Saturday, 18 February 2012


The new Terry Riley album is fucking shit. It's an absolute, unmitigated ballbag of a record, and the only reason for releasing it that I can see is that Terry Riley's name on the cover might make a few bob for the label (Tzadik). It's being cynically touted as a triumphant return to his 60s/70s methods, all modal riffs and looong looping delays, shifting patterns of phrase and phase, and while it's methodology is superficially similar, the result is not. Ladies and gentlemen, this is most definitely not the mixture of In C and Persian Surgery Dervishes that the hype seems to promise, but what feels like a pitiful attempt to cash in on the popularity of 60s/70s minimalism by going back to a compositional style TR abandoned over 20 years ago and whacking out almost two fucking hours of parping toss utterly lacking in conception, conviction or purpose, and is possibly the most pointless fucking piece of music I've endured in many years. It's certainly the most boring.

It ultimately falls flat on it's face in two main areas; sonically and musically. Musically this adds nothing to his body of work, coming across as a cynical, slapdash rehashing of old tropes, especially in the light of where other artists have taken these ideas in the previous forty-odd years, twisting the Riley methodology into unexpected new shapes and making it as much if not more a part of popular music practice as the avant-garde milieu which spawned it. Riley's influence is everywhere these days, has been for a long time now, and that's what I find so puzzling about this record; is it just an exercise in nostalgia, the sound of an old stoner having some fun, or an attempt to reclaim, to reassert ownership or provenance of a process for making music?

I can't imagine it's the latter. Terry Riley just isn't that sort of über tight-assed academic composer, he's way too much of a hippy and he's always been way too inclusive in his worldview and musical outlook to suddenly get all uppity about getting ripped off forty-odd years down the line. So, if not a fit of artistic control-freakery then what about the other angles? Nostalgia? Fuck I hope not, 'cos there's no worse reason to make a record than to relive past glories as that's either the subconscious passive-agressive equivalent of the above or wanking in the mirror. So, discounting those unedifying propositions, we're left with the old stoner hypothesis, which is fine in and of itself, I mean, that's how I (and an awful lot of other musicians) practice at home, but it doesn't necessarily lead to music anyone else would need or want to hear...

And now we get to the even bigger problem with Aleph. It sounds like crap. Not lo-fi, just crap. Sterile and digital and cold in all the wrong ways*. And it sounds this way for two reasons: 1. the horrible fucking preset synth sounds which sound exactly like a shit cheapo 80s rack module but apparently derive from a synth which cost 5 grand when new** which Mr Riley has tuned to a particularly inappropriate form of just intonation*** using some of the most unconvincing simulations of real instruments I've ever experienced (and this isn't from a modern perspective, the technology was in place and easily cheap enough to achieve infinitely superior results years before this was recorded), which in tandem with the circumstances of recording results in a thin, shrill, genuinely unpleasant acoustic completely at odds with the deep, detailed sonic environment music of this type deserves.

And what were those circumstances? Turns out this record was recorded as an mp3. A format so completely inappropriate to music so heavily dependent on tuning and harmonic relationships because in compressing the file from it's raw form the data that's lost cannot but be essential to the correct presentation of the music, every sliver of 1s and 0s sliced away thinning the frequency soup still further until all y're left with is this unsatisfying, unwholesome gruel. You can master and remaster all you like, and believe me they've tried, but you can't replace what was never there in the first place, and I don't want to listen to a sketch or a storyboard, I want the whole fucking thing.

The real shame? If this had been recorded using better instruments, on a medium more suited to the music, it would probably have been fucking brilliant. But it wasn't, and it isn't.

*I should point out here that I'm not the analogue fetishist that many think I am, what I insist on is the appropriateness of the gear to the sound that is sought. The only question that should be asked of a mix is does it sound right?

**Korg Triton Studio 88. Very powerful, very shit.

***Can't be arsed to go into the maths at the mo'. I finished writing several thousand hard-fought words on non-standard analysis last week and would like a couple of mathematically minimal weeks to decompress.

1 comment:

  1. Man. I wish I could find somebody who would tell me what they really think about this record.