The Premiere of “In C” November 4 and 6, 1964

(Thanks for your patience while I emphasized the “My” in “My Year ‘In C'”. I am ready to refocus on the piece itself now, but will always maintain the perogative to express what is happening in my life as this year progresses.)

Two important synchronicities occurred in early 1964 that opened the door for the premiere of “In C”. First, Terry Riley returned to San Francisco from Europe where he had been living and working for several years. Second, the San Francisco Tape and Music Center decided to devote its 1964-65 season to music by local composers. (The story of the SFTMC will be the subject of a later post.) Morton Subotnik, one of the mainstays of the Center, said of this time:

…we decided that in the 64-65 season it would be time for all the local composers to do a concert of their own music. So I did a concert, Pauline (Oliveros) did a concert, Ramon (Sender) did a concert, and I knew that Terry was coming back, so I wrote to him or called him, I can’t remember, and said, “Will you be back by November?” He said, “I’ll be back in time for November” and I said, “Why don’t we do a concert of your music and you write a piece that we can all play?”

Riley returned to SF in February of 1964, recieved” “In C” in March and this became the piece that everyone would play. There were runthroughs and tryouts at various venues, including several house concerts, throughout the spring and summer of 1964. The ultimate players for the November premiere included Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnik, Ramon Sender, Jon Gibson and others, 13 musicians in all. An additional performer was Tony Martin, who designed and performed a collage of movement and color during the piece. As Robert Carl points out in Terry Riley’s In C, the inclusion of Tony Martin’s visual component made the premiere of “In C” a multimedia event.

The final instrumentation for “In C” was two trumpets, sopranino recorder, clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones, accordion, two pianos (with two players each) and Wurlitzer Chamberlin organ. Ramon Sender played the Chamberlin which was housed in the upstairs studio at the Center. As it turns out, the Chamberlin is a type of analog sampler that could play prerecorded loops. Again from Robert Carl: “Reich remembers a ‘kind of roundness’ in the overall sonority, and it seems likely that the background wash of sound from the organ may have been responsible for much of that effect. It is thus important to realize that In C from its earliest incarnation had an electroacoustic component, and so was a pioneering instance of live electronic performance integrated into an ensemble of acoustic instruments.” I was very excited to read this as this is the vision I have for this 2014 celebratory version as well. I like synchronicities like that.

The official premiere happened on November 4, 1964 with a two part program. The first half included Music for The Gift, three short electronic works and a solo piano piece. The second half of the program was devoted to a 45 to 60 minute rendition of “In C.” Reich remembers that the players worked together very well:

There’s alot of listening to other people, alot of laying out when it made sense, and alot of trying to play the same pattern as someone else but to sound interesting in a canon way, and to be aware of where people were and how far ahead you were. I think it was very good ensemble, good listening ensemble.

One signifigant feature of this performance, as recollected by Pauline Oliveros, is the tempo. The first performance of “In C” moved along at around 138 pulses per minute about half as fast as the initial 1967 recording. I have found playing this piece at slower tempos creates a spaciousness that allows more changes in dynamics. Slower tempos allow and encourage the kind of deep listening Reich describes. Faster tempos result in a frenetic feeling that never lets up, especially with that pulse pounding throughout.

The audience for the premier numbered about 100 and Subotnik remembers:

The audience response was wonderful. There was a buzz…It was a kind of warm, vibrant, happy…it was like something had happened, maybe not historical, but something had happened that night that was really special. It was different than other concerts.

But it was the second performance, two nights later, that garnered the now famous review by Alfred Frankenstein with the title “Music Like None Other On Earth.” Next post I will discuss the importance of this review not only for “In C” but for minimalist/avant garde music in general.

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.

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.

The Pulse: Is it Necessary?

As I listened to the recording from the April 15th “In C” playshop at Motorco, the high C pulse that plays throughout became an unpleasant interference. The tone seemed to create an aural haze through which I had to p-ear to hear the underlying song of the patterns. Granted I played the pulse too loudly in places, even so, the idea of ditching the pulse altogether is now up for consideration.

