Along with Steve Reich's equally definitive "Music for 18 Musicians" (1976), "In C" is one of minimalism's most often-covered compositions, and so it's no surprise that, following its successful look at Reich's classic--Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (Innova, 2008)--Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble (GVSUNME) and its director, Bill Ryan, have chosen to tackle Riley's enduring work. But instead of simply aspiring to deliver a unique look at "In C"--and, with a 17-piece ensemble weighted heavily on percussion instruments but also featuring less common ones including guitar and accordion, unique it is--Ryan also approached 18 other artists to provide remixes of GVSUNME's version which, at just under 21 minutes, is most certainly the shortest performance ever recorded. The result is a packed double-disc set with 18 remixes ranging from the relatively reverent to the outrageously reinvented; with the addition of modern technology, it's also a seamless migration of Riley's groundbreaking concept into the vaster sonic potential of music in the new millennium.
Another unique aspect to the recording is that, while it might make logical sense to place the GVSUNME version of "In C" up front, followed by the remixes, Ryan chose to place the remixes first, with the "vanilla" version placed at the very end of the second disc. Instrumental variances aside, the GVSUNME version distinguishes itself by getting the instruments into the pool much more quickly than the leisurely approach taken by most others, lending the piece a certain relentlessness and insistence, while still managing to capture all the beauty of Riley's interlocking fragments, but in a much shorter timeframe.
Terry Riley in CRyan's choice of remixers includes some familiar faces. Violinist Daniel Bernared Roumain--whose Etudes4violin&electronix (Thirsty Ear, 2007) was one of the year's best--delivers "Zachary's Dream" which, with its programmed beats, dramatic dynamic shifts and soaring violin, is one of the set's most inventive remixes alongside fellow Thirsty Ear label mate DJ Spooky's "In Sea of C," which liberally samples the original performance and, with the addition of a backbeat, chordal movement and no shortage of imagination, turns "In C" into the closest thing it'll ever be to a song. Bang on a Can's David Lang--a composer of no small merit in his own right, including the sublime, minimalism-informed Elevated (Cantaloupe, 2005)--delivers the less-than-appropriately-titled "simple mix," certainly the most unrecognizable rework of Riley's music in the set. Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche begins in equally distant territory on "Smooth," but Riley's relentless pulsating ultimately holds sway, albeit with the addition of Kotche's added percussion and sampled beats.
Lesser-knowns deliver remixes of equal value, ranging from Masonic's techno-driven "Terrycloth Troposphere" to cellist Zoë Keating's stunningly beautiful "Zinc," which interprets Riley through the prism of ambient music forefather Brian Eno, referencing his seminal Music for Airports (Virgin/Astralwerks, 1980). With spare piano loops gradually building towards forward motion, given Riley's unmistakable influence on Eno's work it's only fitting that Keating should draw such a direct link in the reverse direction. Phil Kline's "In Cognito," with its special soundscapes, draws a similar link, while Mikael Karlsson and Rob Stephenson turn Riley's architecture into a mélange of electronic squawks and squibbles, the acoustic instruments processed and rejigged in ways even the intrepid composer couldn't have conceived.
With reworks ranging in length from four to nine minutes, Ryan also gives a couple of his composers/remixers more than one kick at the can. Jack Dangers' (aka Meat Beat Manifesto) "In C - Semi-Detached" opens the set with thundering, heavily reverberated drums adding to the unscored pulse that's also a fundamental part of "In C"--even octave eighth notes drummed steadily throughout the piece on the piano's top two "C" octaves--gradually introducing great washes of sound above his sampling of Riley's 53 fragments. "In C - Extentions" explores similarly spacey territory but, like Ryan's version of the piece with GVSUNME, gets there much more immediately, as it leads to more throbbing electronic beats. Michael Lowenstern's "Bint," like DJ Spooky's remix, adds harmonic changes to turn "In C" into something resembling a song, while his "Foster Grant Mix," with scratching, electronic beats and his own added synth parts, is more like a reverent push of "In C" into the 21st century.
