Foible’s Fables Part 1 – Pattern 35

I love the word “foibles.” I have spent alot of time excavating and sitting with my own foibles. This is work made difficult by the thinking mind. Take for example, Pattern 35. I have already written about this pattern as it is so unusual in the great scheme of “In C.” And now a mystery has arisen around Pattern 35. Here’s what happened.

Last week I was reading Robert Carl’s extensive analysis of the text of “In C,” when I was brought to a halt by a table labeled “Duration of Modules.” The durations were quarter note values and Pattern 35 was listed as 30 beats in length, which would be 60 eighth note pulses. Wait a minute! I have been counting this pattern as 64 pulses in all that I have been doing. I looked at my score and counted through the phrase several times always coming up with 64 pulses. Robert Carl’s book Terry Riley’s In C contains a score as well. In comparison, the scores are different on Pattern 35. My score ends the pattern on a dotted whole note and Mr. Carl’s score has no such dot! That would account for exactly 4 pulses.

Well, my first thought was “which one is right?” But then I was gently reminded that I don’t live in the righteous world anymore, so THAT is not the question I want to ask. There! — I countered my first foible of the thinking mind. The extreme limitation of righteous thought creates complexity and “issues” out of rigid beliefs. For me, righteousness is much ado about nada. So let’s move on to the more interesting question- “what impact does the presence or absence of these four pulses in this pattern have on the larger work?”

Carl points out that Riley’s attention to the progression of rhythmic and harmonic content reveal a strong compositional sensibility, which may give guidance as to how to analyze this situation. My first thought is to look at the pattern durations that surround Pattern 35 to see if they sync better with 64 or 60 pulses. The four patterns before Pattern 35 are 3 pulses, 12 pulses, 2 pulses and 1 pulse in duration. The four patterns following are 3 pulses, 1 pulse, 1.5 pulses and 3 pulses in duration.

I am looking for a mathematical relationship amongst these durations that might suggest a more stable meshing of the parts when performed. I feel that Pattern 38 (1.5 pulses) is a subdominant rhythmic figure to Pattern 39 (3 pulses.) So, if Pattern 39 is synced, Pattern 38 will follow. Now we will take the remaining phrase lengths – 1, 2, 3, 12 – and see if a divisibility factor relationship exists amongst these patterns AND with 60 and 64. All factors are divisible by the lowest denominator 1. Next comes 2. While 2 doesn’t divide evenly into 3, the 6 feel that comes from looping the 3 IS divisible by 2, as are 12, 60 and 64. The next denominator – 3 – may shed some light here. Three will divide evenly into 12 and 60, but not 64. The divisibility factor relationship favors 60 pulses as a length for Pattern 35. This suggests that a 60 pulse Pattern 35 might ride a touch more steadily amongst the surrounding patterns.

Another compositional factor is the feel of movements of eight, which is the usual framework for the improvising musician. Phrase lengths run 8, 16, 24 on up to… 64. So a 64 pulse would make it easier for live musicians to get a feel for the movement of this longer line. Carl points out that Pattern 35 “combines almost every different rhythmic duration of the whole piece into a single melodic gesture.” So get this pattern down and you have a feel for all the others. A 64 pulse phrase would likely be easier for muscians to internalize and play against then a 60 pulse phrase.

So there is some reason to choose each of these durational increments. I decided to go to the source- Mr. Riley himself. I have had a few email correspondences with him during the course of this project, and he has always replied, which he did saying he favored the 64 pulse version. He mentioned that there are many hand notated copies around that contain “errors” or, as I like to call them, deviations from the score that Mr. Riley intended. It is to his credit that he allows this looser structure and holds more lightly the notated score.

As for myself, since I am experimenting with this piece, I will try both phrase lengths.

