A Conversation with Robert Carl, author of Terry Riley's In C

[Ed note: Oxford University Press is a proud sponsor of NewMusicBox and this very book has been featured in their sponsored space on this site. However, despite this seredipidous synchronicity, their welcome support for NewMusicBox in no way influences our editorial content.]

In April 2009, the 45th anniversary of Terry Riley’s In C was celebrated on the main stage of Carnegie Hall in an all-star performance assembled by the Kronos Quartet’s David Harrington. The event included the participation of musical luminaries across a wide swath of genres ranging from Philip Glass and Joan La Barbara to Dave Douglas, Lenny Pickett, and Wu Man, plus some of the participants in the piece’s earliest performances—Morton Subotnick, Katrina Krimsky, Jon Gibson, and Stuart Dempster. Some of us felt it was a long overdue acknowledgment from one of the world’s most prominent bastions of high culture for the historical significance of minimalism and the work which served as a catalyst for establishing this new musical paradigm. Although, fascinatingly enough, the 1968 New York premiere of In C, which directly led to its premiere recording on Columbia Masterworks, occurred in Carnegie’s much smaller, and at the time less high-profile, Recital Hall, now known as Weill Recital Hall. But if last year’s Carnegie Hall celebration confirmed In C’s status as a landmark in music history, two more recent events reveal In C to be a harbinger of the future as well.

In July 2009, Oxford University Press issued Robert Carl’s analytical volume Terry Riley’s In C as part of their series, Studies in Musical Genesis, Structure, and Interpretation, the first work of a living composer to be so accredited. This may seem another accolade in the establishing of In C as standard repertoire, but in fact Robert Carl’s book is also largely about how In C’s adaptability among musicians of a wide variety of stylistic backgrounds provides an excellent road map for the future of music.

In November 2009, innova issued In C Remixed, a 2-CD set featuring a crisp performance of Riley’s original score by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble along with 18 remixes and re-conceptualizations of In C by a broad range of people including some of today’s most forward thinking musical creators—e.g. David Lang, R. Luke DuBois, Phil Kline, Mason Bates (a.k.a. Masonic), and Paul D. Miller (a.k.a. D.J. Spooky That Subliminal Kid).

Right before the start of this new year, I chatted with Robert Carl about his insightful book as well as the past, present, and future of what is an undeniable musical phenomenon. It is clear that in addition to being one of the most significant pieces of American music created thus far, In C also continues to shape and inform the music of today and tomorrow.—FJO

Read the interview here.


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