Terry RILEY (b. 1935) In C (1964) [40:21]
Sunrise of the planetary dream collector (1980) [16:52]
Ragazze Quartet with Slagwerk Den Haag (In C), and Kapok.
rec. June 2015, MCO Studio 1, Hilversum. CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS37816 [57:13]
Terry Riley’s In C is a cornerstone of minimal or repetitive music, but as is pointed out in the booklet for this release has by no means become an “artistic museum piece”. It is still regularly performed and recorded, and each version has its own unique flavour, even including going as far as semi-electronic projects (review). The score has 53 short musical phrases which the musicians are invited to perform non-synchronised, but within certain boundaries so that there is a flow and sense of connection and structure to the work.
This recording with the Ragazze Quartet and Slagwerk Den Haag is detailed, refined and imaginative but is also more a chamber-music ‘arrangement’ rather than a performance that adheres to the letter of the score – something of which Riley would no doubt very much approve it has to be added. The range of the string quartet means that each of the fragments is heard more in isolation than as part of a field of sound, although there are indeed some lovely moments of canonic layering, including use of voices as well as conventional playing. If I have a problem with this performance it is this exposed quality to the musical fragments. The best moments here are those in which the sound blends and transcends, and this is surely one of the aims of the work as a whole rather than having your ear nagged by ‘taiya taiya taiya taiya taiya’ for minutes on end. ‘Slagwerk’ is the Dutch word for percussion, and this feature of the sound of this performance is done with subtlety as well as drama. Tuned instruments and singing bowls create a potent atmosphere, and there is a gamelan build-up from about 24 minutes in which is full of drama. Pretty much everything including the kitchen sink is thrown in by the end, but if you are in for a driving, percussive sound then there is plenty of excitement generated.
Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector was Riley’s first work for the famous Kronos Quartet, and as with In C it has a freedom in the score which allows for its musical fragments in the Dorian mode to be taken apart and reassembled to create different forms. Composed with string quartet in mind, this more strictly ensemble-orientated music sits more comfortably with these instruments than In C. Kapok is an award-winning trio with the unusual setting of French horn, self-designed drum-kit and guitar, and once again this contribution adds both drama and subtle colour to the string quartet. The horn calls up orchestral associations, but its sound is at times also sent through big acoustic and echo effects which can fatten the whole sonic picture. The improvisatory feel of Kapok’s contributions adds a spontaneous feel to the performance without becoming a wild ego-chamber, and the whole thing becomes its own highly effective narrative soundtrack.
Packed in a Bridget Riley-like Op-art cover, you will have to take care not to damage the card lines on the outer sleeve. This is a vibrant and never less than intriguing release, and worth it for this version of Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector alone. My reservations about In C are of course subjective, and there is plenty of room for all kinds of versions of this piece and more. At its best it has some truly bewitching passages, but if I was remixing it I would be tempted to cheat and multitrack some of the string sections – just a bit…