would i attempt to emulate? I decided on 4 - any fewer seemed too few, and attempting to adopt the personage of more than four individuals seemed beyond all "reasonable" control.
Thanks to the convenience of MIDI, and synthesizers, and samplers, I decided to use two voices for each "player." But what instruments? I settled on a synthesized flute, a sample of a mellotron flute, a free piano plug-in, a sample bank of percussion (miscellaneous pots and pans i'd recorded at my grandmother's house), a couple more free synthesizer plug-ins, and a couple of FM synthesizers.
I decided to fully embrace the idea of looping each of the 53 parts as I travelled through them on the various voices--an idea which is almost counter to Riley's conception of the performance, although, strictly speaking, following his own performance notes allowed for repeating each part as many times as a performer chooses.
I also decided to tune the percussion samples to taste, rather than in a one-to-one relationship with the C scale. I chose the tuning of the percussion while improvising through a few parts of the composition.
And once I'd tuned the percussion, and upon concluding that I could more-or-less handle pretending to be four electronically-influenced players at once, I decided that I wouldn't rehearse the piece - I'd just improvise my way through it for the first time at my upcoming performance.
I then decided to edit together a video piece that I would "accompany." (The finished video, available on DVD, is a tweaked-out version of a drive from just north of Houston, Texas to my family's old farm in northern Mississippi.)
Of course things went wrong during the recording… I forgot to start recording until I'd advanced through the first 10 parts - well, parts 10, 13, 11 and 12 to be exact… and I accidentally stopped recording at the moment I'd made it to parts 49, 46, 48 and 48. (This still worked out better than my traditional habit of forgetting to ever hit "record" at all.)
Unfortunately, a few years later when I finally decided, "hey - i wonder how that sounded?" I discovered that the recording was over-driven and distorted. Rather than recording/performing it again, I decided, in the spirit of the original improvised performance, to "just" do an improvised mix of that recording making extensive use of filters and EQ's to smooth out the overdriven edges. What I ended up with that afternoon is the performance you'll hear on this recording.
Lastly - "In C" is one of my very favorite pieces of music in the world, and Terry Riley is a personal hero of mine. I own four different recordings of "In C," each performed by a unique ensemble, and this is my version. This project is wholly dedicated toTerry Riley, for all the joy and inspiration he has brought me over the years.
- John A Kennedy, 2012
released August 6, 2014
"In C" was composed by the great Terry Riley