Terry Riley - Persian Surgery Dervishes
By the early 1970’s, the boundless, minimalist composer Terry Riley was already 10+ years into a career dedicated to challenging musical forms and tonality. He had learned the basics of composition at Berkeley before forging his own path focusing on improvisation and repetition. Along with his friend La Monte Young, he examined modality and alternative tunings along with John Cale in the Theatre of Eternal Music. Around this time, he figured out a way to loop instruments by connecting 2 tape machines together. Riley would call this the “Time-Lag Accumulator” which allowed for the musicians to interact and compose over passages they had already played, layering sounds and allowing them to improvise and compose on the spot. A sort of live, multi-track technique. It is with this method that he would introduce his landmark composition, In C, which in theory, was a limitless composition with multiple musicians layering sounds in the same key.
Riley’s “Time-Lag Accumulator” would also be used in 2 live performances from Los Angeles in 1971, and Paris in 1972. He had just finished his residency teaching Indian music at Mills College in Oakland following his tutelage under master musician, Pandit Pran Nath. Along with his longtime love of jazz improvisation, far Eastern classical music would be the main inspiration for these live performances which became to be known as Persian Surgery Dervishes. Riley chose simple keyboard figures for electric organ that he looped and manipulated for the entirety of the piece. Riley had long said that “written scores are a distraction,” so true to form, he would entirely improvise these dervishes as rumbling bass keyboard tones serve as a constant framework for Riley’s jazz-like runs. Another key influence was Moroccan devotional music and the dances of the North African Sufi which echo and reverberate throughout the performances.
This new reissue by Aguirre, combines the first LP recorded live in California with the 2nd LP, recorded live in France. You get to hear both performances side by side which shows Riley emphasizing darker, murkier tones in California while the Parisian concert sounds a little brighter with Riley gravitating towards the upper registers of his keyboard. Overall, Persian Surgery Dervishessummarizes some of the finest work of Riley’s life. The music is spiritual, meditative and spacious while being grounded in its musicality and tone. Another nice presentation by Aguirre too, after their reissues of the early new age classic by JD Emmanuel and Swedish folk improvisers Enhet For Fri Musik. (Dom)
Check out an excerpt here.