A Rainbow in Curved Airby Terry Riley
After several graph compositions and early pattern pieces with jazz ensembles in the late '50s and early '60s (see "Concert for Two Pianists and Tape Recorders" and "Ear Piece" in La Monte Young's book An Anthology), Riley invented a whole new music which has since gone under many names (minimal music -- a category often applied to sustained pieces as well -- pattern music, phase music, etc.) which is set forth in its purest form in the famous "In C" (1964) (for saxophone and ensemble, CBS MK 7178). "Rainbow in Curved Air" demonstrates the straightforward pattern technique but also has Riley improvising with the patterns, making gorgeous timbre changes on the synthesizers and organs, and presenting contrasting sections that has become the basic structuring of his works ("Candenza on the Night Plain" and other pieces). Scored for large orchestra with extra percussion and electronics, some of this work's seven movements are: "Star Night," "Blue Lotus," "The Earth Below," and "Island of the Rhumba King."
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Guys, it's "A Rainbow In Curved Air", not "Rainbow...". It's a small point, but important. Mr. Riley writes in the liner notes, "And then all wars ended...", and goes on to describe a far better world than the one we live in now. It's a pure, clean, holistic vision, and it permeates this incredible, healing music. The amazing thing is that the music on this recording still sounds fresh and wonderful today, 42 years after its initial release. I recently learned that Pete Townshend's composition, "Baba O'Riley", with it's looped synthesizer parts, is a tribute to Terry Riley. Anyway, the music on this recording, "A Rainbow In Curved Air", and "Poppy Nogood And The Phantom Band" reflects a composer in full bloom, at the height of his powers. There's nothing else to say, really, except listen to this music.
It was John Peel radio time, the late 1960's. I wasn't paying attention to his voice. Suddenly the music came into my ears. I had to stop what I was doing and listen. As soon as he told me what it was, I wrote it down and resolved to buy it. Rainbow In Curved Air was a breath of fresh air for me. Aside from a few similars - gamelan, Ligeti's "Atmospheres" are two - I hadn't heard this kind of sound before except on the wind or in a rainstorm. Certainly not as music. A flood of sound, a pattern of pitches that demands you listen, but not as you've listened before. Not Elvis or The Beatles, not Bach or Beethoven, not Coltrane or Ellington. None of the above. The whole structure of the music an interwoven audio mesh. Or, better still, um, a rainbow in curved ears. There have been plenty of examples that have approached, some that have entered, the mainstream since then. Musicians have picked up on the use of repeated sounds, loops, sequences, minimalism, whatever, in genres ranging from Electronica to New Age to Rock. For example, that sequence of notes that Townshend put into Won't Get Fooled Again (Who) nods a head at Terry Riley's music. I honestly can't think of a way to describe the music without playing it. I still have the original vinyl LP but it's not in such good condition. The CD looks like entering my collection at last. With all that I've heard since then, I think that Rainbow In Curved Air is more remarkable to listen to today than it was in the late 60's. Use it as you would music: listen, meditate, whatever. But this is one you will find very accessible, and probably one of Riley's most accessible compositions. In its original form. Before synthesizers and computers grew up.