Terry Riley's minimalist classic gets a workout courtesy of Cleveland art punks The...
Peter Marsh 2003
Terry Riley's minimalist classic In C is one of those pieces that'sinstantly recognisable, despite the fact that no two performances of it can ever quantitatively be very similar. Each musician is given a sequence of 53 musical phrases. He or she repeats each phrase for as long as they like (though Riley suggests that as the piece should last around forty minutes, anything between 45 and 90 seconds is best) before playing the next one. If the musician can't play a phrase, they just skip it. There are no guides as to instrumentation, though the usual number of performers is around 30.
As Riley's simple phrases drift in and out of sync with each other, complex, hypnotic patterns emerge and dissolve, making concentration a tricky business for the performers, but an experience of potentially psychedelic proportions for the listener.
Though Riley's music was undoubtedly a big influence on a generation of drone-rockers, it's only recently thatIn C's been visited recently by the likes of Acid Mothers Temple, and now by New York band The Styrenes. Riley's emphasis on group listening and relaxed approach to technique makethe piece an obvious fit with the dynamics of ye olde rocke group, and this album's proof.
The Styrenes were formed by Paul Marotta, previously of Cleveland art punkers The Electric Eels, back in 1975. Having met Riley, he'd become convinced of the possibilities of an In C played with rock instrumentation (previous recorded versions have usually featured tuned percussion and wind instruments), though held off actually doing it for some years.
Here appearing asa septet, the bandmanage 20 instruments through a spot of studio magic, playing the whole thing through twice through plus a few overdubs. And it's a beautiful noise. Props go to drummer Mike Hoffman, whose sensitive deployment of various elements of his kit provides propulsion and texture in equal measure. Guitars, keys and marimba provide the melodic wonderment that generally arises during a performance of the piece, and the Styrenes infuse the proceedings with a scratchy, raw energy that's immediate and infectious. Good stuff.