Terry Riley: Obsessed and Passionate About All Music



Terry Riley
Interview Excerpt #9


FRANK J. OTERI: You actively perform. You tour around the world. You write music for other people. You also are still studying music. You’re still listening. You’re still paying attention to so much stuff that’s going on. What do you want to do next? What do you feel you would like to accomplish at this point?

TERRY RILEY: Well, I think one of things that I’m kind of interested in going back and working in more is the theatrical kind of situations for music which I really enjoy a lot. I did this little opera a few years ago called The Saint Adolf Ring which was a very small chamber opera. There were only three of us on stage. It involved videos and some very elaborate stage sets and I enjoy that very much because it made me think about music in different terms because of the theatricality of it. I’m not interested in really big operas, but I am interested in working more… I just did the music for a Michael McClure play, the poet Michael McClure, called Josephine the Mouse Singer and I found it really stimulates my imagination a lot to, to write for the stage. I get ideas very quickly and it seems to be a very spontaneous way to work.

FRANK J. OTERI: And the singing that comes out of that, is that informed by your own singing as well?

TERRY RILEY: Yeah, like for The Saint Adolf Ring for instance, the singing in it was somewhere in between jazz and Indian music. Because Woelfli, the person this opera was about, is German, I also tried to do some singing in Swiss Deutsch which he wrote in. And also, he was schizophrenic so he wrote in languages that don’t really exist. I mean he wrote kind of nonsense words and I set those and then I sang them in kind of a German, but not operatic, but you know folk music style.

FRANK J. OTERI: So in terms of the kind of singers you would want to work with on this, the standard operatic bel canto singing used for Verdi and Puccini doesn’t really work with this.

TERRY RILEY: Well, it could. I would like to see for theater works a mixture of singers. So that some might be bel canto, but then you might have a singer with no vibrato I mean from an Indian style or a jazz scat singer. I would like to have a theater piece that would mix singing styles. I think there’s places and of course there’s different approaches to bel canto singing too. There are some Western musicians who have very, very fine control on their vibrato so that they’re not just doing it indiscriminately.

FRANK J. OTERI: In the performance of In C that you’re doing with the Bang On A Can All-Stars tonight, you’re singing with them. It sort of brings our talk full circle because I’m hearing things in In C that I never heard before hearing you sing it. I’m hearing connections to much older modal music traditions than I ever heard in it before. Is that part of the reason why you’re performing it this way tonight?

TERRY RILEY: In recent performances of In C, I’ve been singing more and more and not only me, but I’ve brought in other singers too and I think the vocal aspect of this is a good addition to it. And it probably, as you said, gives the setting of In C a different context. You start listening to it as maybe part of old music, or part of Renaissance music. I think the voice always adds some kind of humanizing quality to it.

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  1. Pingback: The music of Terry Riley « tiboresque

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