Thursday, May 30, 2013

mysteries in C

When I wrote my last post, about four "turning point" premieres in musical history, it wasn't difficult to find reference sources with the exact dates and locations for the first three. But Terry Riley's In C? Even its Wikipedia entry says only that it was composed in 1964.

I had to turn to the specialty book. The one and only, in fact: Terry Riley's In C by Robert Carl (OUP, 2009), the only monograph to date on the biggie. In the same spirit as his detailed analysis of the work itself, Robert Carl gives specifics on the history of its composition and first performance, derived from interviews with Riley and with some of the first performers - including Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, and Morton Subotnick, all to become big names in the avant garde music movement.

But while he gives addresses, I'm not sure how well Robert Carl, who's from Connecticut, knows San Francisco. He says the concert address is in a district called the Western Division. There's no such place. He means the Western Addition. (Addition, Division, Multiplication, Square Root, Differential Equation, whatever.) But at least everyone agrees on the date and the address. (It's a second-floor space above the storefronts. I went by recently: now it's used to teach yoga classes.)

Rather more mysterious is exactly where and when Riley composed it. According to the text, Riley (who'd grown up in Northern California and attended UC Berkeley) returned from two years in Europe in February of 1964 and rented a house in San Francisco for a year before moving to New York for a while. The book actually has a photo of the house, taken by Riley, undated but, from some of the cars on the street, considerably more recent. It's a distinctive house: two stories and flatiron-shaped, it's wedged between two converging streets, with a regular-polygonal end room on the upper floor bulging out above the lower floor.

The address is given; Robert Carl says nothing of whereabouts in the city it is, but the address is in Bernal Heights. (Carl describes it as being a block away from its actual location, but the address is what matches the photo. He doesn't say that the house is actually two separate flats, and that the address he gives is the upper floor only.) The problem is that Riley has apparently always thought he lived on Potrero Hill, which is somewhere else. He says so in an interview in the liner notes of a 1990 recording of In C ("We rented a tiny house right at the top of Potrero Hill") and the composer bio in the program notes of the original concert, photoreproduced by Robert Carl, also say, "He's now living on Potrero Hill and generally enjoying himself." This discrepancy isn't addressed in the book.

Nor is the matter of date. The original handwritten score, also reproduced in the book, says "March '64," and Robert Carl takes that as given. Riley's 1990 interview says "April or May." The concert program dates it October. Though that's in the book, the text doesn't address the discrepancy. Further adding to the mystery is Morton Subotnick's interview for the book. Planning an all-Riley concert for the Tape Music Center's 64-65 season, he says he wrote or phoned Riley and asked, "Will you be back by November?" Back from where? This sounds as if he went off somewhere for the summer and/or fall, but the book has nothing else about that either.

There are mysteries here. I've written to Robert Carl to inquire.

No comments:

Post a Comment