Terry Riley in Luleå, Sweden 14 October 2015


A Terry Riley concert doesn’t begin on stage, nor does it end there. It is seamlessly inserted into its wider space-time, and the attendances bring their various frames of mind as well as their ongoing forces of Karma into the complexity of the concert situation, where the shimmering, scintillating dance of tones and the slowly turning fields of sound at changing levels of density and torque move through the transparency of the tuning.

The flight up north soars at 35000 feet, speeding at 500 miles/h, in a soft drift at the junction of the home planet and the void, which, however, is nothing but a field of energy connecting us to our wider home of the Universe, of which we are expressions, indeed the universe becoming aware of itself, and perhaps having us, slowly, becoming aware of our roles as the eyes and the mind of this universe – as Riley expresses it, as planetary dream collectors! - only as yet too lost in the illusion of duality and desperate identities to really enjoy this magnificence of the All. Our brains are lumps of condensed matter all over this planet, just like boulders or charcoal, but immensely complex and charged with electricity. They are the universe, just like anything else, even though they often still mistake themselves for individuals.
Alan Watts has in earnest talked to us about this, perhaps better than most – and the great teacher Chögyam Trungpa came out of Tibet as a refugee and sowed words that keep growing into strong mindfulness within and around many of us. Terry Riley belongs in this realm. His music has a calming and inspiring effect, a cleansing effect to it that definitely puts you in a mood that prepares you for spiritual growth and a better readiness to explore and develop your situation. His music has a peculiar strength of introspection and flowing energy. When all comes to all, it is about being practical; not getting lost on the way, of letting the smog of chatter inside our minds set, of letting the majestic silence of billions of galaxies grow in our lives, and of letting the light reach our retinas and our consciousnesses, no matter how many million years it has been travelling, no matter how many lives we have waited.

I arrive at the farm up near the village of Niemisel, being picked-up by Anna at the airport the night before the Riley concert, and it is a great joy, as always, to immediately jump out of the car at arrival, rushing off to meet the horses, Grip, Eldur and Tornado.

Terry Riley and his companions, son Gyan Riley and the two members of The Gothenburg Combo, as well as the road manager Klaus Pontvik, come charging in to Luleå on a plane from Vilnius, Lithuania, where the extremely well-attended concert the night before had been taking place.

I lay listening at the bottom floor of our two-story derelict building in our rural Swedish town. It was 1971. I had returned from a three-month trip around the USA, having popped in to Stanford University to visit a brief acquaintance that I’d met right outside Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s bookstore City Lights in San Francisco. I came right into an area of the university where John Chowning may have been working his frequency modulation at the time. I had no idea about that then. I also visited another acquaintance whom I’d hosted briefly in our derelict house in Sweden when he was traveling; a Fred who lived in Santa Cruz. He took me riding up and down Highway One in his stark yellow Volkswagen Beetle. On the West Coast I’d also been all the way up to Vancouver in Canada, as well as staying for a while in an abandoned bus in a garden in Seattle with a group of hippies.
It was a lively trip for that young man who was I, and I passed back across the continent through Canada, finally lifting off from New York’s Kennedy Airport, up through a thick layer of clouds, touching down on the Stockholm runway at an inconvenient time of day.
Now I lay there listening in my bedroom in Sweden, late fall, cold and dark, under a thick quilt, and the music that seeped down to me from the apartment above, where my old friend Sune lived, was non other than A Rainbow In Curved Air with Terry Riley. I had never heard anything like it before, and I had never heard of Terry Riley. This was all to change that late fall in the derelict building. That rainbow appeared in that curved air much of the time, and I was hypnotized. The wooden house, built in the late 1800s, was permeated with the vibrations. I’m sure all the nails that held the house together tickled the wooden planks dearly.
Sune was a genius when it came to finding out that these rare musical expressions existed, many decades before the Internet and instant planetary knowledge, and he got hold of the records. I don’t even know today how he managed that. I have asked the now almost 70 years old guy how he did that, but I haven’t received any clear answer.

On the 14th of October this year, 2015, Anna leaves for her work at the big hospital early in the morning, and I sleep some more – but not as much as I’d wished, because I am apprehensive, yes, perhaps even a little nervous – because this day I am supposed to meet Terry Riley for the first time in five years, and attend his Luleå concert.
It is a fine day out there in Northbothnia, and I go out and speak with the horses. A few hours later I hop on my modified racing bike for a little exercise. It’s an older racing bike that I had modified last spring, to be able to attach a one-wheel carriage and bicycle the 870 miles from my door down south to Anna’s door up north. Then I left that bike up there to be able to use it when I’m there. Now I have a refreshing and calming ride, a shower and some nutrients afterwards, and feel all set, really, to go see Terry when the hour is right.

Anna got off from work early to drive the 40 miles home and hand over the car to me, and in mid afternoon she turns off the main country road, through the birch alley, up to the farm which lies on a little hill, almost hidden from view by spruces, firs, birches and aspens. Moose wander by at dusk and dawn, and we have even named the fox that leaves tracks in the snow, and who always investigates whatever leftovers might have been offered him behind the stable. He’s Yannis! In late winters Yannis barks in a ghostly voice that chills the bones of those not familiar with him. At the same time of year the little Tengmalm’s Owl (or Boreal Owl), Aegolius funereus in Latin, calls beautifully out of the wild.

