Terry Riley: Obsessed and Passionate About All Music
Interview Excerpt #5
FRANK J. OTERI: Right. Now at the same time that you were studying raga, you were doing a lot of solo keyboard improvisations and I believe around this time you started working with just intonation scales. I’m thinking now of Descending Moonshine Dervishes, and then Shri Camel which was the record that finally fulfilled the Columbia Masterworks contract which I’m so glad finally came out because it’s one of my favorite records of yours. And it was so interesting hearing raga one night followed by solo keyboard from you here in Houston this week. How do you feel these two streams of your music have influenced each other?
TERRY RILEY: Well I don’t think there’s an awful lot of influence coming from my Western music roots or my own compositional roots, although I will say that sometimes when I’m singing raga I do feel that I get into a different kind of feeling than just purely Indian tradition. And I think it has to do possibly with phrasing that maybe is coming more from jazz, some combinational. But there’s so much in Indian music. It’s such a large tradition that it’s hard to find anything in it that you do that isn’t related to it, except for say complex chord changes which they don’t have. And you don’t do this in raga any way.
FRANK J. OTERI: Right, but certainly your keyboard music definitely is informed by your study of raga. And I guess that’s where you add the complex chord progressions to the raga-like melodies.
TERRY RILEY: With the keyboard music I feel it’s kind of an anything goes palate. Especially since I improvise a lot, whatever I’m hearing at the time, I like to try to pursue. You know, follow in a spontaneous way. There’s definitely, you know the study of Indian music and all the tetrachords that make up the raga, all the different little tonal modules that make up the ragas are, are so pregnant with feeling and emotion that as you’re playing you’ll suddenly be starting to hear one of these and then it’ll start dominating the improvisation that this particular modal flavor will become the dominant mood. So it’s a powerful influence on anything I do on the keyboard.