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Music for the Gift
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 22 December 2007
A very important historical document, the music presented here collates significant examples of the early origins of Minimalism.

This CD brings together four early tape works of Terry Riley, acknowledged as being formative to his subsequent compositional procedures. Mescalin Mix (1960) -- with the latter part of its title recalling several of Cage's tape pieces from the fifties and the former part the burgeoning psychedelic scene in San Francisco -- was created for an Ann Halprin dance piece variously titled Three Legged Stool and Five Legged Stool and is Riley's earliest surviving tape experiement.

It derives from musique concrete insofar as its source material is natural sounds -- the aural equivalent to found objects -- that the composer has identified as "people playing the piano, laughing, different sounds I'd collected here and there, explosions". Mescalin Mix was significant for Riley in the way it differed from musique concrete as it was generally practiced. In Mescalin Mix modules of sound are repeated and overlayed. To achieve this, Riley constructed ad hoc a long tape loop that extended through a window and out into his yard with a wine bottle acting as a spindle. The tape would drag along the ground accumulating dirt. Like Bruce Nauman's factually similar Six Problems for Konrad Fischer from 1968, the particular construction of the tape loop has caused Mescalin Mix to be sensitized by the space it was physically subjected to.

It was this primitive beginning that led Riley into further levels of experimentation with his Music for the Gift (1963). Riley was working in Paris when he was contacted by Ken Dewey, one of the originators of theatrical happenings, to compose the music for the production of his play The Gift that had been commissioned by the Theater of Nations. Chet Baker was also in Paris fresh from jail on a heroin bust and Dewey asked him to join the collaboration.

As source material for his composition, Riley recorded Baker's Quartet in an arrangement of Miles Davis's "So What" at the ORTF. The Quartet was recorded together as well as separately. Riley then subjected the recordings to his time-lag process, stretching the tape across the play head of one tape recorder and the record head of a second so that the two machines created a perpetual feedback and the composition was created in the edited accumulation.

Riley felt this process -- his use of it free and undogmatic (which would eventually find reverberation in the decidedly more formulaic tape pieces of Steve Reich) -- was when he "really started understanding what repetition could do for musical form". It would lead him to his breakthrough with In C and into the Poppy Nogood Phantom Band performances of the late sixties.

-- Robert Dean

Two Piano's Five Tape Recorders was recorded in 1960 at Hertz Hall, University California Berkeley. Performance includes Terry Riley and La Monte Young on prepared piano's, 5 tape recorders of concrete sounds, and KPFK announcer Glen Glasow hilariously admitting no personal knowledge of the Composer & subsequently announcing that he wasn't sure if the performance had started or if the performers were conducting a sound check.
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