Introducing the Orchestral Sextet

In the quest for interesting and varied voicings for “In C” within the Ableton Library of midi instruments, I offer for your consideration- The Orchestral Sextet. Four string voices ranging from a synth viola to a full string ensemble pitzing, spiccato-ing and staccato-ing – each available as a separate voicing in the ensemble. The synth viola provides a lush and laggy underpinning for the stabs and plucks of the string ensemble voices. Then, layered over this are the woodwinds in staccato and full voiced modes. The staccato voice is softer, slightly breathy while the full ensemble produces long, high, rich tones and a lovely midrange. For this post, the Orchestral Sextet will perform a slice of “In C” that runs from Pattern 21 to 26. This is a slice that I love because of the dotted quarter triplets swaying together and in counterpoint to each other.


(Here you can see two of the patterns-22 & 25- as example)

Patterns 22 – 26 are dotted quarter note steps from E to B with the raised F that was introduced in Pattern 14. The raised F “In C” creates a tritone harmonic. When the F# is sounded for the first time in Pattern 14, an ominous tension emerges in the piece. It is particularly unsettling in contrast to the sweet C dyads and triads that begin the piece. By the time we get to Patterns 22 – 26, the tonic C has been dropped for a while, so the F# is heard in the harmonic context of an E Dorian modal movement (whole-half-whole-whole.) Now it sounds sweet, if a bit melancholy.

In addition to the tonal content and the waltzy feel, these five patterns vary in length from 19 pulses to 25 pulses. So the lag accumulation effect is compounded here with multiple iterations of each pattern in lag and each pattern in lag with the others patterns. The softer attacks of some string techniques cause the beat to feel laggier still, creating even more density. One of the voices, the synth-viola, has that “behind the beat” feel. For this rendition, I decided to put that instrument on Pattern 21, which is a 6 pulse sustained F#. This is what swells up ond overpowers at the very end of the recording.

A little over half way through the recording you will hear that sustained F# tone fall way back in the mix. You have to REALLY listen for it, but it is there. That quiet drone of the F# tone creates a rich backwash of sound in which the other voices play. I hear it as a kind of “chorus effect” that impacts the overall sound. Buzzing that tonal center low and quiet in the background seems to amplify and integrate the overall sound of the mix. This is more evident through headphones.

Also of note (tingtingtingting) – no pulse! Since the midi instruments can play together very precisely, I want to exploit the opportunity to ditch the pulse when it feels cumbersome. Hearing those dotted eighth note phrases sustained in full with no pulse is a beautiful sound. That section makes my heart waltz. Good name for it – Heart Waltz.

Here is another, quite different framing of Patterns 22 – 26 and beyond, using this same ensemble of voices. I was experimentng with combinations of patterns with syncopated rhythms. This songset begins with Patterns 12 and 18 with the long tone of 19 thrown in for drone effect. In this version, the laggy viola got to play the dotted quarter patterns, so you can feel the drag effect it has on the tempo flow. I love it! It locks into a groove with soft edges. So this recording is longer but equally as interesting and beautiful as the one before. Here we move beyond Patterns 22 – 26 and through a bit of the “rogue” Pattern 35 and land finally on another pair of patterns that I love together – 44 and 45. These two patterns are 6 pulse phrases and thus have the waltzy feel again.

Be prepared for some longer repetitive sections. If you feel agitated with the repetition, breathe and listen more deeply or more gently, lightly. Then when you can do both at once-voila! – a new layer of clarity.


Oxford University Studies in Musical Genesis, Structure and Interpretation : Terry Riley’s In C

Several weeks ago, I discovered that “In C” was included in this Oxford University Series with a 2009 study done by Robert Carl. “Terry Riley’s In C” is the ninth book in this series. Past volumes were dedicated to “rigorous sketch studies” of individual works by Donizetti, Beethoven, Wagner and Debussy. In the Series Editor’s Foreword, Malcolm Gillies asserts that the inclusion of “In C” as a masterwork broadens the concept of “musical genesis” in signifigant ways. In C is recognized as a “masterwork” not so much for what it is as “what it causes to happen.”

