I don’t usually like to stoop to inside-baseball shop-talk, but: Was anybody else totally blindsided by Terry Riley’s deal with Schirmer? I guess this will make his catalog much more available, and that’s an unalloyed good, but I wonder what brought it about. It’s not like he hasn’t had plenty of time to think about publishers!
Unlike more contentious composers of his same generation, Riley and his music seem to have become completely naturalized since the 1970s, but perhaps they should be regarded in a more controversial light than they are. While throughout his career he’s been vulnerable to bouts of new-age hippie wankery of the sort with which I have no truck (or, better, no VW Type 2), he is an “Original Gangsta” of American experimental music. I didn’t fully appreciate Riley’s music until a few years ago: Large works like the early Olson III and even that perennial new music ensemble program lengthener In C are genuinely awesome, in the way that an earthquake is awesome—they inspire a kind of terror. What is thematized in Riley’s music is the finely controlled possibility that what you are witnessing is not human but nature. And you have only to hear a program of more recent post-minimalist music programmed alongside a Riley piece to notice that his unblinking commitment—its own kind of “rigor,” perhaps—lends his work an outrageousness, a beyond-the-paleness, that’s truly unique.
I hope someone’s having a very frank conversation with La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela right about now. They would be doing the new music world a great service if they followed Riley’s lead and signed to a publisher, whether major or independent. They could even pull a Tom Johnson and self-publish, as far as I’m concerned—in fact, that might be best. These great old eccentrics will only be with us for so long, sadly; if it’s organized and made accessible, their music could be with us for a lot longer.