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Album Review

Finally we have a worthy reissue of composer Terry Riley's debut album from 1966. There have been a few bootleg attempts, but this collection is official, featuring the original "Untitled Organ" and "Dorian Reeds" that make up the album, and as an added CD bonus, a psychedelicized big-band — as in jazz, not orchestra — version of "In C" called "Mantra" by French Canadian weirdo crew L' Infonie directed by Walter Boudreau.

Riley's untitled piece for organ is a series of four- and eight-note patterns, exchanged and interchanged without standard modulation over a series of fluid musical "events" in which they interact with one another but contain their own identities. While the music may have been regarded as "simple" by the tired leftovers of serialism's last gasp for a while (it took the Americans from Cage onward to try and put the nail in the coffin that is still not buried as some Europeans try to bring it back as part of their heritage — despite the fact that musically the genre is bankrupt), the physicality of it is just plain rigorous. Riley moves through this 20-minute work of hypnotic interval and repetition with a fluidity that is nothing less than remarkable. Even today, nearly 40 years later, the piece sounds fresh, original, and not a little off-putting in its intensity. "Dorian Reeds" is a similar work that employs a different method to move into similar territory, employing the soprano saxophone and a small bevy of tape recorders — since the reed instrument is not capable of producing the same multi-toned streams as an organ. Here four-, eight-, and 12-note streams are played and looped over one another via tape recorders — no editing was done, as this was all recorded as performed — and a long soprano saxophone deviates and acts as a percussive and thematic anchor for the streams of sound coming forth from the tape boxes. Here, modulation both happens and doesn't as everything is fixed around the notion of a non-fixed interval. The single-note horn that punches through the streamed mix is notable for its ability to play accents and create the sensation of rhythm from a solo instrument. Finally, the L'Infonie version of "In C" is notable for two reasons: one is that the orchestra misread the score and created triplets where there should have been three individual series of eight notes, and two, because it's so loose, trippy, and funky. It registers tonally as completely different from the version released on Columbia (where's the 24- or 32-bit remaster of that seminal work?). The score proper comprised entirely of a single eight-note pulse (in C) of no determined duration on which different rhythmical progressions are built upon symmetrically or asymmetrically throughout, in 58 modules, or sections. There is no hint of traditional modulation. The interesting thing is, because of this freedom, as the band conducted by Boudreau moves through the number modules and creates its own architecture, they run out of recording time! The sequence ends at number 48, rather than the entire 58. It's of little consequence because this reading still holds up — despite its mistakes as a powerful and authentic interpretation of what is still a revolutionary work over 30 years after the tape ran out on L'Infonie. The dramatic and dynamic effects of Riley's work are intact and shoved in front of your face to grapple with as the wish for a different rhythmic construction, one that was ordered and orderly, floods the system — recalcitrant at first — but gradually we give way, and stop struggling and enter the sound stream. Our guard drops and L'Infonie win us over with their fluid, tripped-out rendering of the score with electric guitars and bass scratching it out with the brass and reeds and percussion. This is, of all of the Organ of Corti issues of Terry Riley's archives, the most important and satisfying volume, though there isn't a dud in the bunch.

Reed Streams, Kcaj Redir
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