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According to Portishead’s Adrian Utley Terry Riley’s “In C” is “…an amazing piece of writing and original thought”. So he decided to re-interpret it in his own way, whilst also taking the opportunity to “explore the sonic possibilities of massed guitars”.
Terry Riley’s 1964 piece, ‘In C’, is considered one of the most important pieces of music created in the 20th Century. It is hailed as a forerunner for what became known as minimalism. Its basic rules, 53 musical phrases in C and no duration, allow for infinite variations.
Now, Portishead’s Adrian Utley has gathered together a ‘guitar orchestra’ which consists of twenty four musicians from Bristol, nineteen of which are guitarists (including John Parish (possibly most well known for his work with PJ Harvey but also as a brilliant artist in his own right, for instance with his album Screenplay which we reviewed here) & the guys from Thought Forms), four organs and a bass clarinet.
Utley is the perfect musician to orchestrate such a piece due to his constant musical experimentation, and his love for risk taking shines through on this extrodinary 61 minute live take of the revered piece, all recorded in St Georges Hall, Bristol.
Easing us in gently, In C slowly gathers momentum and leads us into very strange, dark, yet inviting alleyways. It shifts from whimsical and light, to heavy and trippy. In fact, the entire piece has a gorgeously psychedelic feel to it (that’s UK psychedelia and not Jefferson Airplane / San Francisco psychedelia). There are moments which hark back to that glorious period of mid-60s culture and are extremely similar to Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive.
The ebb and flow of the piece is extremely well judged as there are sections which are claustrophobic and relentless, yet when it could all become a bit to unbearable, the musicians start letting the light and air in, giving the listener a much needed breather while never loosing their attention (the thirty minutes mark is the most perfect example of this). You never once get the feeling that the musicians are in danger of imploding and the piece collapsing.
The interplay between the guitars is astonishing, with each one complimenting the other whilst still sustaining a feeling of friendly duel.
The timing of this release is perfect, as it has an extremely autumnal feel about it, with moments feeling like the sun shining through the falling leaves and others reminding us that the dark is creeping in. It also has a distinctly ‘British’ feel to it which I’m sure will change if you manage to catch one of the European performances that Adrian is currently undertaking (he will be using local musicians wherever he goes, augmenting the core musicians from this recording that will be touring with him).
Some may think of In C as a ‘high-brow’ arty piece but to do so would be an extreme injustice. There are moments of stunning beauty here and to ignore it due to a preconceived idea of how you’d enjoy it would be an injustice to everyone involved in this recording.
Get the headphones on, turn off your mobile phone and let In C get you in its grasp.
Winter is coming….