Terry Riley — A Rainbow in Curved Air

I was introduced to a very special electronic music composer in my 20th century music class last week. It was Pauline Oliveros. Her “Bye bye butterfly” and “Alien Bug” were extremely bizarre and I’m sure majority of people would feel as I did. Like other composers, she has her own musical language and her soul was expressed through the synthetic sound. I was curious if there’re other composers who also agree with and follow her. So I found Terry Riley who was also a colleague of her. Below is Oliveros’s remembrance when she enjoyed her composition with Loren Rush, Terry Riley, and Stu Dempster in San Francisco State College.

John Rockwell, “The Musical Meditations Of Pauline Oliveros: The Music of Pauline Oliveros,” New York Times, May 25, 1980.

Riley’s most famous achievement is minimalism and his electronic music is completely different with Oliveros’s one. While Riley used the “electronic instrument,” Oliveros used the “electronic sound,” such as the sound produced when you adjust a radio frequency, or the white noise sound. So, frankly, Oliveros works was whole bunch of incomprehensible sonority to me. Too much avant-garde!

For his “A Rainbow in Curved Air,” Riley used electronic organ, electronic harpsichord, dumbec, and tambourine. It is a minimalism music as well. He composed repeated broken chord with slow changes and adding instrument one by one. It was nice collaboration of minimalism and electronic music, and sounded like an old-fashioned 2-D graphic game music.

Jon Pareles, “Terry Riley Moves From Minimalist Music to Improvisation,” New York Times, Sep 24, 1982
K. Robert Schwarz, “A New Look at a Major Minimalist: Terry Riley, after years on a …,” May 6, 1990, New York Times.

According to the New York Times article above, Riley’s music (“In C” and “Rainbow in Curved Air”) was not successful enough at his early career, but people recognized him after publishing his “Salome Dances for Peace.” His “Salome Dances for Peace” is not an electronic piece and completely different from his previous works, but still, all of them are avant-garde style and now his representative works.

Here are the recordings of “Rainbow in Curved Air” and “Salome Dances for Peace.”

Collaborative Pianist