The bare minimum

There are three pages to the score for Terry Riley‘s In C. Two of the pages are performance directions; the actual music all fits on a single page. It consists of 53 numbered phrases ranging in length from two sixteenth notes to 32 quarter notes. The performer plays each phrase in sequence, repeating it as many times as he wishes, before moving on to the next phrase. Riley suggests a group of about 35 musicians. Performances normally run between 45 and 90 minutes, according to Riley.

Although I’ve occasionally read about In C — it’s perhaps the first example of musical “minimalism” — and I’ve looked at the score, I’ve never actually heard it. A few days ago, I heard Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air for the first time in decades (not counting its use in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio program).1 It was more engaging than I remembered, and it occurred to be that I didn’t need to round up 35 musical friends to get an idea of what In C sounded like. I could just launch Logic and sequence as many voices as I wanted. Which I did.

This is a stripped-down, streamlined version. It’s a little over eleven minutes long, and there are only five voices — six, if you count the “pulse.” I didn’t plan it out beyond shifting loops nicely out of phase. It probably doesn’t truly represent what In C should be, but it might suggest how the music works. I likely will revise and expand this arrangement sometime soon. You can download the score here if you want to follow along or organize your own performances. There’s also a 50-minute orchestral “realization” of In C at the site — unfortunately, using what sounds like an undistinguished general midi soundset.

You can imagine Mikuru Asahina playing the repeated high C eighth notes if you wish. Or Zooey Deschanel.

Update: Uploaded a new version with additional voices and a few tweaks.

American music

Charles Ives is often celebrated for having anticipated many of the innovations of twentieth-century music. Less often noted is that he also anticipated, if that’s the right word, P.D.Q. Bach. Some years back, an acquaintance for whom I played a recording of Three Places in New England was scandalized by the second movement — real music isn’t supposed to be funny, he said. (Tell that to Mozart.) Here it is, the ideal music for the Fourth of July:

It’s become trendy in recent years to complain that the music of P.D.Q. Bach overshadows that of the composer Peter Schickele. I’ll grant that the humor is hit-and-miss, with misses predominating on the later recordings. Sometimes, though, the jokes work. Here’s the fourth movement of the “Unbegun Symphony.” ((Strictly speaking, this isn’t P.D.Q. Bach, since Schickele claimed it as his own, so to speak.))

If you’ve got a couple of hours to kill while waiting for it to get dark enough for fireworks tonight, why don’t you invite 35 of your closest friends over with their instruments and run through some American music of a different sort. Here’s the score to Terry Riley’s In C.