rare and forgotten experimental music

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Terry Riley / Pierre Mariétan - Keyboard Study 2 / Initiative (+Systèmes)

Terry Riley, as I have to assume anyone reading this site would already know, is one of the originators of classical minimalism. His 1964 composition "In C" is indisputably one of the classics of the 20th century.

"Keyboard Study 2" is from around the same time as "In C". Riley first recorded this piece himself on his Reed Streams LP of 1964 (there called "Untitled Organ"). It consists of a set of modules which the performer is to repeat as many times as they want before moving on to the next module, similar to "In C" and other pieces from that period like "Olson III" and "Tread on the Trail".

This particular LP was released originally on the great BYG label of France, which mostly released classic American free jazz and European psychedelic and progressive rock. Keyboard Study 2 / Initiative (+Systèmes) was one of the few modern classical releases on the label. Unfortunately it shares with all BYG releases a poor recording and a plethora of semi-official releases of dubious provenance and quality.

This seems to be the earliest recording of a Terry Riley piece done without Riley performing, and is also notable for being a very early European performance of American minimalist music. In 1968, when this was recorded, Riley wouldn't have been that well known yet, with his "In C" LP just having come out earlier that same year.

"Keyboard Study 2" has been recorded several other times over the years, though the number of recordings doesn't even begin to approach the dozens of recordings of "In C" out there. Riley's own version on the Reed Streams LP of 1964 was performed on an electronic organ, overdubbed, and sounds quite a bit like his later organ improvisations like "Persian Surgery Dervishes". That album was re-released on CD in 2007 on Elision Fields, and you can still buy it here, though it looks like it may be out of print again. Steffan Schleiermacher made an excellent, though somewhat loosely interpreted version in the late 1990s on MDG Records, with computer-controlled digital pianos, and there's another version on Stradivarius recorded just a couple of years ago by Fabrizio Ottaviucci.

This here version was performed by Martine Joste and Gerard Frémy, a french new music pianist of note, who I've also heard on an excellent recording of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano from the late 1970s. He has also recorded several other pieces by Cage as well as works by Luc Ferrari and Stockhausen.

This recording is particularly interesting for its production through overdubbing several different sessions, creating the sound of an army of pianos playing endlessly. Mostly the sound is purely textural, a dense drone of pianos, but sometimes individual lines pop out of the texture above the rest. The poor recording quality actually enhances the sound of the piece, blurring everything together into a beautiful, dense mess. It's without a doubt my favorite version of "Keyboard Study 2", even well eclipsing Riley's own recording.

The second half of the LP is a piece by Pierre Mariétan, called "Initiative (+Systèmes)" performed by GERM (Groupe d'Étude et Réalisation Musicale), a nine-piece ensemble, including Frémy and Joste as well as Mariétan himself. Mariétan came out of the serialist school, having worked early on with Stockhausen and Boulez, but by the late 1960s was writing frameworks for improvisation and similar chance-based pieces.

"Initiative (+Systèmes)" is along similar lines to any number of semi-improvised group pieces of that era. The sound consists of mostly short noisy gestures, atonal, though the pianos sometimes provide some rhythmic underpinning to the piece. That said, it's certainly not a bad performance, there are some rather interesting sections and events, but it's very much a piece of its time, and it's a somewhat odd choice for the b-side to "Keyboard Study 2". It's worth a listen, but I doubt it'll become anyone's favorite piece.

This rip is from a CD edition of the album released in 1998 on Spalax Music, a label that has mostly released obscure Krautrock re-issues and other psychedelic musics of the late '60s and early '70s. I think this recording is still available at the moment as an LP reissue on Get Back (Forced Exposure has it here), but I've found their releases to be very poor quality on the whole. This Spalax edition is well out of print, and the album is not available anywhere on CD or digitally right now.

Download 320 kbps mp3s + scans of liner notes (in French)


Mason said...

thank you. I do have a CD release of this piece, but it would be naive to pass up Martine Joste's rendition.

If you want to add a little decoration to your post, you can find the beautiful score (much of Riley's scores are decorative, most notably A Rainbow in Curved Air) at ubu.com as part of the Aspen Magazine collection:


4litre said...

Many thanks for posting this - a great performance of the Riley piece. The original album on BYG was legendary; I didn't know it had ever been released on CD.