Friday, December 28, 2007
Terry Riley, A RAINBOW IN CURVED AIR
Columbia, 1969; reissued by Columbia/Sony; available
2 tracks, 40:17
One of the early fathers of minimalism (though he modestly would point you to La Monte Young), Terry Riley was doing Frippertronics before it had a name. This recording consists of two long pieces, the title track and an over-twenty minute version of "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band". The back proudly proclaims "All the music on this recording is played by Terry", which is completely remarkable given technological limitations of the time. Riley didn't have a laptop or a sequencer. Instead, all the electric organ, electric harpsichord, Rocksichord, dumbec (a hand drum), and tambourine on "A Rainbow In Curved Air" were played by hand. Tape loops were made to provide backing, and the track is more active than a lot of minimalism. Riley introduces variations and improvisations into the mix, providing an astonishing level of variety while maintaining the unique feel of the piece throughout. This track could be slipped into any ambient/chillout playlist and nobody would think it was nearly forty years old. "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band" is the dark side to "Rainbow"'s light. Scored for soprano saxophone and electric organ, and also using a tape loop setup, this track is declared on the package to "resemble the sound Terry gets in his all-night concerts" (believe it!). A mournful sax dirge makes up the repeating theme, with shimmering organ and squiggly sax improv providing the variations. It sounds much more oppressive than it is, and it manages to be a fascinating listen despite the gloomy undertones. A RAINBOW IN CURVED AIR still sounds startling and fresh despite its age. Several generations have looked up to Terry Riley (ever wonder who "Baba O'Riley was? Well now you know), and his influence is still felt in the most unexpected places. I highly recommend this album to everyone. It may need to grow on you, but it will be so worth it.