The red-furred cat Gunnvald is a fierce Reaper to the rodents in the vicinity. He hardly ever asks for food in the house. However, when he decides to be inside, like when it’s raining miserably, or when the temperature falls beneath  -30 degrees C (- 22 F), he is the sweetest and most cuddly cat, never for a moment leaving my lap if I sit and read somewhere, or just sit at the computer or simply rest. He likes to be handled, and relaxes completely when he is lifted or moved about. He has the better of two lives. Anna picked him up at an animal protection organization in Luleå when he was little and had been found in mid-winter in a trashcan in Luleå. If we’re not home when he decides to be inside, he has his own private entrance to the stable and further into the tack room, where he maintains a cozy hideout, where he can stay warm and look out through a little window. It’s such a peaceful space that I’ve been contemplating spending a retreat for some time there.
When considering the animal presence around the farm, one must not omit the swans, the whooper swans; Cygnus cygnus in Latin, who call ecstatically in incredibly beautiful voices from the lakes in the forests surrounding the farm, especially in spring and fall.
Another species that I’ve so far only seen heavy tracks from in the snow in early spring is the brown bear, Ursus arctos in Latin, who however is rather common in these parts, albeit extremely shy and careful not to catch the eye of any human.

I pack my gear into the car. I am tense about that. I know it is usually strictly prohibited to bring any kind of photographic or recording equipment into the concert space, especially when a true celebrity descends on the area! I had some email correspondence with Riley ahead of time, about an eventual – but due to tight schedule inhibited – drive out to Anna’s farm, but he didn’t comment the question about gear, so it is an open question all the way up to the real live entrance into the hall. The gear I bring is a tripod and a monopod, a big camera with a very heavy telephoto lens and a small compact camera that I usually use in the mountains when hiking, plus a Zoom H5 recorder. I stuff this all into my backpack, out of which the pods protrude. Admittedly, that is a lot of forbidden items to bring along, and would indicate a very optimistic mind. I usually have a hard time just relaxing and enjoying the situation; I want to do something more – and in this case I wish to record and photograph in order to write the text I’m now working on here!

There’s a little story to be told about the tripod and the monopod. I couldn’t bring my tripod on the plane, since I opted to travel light, with only hand baggage, this time, to feel free and loose. Anna has a lot of expedition gear stored away at the farm, which her brother, who lives in Mexico, left there when he married and moved abroad many years ago. I discovered this at one time when I browsed around with Anna up in an attic in one of the barns, and saw a number of crates, which we opened. Inside, to my amazement, we discovered hundreds and hundreds of dia positives; slides, with exciting mountain climbing views, obviously not from Sweden. These were packed and stored in such a neat and zealous way that all the slides had lasted through about 15 summers and winters, with summer temperatures peaking at about + 30 C (+ 86 F), and the rock bottom freeze reached at around – 40 C (- 40 F) in the depth of winter.
We ventured into that attic smack in the winter, headlamps lighting our way, with our misty breaths filling the space with the fog of exhales and our fingers quickly becoming stiff and numb.
I had all those slides shipped down to my apartment down south, and elected to purchase a really good scanner, starting to scan the slides into tiff format in Photoshop and putting them on CDRs and on back-ups on a number of hard drives, and also on CDRs for Anna’s brother in Mexico.

The story behind these slides – and the tripods and monopods discovered simultaneously – goes way back, when Anna’s brother Anders was quite young, and their mother attended a mountain climbing club in Gothenburg, Sweden. Anders went there as well, and so did a young Swedish man in dreads. He was Göran Kropp, later a mountaineer celebrity, who, among many other feats, biked down to Nepal from Sweden in 1996, carried all his gear up to the Everest Base Camp and climbed, unsupported, to the summit of Mount Everest without extra oxygen, came down alive and biked back towards Sweden.
Anna’s brother and Göran Kropp became friends early on, and Anders joined Kropp and the team as a photographer when they went on some early Swedish expeditions to Muztagh Tower (7273 meters; 23861 feet) in Pakistan in 1990, and Cho Oyu (8201 meters; 26906 feet) in 1992.
The tripod and monopod that I bring to Terry Riley’s Luleå concert had been used by Anders Nygren when he accompanied Göran Kropp and the team to Pakistan in the 90s, so they were unnecessarily heavy, i.e., not very modern, but worked fine nonetheless.

I set out from Niemisel towards Luleå, just at sundown, half way driving the local, small and scarcely trafficed country roads, but the latter half inserting myself into the mad velocity of the highway flow.
In Luleå I have no problem finding my way to the parking lot conveniently situated right across the street from the Luleå Culture House, housing the concert hall for Terry Riley.

The night is velvety, and the afterglow of the sun spreads across the western horizon above the waters in the unusually mild air. Even though it isn’t dark yet, all the streetlights and the lights in the shops are lit, and the transitory nature of the moment is clearly sensed. The air is vaporous and good to breathe.

