Birthplace: Colfax, CA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: In C
The principal instigator of the minimalist/repetitive music genre, Terry Riley was born in the Sierra Nevada mountains but at some point made the trip down closer to sea level to study composition at San Francisco State University. Concurrent with his formal education, Riley also maintained a career as a professional jazz pianist, earning his tuition by working at Bay Area clubs. By 1960 he was attending UC Berkeley, where he began an enduring friendship with La Monte Young, a fellow student that shared many of his unconventional music interests. That same year he created Mescalin Mix, a composition realized for the Ann Halprin Dance Company through his experiments with magnetic tape.
After graduating Berkeley in 1961, Riley had a fleeting association with the Fluxus movement before moving to Europe with his family. While living in Paris he created another tape composition for the play The Gift, employing a "time lag accumulator": a pair of tape recorders connected in series and perpetually regenerating the sounds played into the first machine. The potential of repetitive forms was not lost on Riley, and after returning to San Francisco in 1964 he composed In C -- a work based on simple interlocking phrases that was to have significant repercussions in both the academic and popular music worlds. The combination of this approach and the process of time-lag accumulation would result in many of the composer's subsequent works, such as Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band and A Rainbow in Curved Air.
In 1965 Riley moved to New York, where he spent a year working with La Monte Young. Over the following three years he frequently performed solo all-night concerts that would commence at 10 PM and last until sunrise, where he would improvise continuously throughout the intervening hours on harmonium and saxophone sent through a time-lag accumulation system. Towards the end of this period he recorded a collaborative album with The Velvet Underground member John Cale, released two years later under the name The Church of Anthrax.
Having earlier developed an interest in Indian music, in 1970 Riley moved to New Delhi to study Hindustani musical forms under Pandit Pran Nath. In 1972 he returned to California to pass on his knowledge of North Indian Raga at Mills College, where he would remain as a teacher for the next eight years. During this time Riley began his association with the Kronos Quartet, who would perform and record a number of his works in the decades to follow. His first work for full orchestra, Jade Palace, was commissioned by and premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1990; the next year a commission by the Salzburg
Festival would result in the string quartet The Sands. A wide variety of other commisions and collaborations were undertaken throughout the remainder of the 1990s, in addition to Riley forming the theater company The Travelling Avant-Garde in 1993. The composer continues to remain active in these various fields.
Father: Charles Riley
Mother: Wilma Ridlofi
Wife: Ann Yvonne Smith (m. 1958, three children)
Son: Gyan Riley (guitarist)
University: San Francisco State University
University: University of California at Berkeley (1961)
Professor: Mills College
The Church of Anthrax
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