Robert Carl proceeds to illuminate this idea through interviews with the composer and all the major figures from the San Francisco Tape Center, analyses of both the text of the score and recorded performances, and extensive archival research. He demonstrates that “In C”‘s West Coast roots, it’s non-Western musical tone and structured improvisational format – all of these elements give substance to it’s originality and importance. They illustrate why “In C”, as Gillies puts it: “now holds a crucial place in the legacy of twentieth-century music”

The book is a wonderful resource. It includes a whole chapter on the Premiere of the work and interviews with many of the musicians and composers who were part of the whole San Francisco Tape Center scene. Robert Carl has a deep appreciation of the piece, which makes reading the book a delight. I was particularly struck with his take on the way “In C” in performance creates a sense of community and democracy:

In C proposes a delicate balance between the individual and the group… Each musician must decide how many times to repeat, when to move to the next module, when to stop and when to return, what dynamic and registration are most fitting to the material played at every moment, when to join in unison with larger groups and when to stand outside the group…each entity retains its separate character and autonomy, a great tribute to American ideals of individualism and democracy.
But In C is very much a product of community…a musical ecology, where a network of relations brings forth a continually evolving aesthetic product that has its own genetic blueprint but can never be predicted exactly.

This describes perfectly much of what I love about In C as a piece of music with endless possibilities. There is much more that I will share from this book in future posts.


This post has been hanging around from January. So since I have been on a bit of a vacay from “In C” for the last several days, I thought I would post it today. When I saw it was titled “Surrender” I wondered what in the world I had written. Surrender is a lingering resistance for me. While I long to surrender, I never quite do it. I am all over and around it, but never quite go through it. Surrender is weakness and strength, the ultimate trust and betrayal. As you can see, the clamoring dualities of surrender have me spinning and stuck.

As it turned out the post wasn’t about any of that. It was just the title I off-handedly gave to this songset of “In C.”

January 19, 2014

I have been playing with “In C” since I started arranging the patterns in Ableton in October 2013. I could not wait till January 2014 to begin this exploration! Once I received the scores from Associated Music Publishers, Inc, I began to analyze the piece in order to accurately represent each pattern in Ableton. Since the 53 patterns are set over an 8th note pulse, each phrase was examined to determine how many 8th note pulses it contained. The shortest phrases are 1 pulse in length; the longest is 64 pulses in length. Ableton Live allows midi clips to be set up in various sized grids up to a 32nd note. Since midi clips can be seen as representative real time scores, I am using the score as a midi trigger map for each clip. Thinking of it this way allows voices that add extra sounds to the mix. The integrity of the score remains as each note will trigger some tone or sound at the correct moment as delineated in the score, but what gets triggered may produce aural effects not associated with the note as indicated in the score. This will create some sonic cracks in the patterns and let more new songs emerge.

There was a week in December 2013, around the Solstice, when I needed the light that this music contains, so I spent several hours on three different evenings, playing with combinations of phrases. This song came the second night and seemed to be a call to Surrender.

The song begins with individual voices staggering in in Pattern 8, which is long tones on F and G. Then rocking back and forth between those tones with new voices and textures added as it goes. Pattern 9 comes in percussively at first, then is joined by tonal voices. I liked the males voices on the first pattern and female on the second pattern. These two patterns echo each other until Pattern 13 comes in with an interesting syncopated rhythm on the vibes. Then, in the distance, Pattern 14 comes trumpeting in, adding the dissonant F# to the G tonal center we have been favoring so far. These two patterns tug at each other until several new patterns and voices come in a great rush and density of tones. Then the rocking triplet feel of Pattern 26 takes us out.

So this was an early experiment with “In C” where I was engaging in what I called “Pattern Play.” Pattern Play is playing patterns in unusual combinations called “songsets” or “slices.” Surrender is a songset as it contains Patterns 8,9,13,14,26 and several others. Songsets are made up of mostly non-consecutive patterns. Slices are consecutive groups of patterns in sections, such as Patterns 1 – 7. The pieces we performed at Motorco were slices of “In C.” Working with the piece in this way gives rise to new songs that might not be heard in a traditional performance.

And I am still not sure why I called it Surrender.