I am a couple of hours early for the concert, which is due to commence at 7 PM. I am still nervous about all the gear I bring, so I go up to a desk inside the large reception hall of the Luleå Culture House and speak to the lady there. She is very nice, and don’t seem quite so put off by my appearance, merely stating that there would be a host during the evening, and that I can address that person.

The lady also lets on that Terry and his road manager – whom I later found out is Klaus Pontvik, the director of the Uppsala Guitar Festival, of which this Luleå concert was a spin-off – has just left the building after sound-check to go rest at the hotel, which I gather is The Clarion Hotel right across a side-street.

A couple cups of strong, black coffee and an apple cake with cold vanilla sauce embellish a good while spent in the café at the Culture House, and as the time remaining until the concert shrinks away, I step out onto the stairs of the Culture House, sauntering about in the fresh air as evening close in, spaying across to the hotel – but no Riley is to be seen ambling across the street towards the steps.

When I get the information that Terry will step directly on stage at 7 PM without further ado, I retreat into the Culture House and onto the staircase to a higher level of the building, where the concert will take place, when I see another unlikely figure disengage from the anonymous, scattered crowd of concert-goers on the main floor in the distant reaches of the hall; Björn Eriksson, whom I know from The Great Learning Orchestra, which, during its 16 years long existence has played several works by Terry Riley, and even performed his Tread On The Trail with him in Stockholm in 2002. At that time one of Terry’s original friends – composer, musician and radio producer Folke Rabe – played a keyboard, and he also let me sleep in his studio those musically so important days; three of them, to be able to stay in the city without spending money I didn’t have.

Folke and Terry shares very early experiences that Folke told me about in an interview I made for a paper in 1991, sitting in his Stockholm studio. Folke explained that he met and became friends with Ken Dewey who worked with Dancers’ Workshop at the Biennal in Venice in 1963, when Folke went to the Biennal. When Dewey came to Scandinavia later that summer “he brought an obscure pianist by the name of Terry Riley”!
Terry Riley and Ken Dewey stayed for a while with Folke Rabe in his parents’ home out in the Stockholm suburb of Hässelby Gård.

In 1965 Folke went to the USA, and arrived in San Francisco to work at The San Francisco Tape Music Center, also frequently staying at Terry’s place. At the time Folke participated in the performances of Terry’s works, like, for example, In C.
There is interesting information about Folke’s and Terry’s early dealings in Robert Carl’s book on In C (2009) Carl has a slightly differing idea of when, and especially where, Folke and Terry first met. He says in the book that it was in Finland in 1963 after the premier of Music For The Gift. That is also how Folke relates it in the booklet for Terry’s CD Olson III, and the one doesn’t exclude the other. Carl gives a more specific time for Folke’s early participation in an In C performance at The San Francisco Tape Music Center. It was in May 1965.

Returning to Folke’s story about the early years in my 1991 interview, he goes on to relate how he, the following years, managed to arrange guest appearances in Sweden by almost all of the people he met at The Tape Music Center: Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster and Terry Riley.

About Terry Riley’s visit and residency in Sweden, Folke says:

“When I returned home from my stay in the U.S.A. in 1965 Karl-Birger Blomdahl, who was the new Head of Music of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, asked me what I deemed the most interesting occurrence I’d come across in America. We sat in my apartment talking, and after a short moment of consideration I said that the most startling phenomenon I’d come upon was Terry Riley’s music.
Let’s have him, Karl-Birger said! That’s how things were conducted during the golden years of the 60s!
Terry obtained a month’s residency which embraced, among other things, a modern music concert, for which Terry rehearsed a piece of his own – Olson III – with pupils at the Nacka Music School. This soon raised a lot of fuzz and anxiety, but it was epoch-making and bewildering for many, not least then rock musicians of the day. Träd, Gräs & Stenar would hardly have sounded the way they did and do, hadn’t Riley spooked them”

When Terry was in Sweden in 1994 and played at The Stockholm Culture House I had the opportunity, through Folke Rabe, who had also seen to it that I could work off and on as a freelance music program producer at the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, to talk to Terry. Folke had just shown me the wonderful gem Olson III that lay dormant on a reel-to-reel in the radio archives, and I’d been able to listen to a tape copy. It startled me. I asked Terry if he recalled that time in April of 1967 when he studied and rehearsed this piece of his with the Nacka music students, and he did, but it was obvious he hadn’t really considered the tape’s real worth. Right there and then he asked Folke for a copy to listen to back in America. I have no idea if my pointing out this dusty old archive tape to Terry had anything to do with it, but after this a whole string of priceless musical Riley gems started pouring out of the specialized record company Organ of Corti on beautiful CDs – and Olson III was one of them. It was released in 1998. It is one of three major Riley works written in a related way; Tread On The Trail, In C and Olson III.

