Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Terry Riley - "Keyboard Study #1"

Keyboard Study #1

All praise due to the University of the Pennsylvania's Ormandy music library for this album. While working at Penn I spent a bunch of time digging into Ormandy's deep deep shelves and this was one of the very best finds.

Despite several years of listening to Terry Riley's discography, I'd never heard of these pieces -- Keyboard Study #1 and Keyboard Study #2 -- and the names certainly didn't suggest that they'd be anything special, particularly vis-a-vis the vision-quest-ish appellations of most of Riley's best songs. But it turned out to be one of my very favorite Riley works and, accordingly, one of my very favorite minimalist compositions.

Kicking off without the slightest prelude and ending abruptly 22 minutes later, the track keeps a joyfully upbeat and major key pace without ever getting dull. The left hand part* plays simple arpeggios (mostly just octaves and fifths?) in constantly changing metric patterns that are impossible to count (at least for me -- readers who went to music school, please comment otherwise to the effect of "it's in alternating measures of 17 and 15, duh") but still imply enough of a 4/4 to rock solidly. I could probably listen to just that part and be as happy as I'd be listening to any Charlemagne Palestine recording. But the right hand part makes the track as much fun as a great pop song, filling in quick melodic syncopations that repeat enough for you to start humming them but never overstay their welcome. Fittingly for someone with a Who song named after him, Riley has a rock and roll understanding of not boring his listener with repetition for repetition's sake. Tell me you didn't pump your fist and headbang a little when the chord changes for the first time at 5:05. Tell me that and I'll tell you that you ought to listen to this track fifteen more times to get your ears right.

The performer here, by the way, isn't Riley himself, as on most of his recordings, but some guy named Steffen Schleiermacher. For the record.

*I have no idea if the two voices are actually played by left or right hands -- for all I know it's two separate tracks -- but, you know, I mean the part that functions like a left and right-hand piano parts would, more or less.

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