Which is, in the end, what In C Remixed is all about. By giving GVSUNME's version of Riley's classic to a variety of remixers--composers and/or performers themselves--with no instruction other than to use the 21-minute GVSUNME's performance as their foundation, Ryan has essentially done the same thing Riley did back in 1964, only with the added benefit of technological advancements. His careful sequencing of the 18 remixes, before letting his intended audience in on the remixers' source material, is beyond astute, further demonstrating the infinite potential of Terry Riley and his 53 seemingly simple but remarkably conceived interlocking musical fragments. With the one-two punch of Music for 18 Musicians and now In C Remixed, Ryan has positioned himself and Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble at the forefront of contemporary repertory groups, alongside other established groups including Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, Bang on a Can and Germany's Ensemble Modern. -- All About Jazz, John Kelman, November 29, 2009
Controversy is nothing new for minimalist mastermind Terry Riley, who had a welcome revival. His groundbreaking 1964 composition In C received the deluxe treatment from Sony in a new reissue, as well as a blistering double-disc set courtesy of Grand Valley State University's New Music Ensemble, In C Remixed. Anchored by a sprightly, fluid interpretation of the original by the young group across Lake Michigan, remixes from the likes of David Lang, Nico Muhly and Wilco's Glenn Kotche dazzled. -- Time Out Chicago, Mia Clarke, January 2010
In C Remixed is the latest project from the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, the corn-fed young group from western Michigan that brought you Innova's 2007 bestseller, Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. That release vaulted to #1 on the iTunes and Amazon classical charts and spent eleven weeks on the Billboard charts. WNYC's John Schaefer called it "the story of the year in classical music. In C, composer Terry Riley's classic work from 1964 is widely regarded as the Rosetta Stone of minimalist music -- opening up a new world where classical and rock music could finally meet. Insistent, propulsive, and vastly appealing, In C is based on a series of 53 interlocking phrases, repeated any number of times, that merge to form a kaleidoscopic, ever-changing tapestry of sound. Prepare to be amazed. -- Outside the Heard, February 2010
Innova Records released Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble's In C Remixed project this week. On paper the concept seems simple enough. GVSU's performers present their own rendition of Terry Riley's watershed minimalist work In C. The listener is then treated to a host of recreations by both contemporary composers and electronica artists. Of course, this 'simple' concept would have quickly gone awry if either GVSU faltered or its collection of remixers weren't a creative bunch of talented genre-busters. Happily, the ensemble has their finger on the `pulse' of Riley's music. Happier still, they've enlisted some A-list collaborators. Some, like DJ Spooky(In Sea of C), create beat-centric versions that seem ready-made for the IDM club. Others such as Nico Muhly (In C with Canons and Bass) and Phil Kline (In Cognito) take things in an experimental direction. Muhly even has the chutzpah to interpolate pitches from `outside' the diatonic in order to spice things up -- notably drone F#s. Kline further distresses the source material, adding layers of reverberation, chimes, and soundscaping. In his Simple Mix, David Lang similarly seeks to rework Riley's piece towards a more atmospheric aesthetic; this time the proceedings heighten the affects of glissandos and de-emphasize metricity. The results in both the Kline and Lang remixes are eerily lovely. As is more so the case in recent years, some remixers sit astride the pop and classical traditions. Yale-trained composer Dennis DeSantis leads something of a double musical life in concert music and electronica. His remix is a melange of beat overlays, synthetic additions, and restructuring that provides much to please both ear and intellect. A remix project is always a hodgepodge of disparate approaches. But to this listener, it seems as if Innova has gotten it right, engaging artists who both enjoy Riley's music and relish the chance to make In C in some way their own. -- Sequenza 21, Christian Carey, November 21, 2009
Now that the dust has settled on this project, I'd like to say a few words about it. The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble is a pretty amazing group. A couple years ago they managed to blow everyone's minds with a series of killer performances of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, culminating in a critically-acclaimed recording for Innova. This year, they've done it again, releasing a new recording of Terry Riley's In C along with 18 remixes by electronic artists from all over the spectrum (and world.) I was honored to be one of those remixers, and even more honored to spend some time with the students in October and November. I visited GVSU, did a little teaching and provided live electronics for performances of In C with the group on their campus and at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York The press around this group makes a lot of noise about how their Midwestern pedigree makes them such an unlikely success story. Maybe some of that is true, but that's the sort of narrative that sells newspapers; not CDs. The real reason they're successful is because they play the hell out of this music. Go buy their stuff. -- Dennis DeSantis, November 18, 2009
Remix albums are nearly always hit and miss affairs. They are too often inconsistent in mood and quality while at the same time being naggingly repetitive. Having eighteen mixes spread over two CDs with a running time of two hours AND all of the same piece of music seems like total overkill. However, Innova's double album's worth of remixes and reimaginings of Terry Riley's "In C" works largely because the approaches of the (very) mixed bunch enlisted to give it a go vary enormously.