It feels great to meet Björn Eriksson in the Luleå Culture House. That whole connection to a wider set of friends and artists open through the sight of him strolling towards me, and when he tells me he has driven his car all the way from his home in Sollefteå, about 500 km (310 miles) away, and that he will drive almost the same distance back after the concert, to work the next morning, I know I’m not the only one present taking this situation and this visit by Terry Riley seriously! It has to do with so much more than a concert, yes, with a whole mode of existence; with a benign and Avalokitesvarish vibration through space and nervous systems. I’m sure Björn feels the same strong surge.

You know, great artists build dreams together with their followers. Riley weaves dreams on his grand piano, his synthesizer, his strong and beautiful voice, which, trained in Northern India by master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath winds up the dark corners of the great concert hall, defying any sense of time or place.

I would not have had to worry about my backpack stuffed with illicit gear. The folks checking tickets don’t raise an eyebrow as I enter. I was aware of having a good placement in the hall, but after the concert was switched from the biggest hall to a slightly smaller one, I get an even better seat, especially considering the placement of my gear. My seat is right in the middle, up ahead with no rows in front, and only one other person placed in my row; Björn, who sits to the right of me, with one empty seat in between. We couldn’t have asked for anything better!

I spot a person who can be none other than the road manager, smart looking with a Leonard Cohen hat and a glint in his eye, standing to the side of the stage – so I immediately go speak to him, since I am expecting to have a chat with Terry Riley some time during the night. Terry and I had corresponded via email and Facebook a few times before the concert, and the last time just a couple of days ago. The manager, Klaus Pontvik, comes back and said I can talk to Terry in the intermission.

I stroll to my seat, put up the tripod and the Zoom recorder, and switch the machine on.

The time approaches fast, and in the rumble and clatter of expectant applause the noble Seigneur treads the stage, from darkness into light, bowing to the people in their seats, hands together Indian style, where-after he immediately sits down at the grand piano and begins playing.

This first piece, a Riley solo on the grand piano – 10:33 including applause – is a reworking of The Ecstasy from Salome Dances For Peace (1985 – 86), a large-scale work that started as a ballet suite for string quartet, recorded by Kronos Quartet and released on a double CD on Elektra Nonesuch in 1989. Riley says in the booklet that the idea for this large work grew out of an improvisation on a theme from The Harp of New Albion, which is a fabulous set of pieces for piano in just intonation that comprises another double CD, on Celestial Harmonies / Kuckuck Schallplatten (1986) – so maybe he brings the composition back again, at this concert, to the keyboard realm from its string quartet guise… but I think probably Terry first and foremost works out all his works on a keyboard; piano or synthesizer.

The Ecstasy is the fourth of five main sections of Salome Dances For Peace, itself consisting of five parts: Processional / Seduction of the Bear Father / The Gathering / At The Summit / Recessional.
Reading Terry Riley’s titles is like reading poetry, or the titles of magical fairy tales! These sub-titles from The Ecstasy all open up stories that you yourself fill with meaning, with secret worlds in which shadowy figures from your sub-conscious move about, trying to tell you something. It’s so rich! Terry seems to be a being with one foot in a magic world beyond, full of tales and sorcery and good energy, good medicine – and the other foot in this everyday world, putting up a connection, a vibrating thread of energy, with messages going back and forth between the collective consciousness, the archetypes, and our worried minds of offices and freeways.

The Ecstasy this evening in Luleå, on a tempered piano, opens with a thoughtful but loosely absentminded progression of chords, the sonic richness of the piano put to work as Riley seems to wander about, looking the situation over, hmm… ha… aha… well… The wind moves gently through the leaves of an imagined oak. The oak is old, the wind is ever changing. The spirit moves hither and thither… and the world is going on. And then Riley is the oak. Suddenly I see that the wind flows out of its foliage, and the wind is the music, as the wind is the breath of the living; a hallucinatory vision.
A sacred space opens around the music, a sense of stillness and meditation permeates the system that consists of Terry Riley, the grand piano and the audience, and you just need to be where you are, and you are. This sorcerer at the keys has soared here on the wings of a steel bird, and I have too. We have gathered for this moment, and this is the moment, instantly overlaid by its temporal offspring. Each consecutive moment adorns its impermanence with just as much detail and nuance as you are trained and relaxed enough to notice, and there is no end. Terry Riley orders the keys in front of him like a gambler at the table in a Western saloon one time in 1840 his cards. Outside in the night the horses tied to the porch. A wild glimmer in a dark eye. A rustle.

The prayer beads of blue notes dangle from the center of perception; the audience sits mentally cross-legged; the concert space is the main hall of forlorn space ship Aniara, drifting in the direction of The Lyre; the concert is a pastime through the anxiety of the endless abyss, Terry Riley is the Mimarobe.

The keys are struck, caressed, finger-tipped – the music moves from thoughtfulness to rushing force, from mad break-throughs back into meditative spiralings.

The second piece, after Terry has invited his son Gyan on stage with his guitars, is Ebony Horns (16:23 including applause). Terry stays with the grand piano, while Gyan picks up his electric guitar.
This work seems to appear the first time as part of a work for string quartet and orchestra called The Sands (1990). It then appears as a piano piece on Terry’s strange and ingenious CD Autodreamographical Tales (Tzadik) (2010), based on a dream journal that he kept, but as part of a piece titled The Hook Lecture (2006) for piano and voice, which is placed after Autodreamographical Tales on the CD.
This version at the Luleå concert is much reminiscent of the piano version on the CD, but with the important difference that Gyan takes part, changing the fabric of the sound.

