Terry Riley – In C (1964)

While looking for a generative piece, I wanted to explore the world of generative music given my background with similar pieces. I ended up finding the piece “In C” by Terry Riley. The score consists of 53 musical phrases which I have included an image of below. It is performed by the artists playing the phrases starting at different times and repeated arbitrarily. It is recommended that the ensemble should try to stay within two to three phrases and that the phrases should be played in order, although some can be skipped.

I appreciated this piece as Terry Riley created an algorithm that was then set into motion under the control of the performers themselves, rather than a computer. It also yields beautiful and unique results depending on the behavior of the performers themselves, along with the amount of performers and instrumentation. Included on the wikipedia page for the piece is a chart that goes into the details of artist, instrumentation, Duration, and Tempo of each recording made of the piece. I also appreciate that although the algorithm creates unique results, it is never completely random. There are certain rules in place so that the piece still has progression, rhythm, and tone.

I’m not sure where the piece lies between total order and total randomness. I think that Riley balances these out well by including elements of order (key, notes, progression, etc.) and randomness (instrumentation, performance, length).

Score and performance notes