The original played by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble of Michigan closes disc two, and it's this that provides the clay to be worked by the remixers. "In C" was an unusual composition when it was published in 1964 and is often cited as the first truly minimalist piece. It has no set duration and the score allows a certain amount of improvisation within strictly defined limits. Similarly the instrumentation and number of players is left to the performers to decide. The only fixed constant is the repetition of a C note at eighth intervals throughout the length of the piece, usually played on a piano, giving a metronomic rhythm to proceedings. This is the work's instantly recognisable motif, and unsurprisingly provides the backbone to most of the remixes.
Some use it more than others. Many twist it, mangle it, slow it down or even turn it into a sequence of notes. Masonic's "Terrycloth Troposphere" is one of the few reworkings that strips it out altogether, concentrating on the violins. Others do the opposite, and the piano figure is the only recognisable remnant of the GVSU reading left intact.
In the end, In C Remixed works so well because the piece gives such free reign to the remodellers that they can, and do, bring almost anything to the party. Nico Muhly strips away the strings, working with just piano, percussion, bass and clarinet while DJ Spooky adds a tonne of new stuff to create a surprisingly mainstream rock sounding track that has echoes of the Lightning Seeds' "Pure". In between, there are abstract versions (Michael Karlsson and Rob Stephenson), glacial electronica versions (Michael Lowenstern), breakbeat versions (Lowenstern again), neo-classical versions (Phil Kline), electro-funk versions (Dennis DeSantis) and even infant samples (Jad Abumrad). My favourite is the dark funk of Jack Dangers' "In C - Extension" that harks back to the mid nineties golden era of Mo' Wax. But all the takes are worth hearing, and importantly, the album works as an album rather than an aural equivalent of Groundhog Day. -- Music Musings and Miscellany, DEZ, November 9, 2009
Terry Riley, In C, Remixed and performed by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble (Innova, two discs). Every Wednesday night on the CBS network in America, the staggering influence on our musical world of the otherwise little-known Terry Riley is completely apparent. Forty seconds of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" are heard as the theme music for "CSI: NY," and the band has always freely admitted that it was hearing Terry Riley's "In C"-- the prototype and bulwark of minimalism in music--that influenced "Baba O'Riley" as much as any music has ever influenced anything by The Who. The epochal first recording of "In C" was made by the great performers and Creative Associates from the University at Buffalo's Center for New Music. This utterly logical but wildly original new two-disc set takes Riley's "In C" and presents 19 remixes of it, "extensions," who knows what all. What happens here is more than just, say, variations on a waltz theme by Diabelli-- it's taking one of the most influential pieces of music in our time and using it as an inspiration, in much the same completely individual way that The Who did when "In C" went into the stew that came out "Baba O'Riley." The result is terrific. -- The Buffalo News, Jeff Simon, December 27, 2009
The best performances of Terry Riley's 1964 minimalist classic In C come off like great sex: variations are gradually introduced and then withdrawn from a rhythmic structure--and when it's all over, you have a trancelike "what just happened?" kind of hum in your head. Created as a shot across the bow of midcentury atonal complexity, In C is typically driven by a pianist who pounds out a C note, in different octaves, for the entire piece, while a group of musicians (any number and on instruments they choose) play 53 shards of melody around that steady pulse. In C depends on this radical openness, which in turn reveals the work's ability to retain an identity even as the performers collaborate in surprising ways. So it's fitting that Riley's piece can still shock on its 45th anniversary, this time courtesy of a two-disc set titled In C Remixed. Even more shocking: the album is conceived by Bill Ryan and his students at Michigan's Grand Valley State University.