Ebony Horns, after a few seconds of stabilizing piano-time and space, begins with a fast, steady beat in the piano, which is taken over by the guitar, while Terry moves over in a parallel track which he fills with glass beads of various colors and velocities, rolling down the waterspouts of drifting musical thoughts.
The two master musicians keep up a complex communication, taking turns, throwing threads of rileyish chords successions back and forth between their respective musical tools.
Gyan and his father slow down, almost tripping over their feet, while Terry asks for some more guitar in his listening monitor. It is duly filled, and after a while the music turns into some kind of rock n’ roll motion that really makes things lively.
Terry, however, turns on the motive from the beginning of the piece, and Gyan returns some high pitch plucking. Soon father and son takes hold of the moment and molds a spiraling thick leathery progression across the hall, eventually becoming very lyrical and romantic, like a scene from an early TV western, where all characters except the villains are so righteous.
Towards the end Gyan lets loose in a true rock n’ roll catharsis, before stopping dead in his tracks. Magnificent!

Third piece is a Gyan Riley composition; Melismantra (7:39 including applause). Terry plays the grand piano and sings, and Gyan picks up his acoustic guitar.
It is a very lyrical and almost otherworldly tune, opening softly on Gyan’s guitar, with Terry joining after a short while on the grand, very gently.
They slowly build an atmosphere, sunlight through mist, mycelium imperceptibly stretching through the humus below layers of colorful leaves of fall.
Out of this naturalistic meditation rises a winding pillar of smoke from a gardener’s pile of leaves: Terry’s ancient Eastern voice ascending above the forests and the fields, merging with the haze of the October day; a long gone past merging with a distant future.

Still some sparse motion glittering on ant mounds in sunny meadows.

Fourth is a piece that Terry has written for Gyan, with a Spanish title, which in English would be Diego, the King of the Valencian Night. It’s a solo by Gyan, 9:09 applause included.
A slender and delicate melody in the classicaly played acoustic guitar spins across and around the stage like a wooden doll in woolen clothes dancing through the opening chapter of a fairy tale by H. C. Andersen. There is sorcery and magic at play, brittle dreams and benign wishes for all sentient beings. The Earth turns silently through space. A full moon rises above the horizon in the velvety night as I soar along the asphalt in the cone of light from my Silva headlamp, mounted on my helmet. The frame is carbon, the rims are carbon, the tires are tubes. The motion is almost effortless. The tubes sing their song of speed, equilibrium and equanimity.
The associations surround this gentle and precise composition like an aura of radioactive decay as Gyan plays his guitar as well as the limbic system in my brain. The tissue lights up inside the darkness of my skull as fingers trip and stroll and rush across the strings of the guitar. Dark figures cast long shadows far off inside my sub-conscious, presently under the rule of Diego, the king of the Valencian night!

A Terry Riley concert is certainly a holy grail of sorts, and will claim it’s rightful place among those celebrated distances of Enrico Caruso, Arthur Schnabel, John Coltrane and Shivkumar Sharma.
Through it flows the exquisite spirit of inquisitiveness and sheer creativity.

The fifth presentation is a Sonny Rollins tune – Airegin – which Terry has modified and written “some words” for (6:06). Terry plays the grand and sings, and Gyan hits the electric bass guitar. Terry’s voice is heard somewhat off in the fabric of the music, just like another instrument, while the piano trills and the leathery, claylike bass pulls much of the attention. Terry’s singing here appears humorous and early 20th century smoky bar room extended. It has nothing to do with his classical Indian singing, which we get to hear elsewhere in the concert, and it simply shows the breadth of his vocal possibilities, here playing around in the vicinity of Woody Woodpecker and the beat poets!

After the tune Riley explains that he used to carry one LP with Sonny Rollins around with him in New York in 1962, and it was the only record in his suitcase, which is why he played it a lot.

The sixth tune in the first part of the 14th October concert in Luleå is a beautiful and unexpected little melody (3:55) on Gyan’s acoustic guitar and Terry’s melodica, which he blows into through a hose, sitting by the grand piano, looking great in profile on stage, his long, white beard, the red melodica and the black and shiny grand transporting the audience into a fairytale, distant in time as well as location, somewhere deep inside the forlorn dreams of childhood or pre-existence. The melody in itself is kind and caring and thoughtful, causing no harm, the mild light of empathy like sunlight through mist.
In another sense, this could well be a troubadour’s melody on Washington Square in Greenwich Village, New York City in the early 1960s.