Most every recording of “In C” starts with that high shiny eighth note pulse. But this sound was not part of the original composition, nor is it included as a pattern in the score. The story of how the pulse came to be starts with the origins of “In C” itself. I mentioned in an earlier post that Terry Riley was using tape recorded loops to make collages of sound. He found the technique when a French sound engineer hooked two tape recorders together. As one tape recorder plays a recorded tune, the other tape recorder records the tune. The tape is stretched across the heads of both recorders so that the newly recorded tape is fed back into the original playing recorder. The result is an accumulation of the original tune in different phase relationships to itself. Riley called this technique the “time-lag accumulator.” He used the technique in performance for years, which made him an early pioneer of the sampling and looping used by electronic musicians today. Because his ear brain is so curious, Terry started composing a piece that would create the same type of phase relationships in real time with an instrumental ensemble. Then “In C” got on the bus with him. When the musicians gathered to rehearse the patterns of “In C” in a time lagged manner, each keeping there own pace, it didn’t quite work out.

From Robert Carl’s Terry Riley’s ‘In C’:

“Pauline Oliveros remembers that Riley assumed the work would be easy, but he quickly found out that it was more difficult than he imagined. The major stumbling block was rhythm; as soon as the divergence of modules began, it became difficult to maintain a common tempo or metric reference point, and the work fell apart. At this point, Reich made a suggestion:

Well, it was in rehearsal, and the piece moves along pretty quick. And he (Riley)…wants everybody together, and they’re playing whatever pattern their playing but they’re locked into the same eighth note. And that did not always work. There were often at least ten people playing, and the room was fairly reverberent, and so sometimes people were slipping and sliding around the eighth note unintentionally, as a mistake. So, once a drummer always a drummer, I said we kind of need a drummer here, but since drums would be inappropriate, what about use the piano, so Jeane played some high Cs just to keep us together, and Terry said “Lets give it a try” or something like that, and we tried it and ‘voila’ everyone was together.

And so the Pulse was born.”

The nature of the human hearing mechanism, the phasing of reverberent acoustics, and each individual musician’s placement in the space make playing “In C” accurately and consistently a daunting task. For live musicians the pulse IS necessary for keeping the group in “time-lag” together. Understandable! However, the ensembles in Ableton are not subject to the constraints of the human body in performance. Once the pattern has been notated in the clip slot, the midi instrument will play it exactly the same and exactly in time. I can build in a little swing or have them play more “loosely,” but there is no slippage in relation to the tempo. I feel that the steady underpinning of the Ableton ensembles could provide the necessary grounding that the acoustic musicians need. Fifty years later, with electronic voices playing along with acoustic musicians, might the pulse be redundant?

Robert Carl argues that because the pulse has been present from the very first performance and in most subsequent performances and recordings of “In C,” it has become an integral part of the text of the piece. As in other types of oral traditions, all of the “retellings” of “In C” over the past fifty years have sealed the place of the pulse. He calls the pulse “one of the most important defining features of the work.” He goes on to explain:

“…the pulse is a steady, unvarying eighth-note texture which provides a clear rhythmic anchor… It is thus a sort of neutral ‘grid’ backdrop against which…the modules may unfold.”

The Ableton instruments provide a similar rhythmic grid albeit not a neutral one, but I am still feeling the pulse could be replaced by the Ableton ensembles. Carl goes on:

“…because of its pitch, not only does it give the work its title, but it references every resultant harmonic combination, always including C. One cannot ignore the harmonic content of of the pulse, no matter how subliminal it may become.”

OK- As you can see, Robert Carl is an eloquent spokesperson for the pulse. It feels true that the pulse not only shapes the harmonic content of “In C”, but also is an important element in the oral tradition that comes from fifty years of playing and listening to it. The pulse is the beginning of most every recording and performance of “In C” we have ever heard. To the person who has heard the piece on numerous occasions, starting the performance with Pattern 1 would not sound like “In C” at all. All of this has given me pause… for the idea of eliminating the pulse completely. While I still plan to experiment with playing “In C” without the pulse, I will make the decision in each performance situation based on considerations of harmonics and on input from participating musicians as to the need for an additional rhythmic anchor.


Terry Riley’s In C, Robert Carl, Oxford University Press, 2009