Yes, you read correctly. This new version comes not from loft-based hipsters in New York or California, but via a mostly undergraduate crew from Allendale, Mich. Beyond the geographical surprise, it actually makes sense that a young ensemble has shown a flair for this music. The kids, as itwere, have always been alright with t he minimalists. Pete Townshend was so influenced by Riley's early synthesizer pieces that he named "Baba O'Riley" in part after the composer. "Black Mozart," from Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon's latest record, might just as easily have been dedicated to a minimalist, given its catchy, brief figure that repeats through verse and chorus alike. The members of Grand Valley State's ensemble play with a confident swing that suggests they understand these links implicitly. It's also why this new release offers not just their own astute performance but also 18 remixes by a collection of big names, such as DJ Spooky and Pulitzer winner David Lang.
The fact that most of these diverse visions of In C succeed ought to say something to those who worry about what the future audience for classical music will look like. This isn't Grand Valley's first success, either: it proved its mettle in 2007 by releasing a lush version of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. The album cover for that recording featured a bird's-eye view of an agrarian expanse--as if signaling a flight from the world of philharmonics to one of plowshares. To put it another way, these kids are a trip. -- Newsweek, Seth Colter Walls, November 2009
There's an emerging sub-genre hybrid between deejayed electronica and classical music. "Messiah Remix" and "Reich Remixed" were popular documents of the aesthetic, where a familiar classic is processed and compressed and reinvented for the classical nightclub set -- a scene that is scattered across posh basements in European capitals and at venues like Greenwich Village's Le Poisson Rouge.
The latest classic to receive the treatment is Terry Riley's seminal "In C," premiered in 1964. The "open" score is the essence of a hippy-trippy "happening" and would also become the seed of Minimalism. Someone, often a pianist, hammers out a C in various octaves, creating a steady pulse for the entire piece. Other musicians (of any number and in any instrumentation) join in to play 53 melodic fragments. Aware of the pulse, everyone is free to move at their own happy pace. When everyone has covered all 53 bits -- could be 10 minutes, or 90 minutes, or 24 hours -- the work is over.
Bill Ryan and his students in Grand Valley State University's new-music ensemble, in Michigan, recorded their own exuberant performance of "In C" and invited composers and club deejays to do anything they wanted with it. The result is "In C Remixed," which includes Riley's original work (clocking in at 20 minutes) plus 18 tracks from composers and deejays and marquee names from the new-music crowd, including Glenn Kotche, Phil Kline, Mason Bates and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang. A few cleave the haze between visceral ambient sounds and at-attention concert music.
Nico Muhly's "In C with Canons and Bass," pretty and unsettling, holds a flicker of emotional distress in the middle. R. Luke DuBois' "Is In C in F?," one of the most ear-catching, transfers the concept of time-lapse photography to music. He compresses the 20-minute "In C" down to 5 minutes and processes the result with a curious outcome: the harmony seems to move into a different key. Jack Dangers' "In C -- Extension," a soothing and wild track, is first respectful of Riley's masterpiece then cuts loose and hammers it hard.
As expected in a collection like this, some remixes are of varying interest. "In Sea of C" by DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid (at left) adds flat-footed rock 'n' roll drums, thereby deflating the gossamer lightnes -- ArtsCriticATL, Pierre Ruhe, November 30, 2009