The seventh and last piece in the first half of the concert, before the intermission, is Terry raga-singing and playing the grand piano (9:28 including applause and sign-off) in a tremendous, albeit withheld intensity that builds an elastic tension between vocal cord and tympanic membranes. The keys are hammered and sonic progressions spun, chords thrown out like bouncing blue balls, slowly seeping into the cracks of doors and stairs, filling the concert hall in a bluish mist as the song continues. Gyan adds his electric guitar to the solemn keyboard lyricism that builds eastern architecture, the hammers of the grand piano shaping red bricks rising into slender, swaying towers in the haze of the holy hour of cow dust; the hot sun of our origin sinking back into velvet, where blackness soon appears, full of stars.

I had heard a more thorough vocal concert with Terry in the town of Uppsala in 2010, when half the concert consisted of raga singing. I had talked to Terry thereafter about the possibilities of him releasing a double CD of his own raga singing, the way he’d already published his teacher Pandit Pran Nath on CDs on his own label, and I felt it would be possible, but so far this hasn’t transpired. Looking into my own vault I find recordings of Terry singing night ragas in Stockholm in May 2002; a recording from Swedish Radio. Terry’s voice has been audible for a long time. The first commercial recording to surface with his singing perhaps was on Songs For The Ten Voices Of The Two Prophets: Embroidery (22:09); Eastern Man (11:19) and Chorale Of The Blessed Day (11:23) in 1983 on Kuckuck Schallplatten – an extremely strong phonogram, deserving a place much further up front in the oeuvre of Terry Riley.

I join Terry backstage for a good part of the intermission. He comes off the stage into the semi-darkness below it, stepping down, leading the way through a door and around corners through a maze of short halls or corridors, until the artists’ dressing-room provides a place to talk and sit.
First he warms up a mug of water, to alleviate the hoarse feeling in his throat from that Indian raga singing. Then we sit down. In the room are also the two members of the Gothenburg Combo (David Hansson and Thomas Hansy) and Gyan Riley, moving about some ways off.
It is not an interview. It is a friendly chat. We had met when he had been on tour in Sweden before, the first times through our common friend Folke Rabe. The last time the three of us got together was in Uppsala in 2010. We had kept a loose communication on the web, and I had written about Terry’s music now and then on my site, as well as hosted some radio programs in Swedish Radio 2 in the 1990s with Terry’s compositions, as a freelancer, the way cleared by Folke. Now we find the time to sit down a little while at one point in Terry’s tight and tiring tour of 2015.  
By this time in mid October in Luleå he’s been away from home almost three weeks. He tells me he’ll be heading to Paris for a concert the next day and then to Ghent, where after Sri Moonshine Ranch waits at the end of the line. Before they came to Europe to continue the tour they’d played three nights in New York. I’d read raving reviews on the Internet.
Asked what ever made him decide to play way up north in Sweden at Luleå, he refers immediately to Klaus Pontvik, the road manager – who was also the director of the Uppsala Guitar Festival – and who planned the Luleå concert. It was Klaus who invited the Gothenburg Duo, who Gyan had met in South America.
I ask Gyan to take a few shots of Terry and me with my camera, and I talk a little to Thomas and David from The Gothenburg Combo, too. They tell me they are good pals with composer Peter Hansen, so as usual, everything and everyone get connected.

When I get Terry’s autograph for good friend, musician and composer Marco Heimburger, we talk a little about the younger people that have a new interest in Terry’s music, and Terry describes the concert situation the night before in Vilnius. “It was packed”, he says,  “and they were all young people, I couldn’t believe it, they were all younger than them”, Terry says and motions toward the Gothenburg Combo!
Terry also emphasizes that they’re serious over in Lithuania about their culture and art and music. “They’re not superficial”, he says.
Asking Terry if he’s going to play any more tonight he explains that the others are going to play two or three numbers and then they’re all four going to play a piece together to end the concert.
Terry expresses that he had been planning to try and see Folke (Rabe), but it turned out it would have been too much of a time-consuming and exhausting detour on the train. Terry memorizes about when Folke came over to San Francisco in the 1960s and took part in an early performance of In C.
We contemplate how one way or another we all have to finally go, and as I mention how much I study Buddhism nowadays, he mentions impermanence. I bring up Alan Watts, and that he lived in California too, and Terry expresses how good a teacher he was, and such a good speaker. Terry mentions how much of Alan Watts can be found on YouTube.
Terry says that when he was young, Alan Watts came on the radio – KPFA Berkley – a lot. Terry used to listen then. He didn’t know what Buddhism was, but he was magnetized by Watts’ talks. Referring to the problems that Alan Watts also had, Terry mentions that everyone’s a victim of having a human birth.
We talk some about Chögyam Trungpa, whom I’ve been reading extensively lately, and Terry immediately brings up his Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and the first section of his complete edition of eight books on Shambala; Born In Tibet. I state that Born In Tibet is like a fantastic movie script.
Terry mentions that some of Chögyam Trungpa’s students are wonderful teachers now.

Referring to Terry’s approaching trip to Paris and his concert there I talk about old concerts and old recordings from there, and Terry mentions his Last Camel In Paris; a organ improvisation in the vein of Persian Surgery Dervishes, but with much better sound, which was released on The Elision Fields label in 2008. Terry says that The Last Camel In Paris is his best organ performance on record; very continuous, with a very nice tapestry. Terry was very surprised when the long forgotten live recording surfaced in Paris.
Daniel Caux at Radio France found it. He had also been the producer at the time. It was recorded in Paris during a concert 10 November 1978. Caux found it buried in the Radio France archives. Terry recalled the concert, but wasn’t aware that it had been recorded!

Finally we tell each other to keep on keeping on, and I step out and reclaim my place in the audience.

The second section of the concert commences with The Gothenburg Combo in one of Terry Riley’s compositions; Zamorra (app. 10:00).
The music is saturated, rich, flowing rapidly like clear water in a stream, over beautiful rocks and pebbles in Northbothnia.
David Hansson and Thomas Hansy – The Gothenburg Combo – function like a machine, so perfectly in order, ball bearings lubricated and rolling, every least strand of musical DNA fitting perfectly into the compositional genome, as if out of a study by Svante Pääbo down at The Max Planck Institute in Leipzig.
It is a joy and a sense of flowing functionality and precision mechanics to follow the guitarists as they excel in their art, a multi-functional musical task, with, in this case, a sonic map crowded with explicit signs – notes – provided them by Terry Riley, with which they have programmed their brains, allowing their fine motor ability and their sense of blinding beauty to have the winding, fluttering music of Zamorra fly up like a cloud of butterflies and overtake the duration of the piece, dizzying the audience.

The second entry in the second half of the Lule concert is a work written by David Hansson and Thomas Hansy in honor of Terry Riley, since, they say, he has meant so much to them musically, and affected how they think about music and how they compose, yes, influenced their entire musician-ship. The piece can be found on their latest CD; Guitarscapes.  The tune comes out of a suite they’ve composed, called America. It’s derived from various experiences from touring in the USA.
This particular composition is entitled Highway 1; Music In Three Parts (9:20). It describes, musically, rhythmically, the feeling of driving up Highway One from Los Angeles to San Francisco, on the coastal highway along the Pacific Ocean. I have travelled up and down that stretch a few times, and can appreciate the beauty and smoothness of the winding, whirling asphalt under the sun, with the glittering ocean out there.
It is also most fitting to dedicate this work to Terry Riley, since California is and has always been his home, and where he lives on his ranch up near Camptonville, in the fresh air of the forests up in the mountains.

Highway One immediately opens in a repetitious, slowly circling motion, a prism slowly turning in sunlight, imperceptibly changing, building up an atmosphere of hypnosis, energy and beauty; a palpable sense, a massage of your temples – a ride on your favorite horse on a timber road in the spruce forest of the great Somewhere under the stars in winter.
This gliding, hiding, smoking feeling of a shifting guitar kaleidoscope is a true reverence paid to Maestro Terry Riley, the Seigneur of Illusive Soundscapes, by The Gothenburg Combo, and it is done with all the expertise, all the poetry, all the lyricism and all the hard currency of music’s labor of love; not a flake of a falling second glimmering out of tune, out of time. This is an incredibly catchy, beautiful, erotic tune, which I – who enjoy it on my home-made CDR of the concert – hear on repeat a good while, placing my body in a meditative pose, enjoying gravity that is always on, and The Gothenburg Combo embellishing this Sri Moonshine space with a tickling, timeless Schönheit!
As the title indicates, these are three sections stitched together under one name, but although the mood shifts a little from section to section, as well as the audible volume, there is all through a pulse, a driving force at work, like clockwork, like cogwheels and pinions inside a masterly constructed Swiss watch, which you can hear if you put the watch to your ear. It’s as if David and Thomas attach a couple of contact microphones to a Swiss watch in their music. Amazing! There are details to discover, more and more, in a set of adding patterns that make up a complex tapestry that keeps fascinating, like in works by Terry Riley as Untitled Organ or A Rainbow In Curved Air or Persian Surgery Dervishes - or The Last Camel In Paris. Or the two Keyboard Studies Terry played on Solveig Bark’s grand piano out in Trollbäcken, Stockholm one time in April 1967, when he and Folke Rabe visited Jan and Solveig Bark in their house, and Folke recorded Terry on a reel-to-reel. Illusionary, bewitched!

Third piece (5:33) in the second half is a work that Gothenburg Combo wrote, inspired by an encounter with a man from one unnamed African country, whom they met on an airport, on their way back to Sweden from a tour in California. This man was a musician too. He played the kalimba; a thumb piano.
Later David and Thomas looked for ways to imitate the kalimba on guitar, and they came up with a simple means that worked; inserting a piece of paper under the strings on the body of the guitar.
There was another, darker nuance to the meeting with the African kalimba player on the airport. He told them the story of his brother, who went north in search of work and a better life, through the Sahara desert, heading for Europe. He reached Morocco, and the town of Ceuta, and ended up in a refugee camp near the town. However, he was shot dead by mistake by a policeman in the camp.
So this melody, says Thomas, delineates a journey through Africa towards a dream that we who live here often take for granted.

The tune opens with a number of sharp, biting guitar slashes, immediately alleviated with softer, rubbery finger pickings, while the dramatic kalimba-like sonorities spread an atmosphere of dark village-communions, visions of colorful garments around log fires and the strong, pleasant sweet smell from spices – while you can almost hear the hum and buzz of many voices in the darkness inside the music.
David’s and Thomas’ playing is creamy and full, like dark chocolate and ladies with diamonds on their fingers and very rich men watching in the shadows with drinks in their hands. The strings seem elastic and much longer than guitar strings, but it is just an illusion. The whole piece is dreamlike, majestic, royal in some ancient way. The tones sometimes stand up and sway back and forth like bamboo groves in the wind, and there is a bamboo quality to the sum of the sound at times.
A sad, melancholy, gloomy passage opens way into the tune, reminding me of feelings in a collection of songs recorded in Madrid in 1931 by Federico Garcia Lorca on piano, with singer La Argentinita: Collecion De Canciones Populares Españolas.
All in all, I am struck by the almost indecent beauty and craftsmanship that The Gothenburg Combo offers!

The last piece is Terry Riley’s Sunrise Of The Planetary Dream Collector (17:48); a fantastic title, and like so many other Riley titles pure poetry; an arch you pass through into personal dreamscapes of sorcery and beauty of cosmic dimensions.
Originally this is a string quartet from Cadenza On The Night Plain, released in 1985 on Gramavision with The Kronos Quartet; here re-worked for the occasion and the musicians.

Terry Riley and Gyan Riley re-enter the stage here, joining Thomas Hansy and David Hansson for the finale.

The music starts with an ever so cautious, prudent upbeat, circular motion in The Gothenburg Combo’s acoustic guitars; a musical figure surviving from the dawn of Terry Riley’s compositional oeuvre, soon gaining volume and stamina.
This trickling flow of rainbow light carries apprehension, expectation; a tense shudder, the way the ancients must have felt when their shaman addressed the Powers of the Cosmos and funneled healing strength, vigor and vitality into their minds and anatomies.
Terry joins the motion on a synthesizer, the sound of an electric organ, hauling wooden piles and posts for a latticework around the compositional motion, holding the flow of energy; the music rising like an alien machine from H. G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds, casting shadows in the backlight, citizens spreading like ants.

The instruments take on differing roles in the whole, Riley’s synthesizer howling like a wolf, Gyan’s electric guitar building steps of dark blue ice in the depths of the night under stars in a lonely forest (I know exactly where it is!), and the musicians take turns dancing on the outside of the moment, while the others shape the character of that moment, way inside a sense of time reserved for lucid practitioners of soaring meditation.

This long performance evolves from musical idea to compositional discovery, it seems – just like musical improvisation moves at its best moments… but here I suppose the music in its entirety is thoroughly composed, though obviously, at Terry’s keyboard, once having risen out of improvisational moments, just like all the best instants of life.

Terry shifts from synthesizer to grand piano way into the work, and the longest time is spent in a figure that seems to indicate the end, but unexpectedly the four musicians take the opportunity to lift this last moment like a wizard his crystal ball and look hard into it, while Terry returns once more to the synthesizer, spreading long, elastic, caramel-gluey progressions round the oak-tables of a great imagined hall, the guitars ending on the note they began with, as the silence that’s been there all through the concert regains some space, until it reclaims the whole room it’s allowed the sounds to occupy – and the rest is silence…

A little later I sit in Anna’s car out in the parking lot across the street from The Luleå Culture House. I can’t leave just yet. I need some time in the dark. The streetlights of Luleå are lit, but very few people are out. It’s late. It’s autumn. It’s Wednesday. Tomorrow is a workday for most people.
My organism reverberates; my vertebra reverberates as the effect of this long concert moves up and down. I take my time. I call Anna and tell her I’m about to start the drive home.

And off I go, pull out of the lot and steer out onto Highway 97 towards Boden, while the pulse of headlights coming on translates into the reverberation still working in my body from the concert.

I arrive at the farm in the middle of the night, a little too wound up to go to bed right away. I allow myself to land slowly and softly like a sailplane. I go see the horses.

The next day Anna has taken the day off, and it’s my only full day at the farm this time. We go to Snipen, the mountain close by, where I bring my big camera, a tele-lens and a tripod, to the summit to shoot some new views over the farm. The older photo I have on the wall down south is not quite correct anymore, since we built a new open stable for the horses in June.

My main reason for going north this time has been Terry Riley’s concert. With some ingenuity I managed to get four days off from my crime investigations, which means one day travelling north, one day for the concert, one day with Anna and the horses and the cat, and one day flying down again.

Being around the horses, and taking a ride on Grip, I think about the community feeling in Terry Riley’s music, similar to the feeling in Freeman House’s Totem Salmon; a book about a common project starting in the Mattole River Valley in Northern California that somehow becomes sacred on a communal level.

The plane takes off from Luleå Airport at 10:15 AM on the fourth day, and the soaring feeling just above the clouds, with the sun shining through a beautiful haze, is related to Terry Riley’s concert, and I feel, deep inside, that everything just goes on and on. No need to worry. Just breathe!







Essay by Ingvar Loco Nordin The PoetBay support member heart!
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Written on 2024-05-12 at 11:24

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