I pity the fool who didn’t come out for this show. I’m speaking solely of the ignards who attend UCLA. They could’ve walked from their dorm to Royce Hall to fill in the empty balcony seats, whereas I had to spend a whopping *two hours* on the road in order to attend (and that’s one way!! a commute from the beyond-burbs burbs, a acquaintance pickup, a zig stop, and a zag back to UCLA).

Riley, Matmos and Acid Mother’s Temple is quite an eclectic lineup, though it makes sense. It’s like a meeting of the sacred and the profane. High Art, as represented by Riley, and Low Art, as represented by AMT. I had never been to the venue, and I couldn’t tell from the lineup what conventions to expect. We were running late. At a symphony performance that would mean sitting in the lobby until intermission. At the clubs where you’ll usually find AMT obviously nobody cares. I wasn’t sure what to wear so I struck somewhere in between.

And then I rattled on to my guest about how the distinction between high and low art is meaningless any more, and only cultural, and even on that level quite blurred, and how the only difference between avant garde composers and experimental bands is that the composers are funded on university grants, not tour sales, and bla bla bla but anyone reading this has already heard that stupid speech from me so I’ll cut it short.

Terry Riley is ostensibly a “contemporary classical” composer. He is mentioned in the same stroke with the likes of John Cage, Philip Glass, La Monte Young and other minimalist or avant garde pioneers. He taught at Mills College, a music school known for such extremely pretentious, envelope-pushing music that just the name became a punchline around the radio station where I used to work.

He’s also a hippie and child of the 60’s and that’s all that I know about him other than a bit of his music.

Terry Riley
BTW this was his 70th birthday bash

Matmos is a cutup artist from the bay area so all the kids were out for that. Most of his albums are concept albums where he begins with a sample/recording bank all related to a theme, then mixes and bends and splices them into structured songs, often tuneful but equally often noisy & caustic.

Acid Mother’s Temple make loud, unchained, sometimes spastic psychedelic rock in general, but they really can’t be captured so succinctly. The little slice of their catalogue I’ve sampled has sounded very different from album to album.

On to the review.

“For Terry Riley”

Each half of Matmos had their own table full of sliders and knobs and Macintosh software. One fiddled while the other twiddled and they wove a tranquil atmosphere. I think a zither and slide was involved but I couldn’t see well.

This piece sounded like faux-vintage pioneer electronic music, and as such was a very effective tribute. To invoke a cliche, it was an aural portrait of the landscape of the moon. Not in a cheesy, martian-music way (listen to AMT rock a KORG later), but just that it was quiet and still. Nothing to hear but moving gasses, roving spacebots and phantom gurgles of ancient underground water.

The accompanying projection, drawn in silvers and greys, undulated in a way that reminded me of a program called AcidWarp, which I used to stare at for hours as a teenager.

Wish I could’ve heard this ghostly piece from the beginning.

“Music for Four Hands”

This piano duet for one piano and four hands was utterly lacking in charm. It opens with oafish pounding out of what the pretentious like to call “note clusters”. I mean there was chordal information in there but there was a lot of noise surrounding it.

Remember that saying about software engineering projects: “fast, cheap, good — pick two “? I thought of a similar feature list while listening to this:

1. no melody or lyrical nuance
2. no organization

Pick one.

Pretty crude but sums up my reaction to New Music sometimes.

Of course, as the impresario reminded us, Terry Riley is a “natural genius and a treasure to us all,” and I’m just an impudent hack.

Rainbow in Curved Air

I looked it up later, but didn’t have to, to know this music was born in the late 60’s. The breathy synth (A Clockwork Orange), electric piano (The Doors), and harpsichord (The Beatles) patches I heard all filled me with nostalgia for my first toy, a small casio keyboard.

After the opening fanfare, Riley, joined by a keyboard-beat man and acoustic-percussion man, settled into some very Kraftwerkian pattern rotations on his keyboard, based in some throw-you-off time like 7. It was sunny, weightless, and just mired in 1970’s cliche. Remember that rapid, warbly instrumental section from Dark Side of the Moon? Pink Floyd either ripped it off from this, or ripped it off from another band ripping it off from this.

“Balama” Riley with Gyan Riley – Balama, excerpt


This was just an absolutely beautiful Hindustani song, captured poorly by my camera mic. I was blown away by the quality of (T.) Riley’s voice and his obvious dedication to raga vocalization. Again, that horribly clipped mp3 can’t capture the nuance of his singing.

I felt the most while listening to this, and have the least to say about it.

The studio recording is captured on Gyan Riley’s album Food For The Bearded, which I purchased after the show. This, from the liner notes:

Blam tar gayee han
Ratiyan assaa nu vay
Karam da bhalaa (navay)

In this song, a maiden is expressing her satisfaction and gratefulness to the divine for blessing her with a wonderful life partner.


The father and son duo followed up with a keyboard & guitar duet of a rockin perpetuum-mobile-style piece that brings to mind Castlevania. I wish I knew the title.

“In C”

Sorry about the crap quality of the video.

I’m getting tired so I’ll be brief. In C is Terry Riley’s smells like teen spirit, and it consists of several (50? 100? I can’t remember) *very* short one measure snippets of melody based on the key of C major. A group gets together bringing whatever instrument they want to play – their violin or their voice or a washtub bass – and each individual plays the snippets more or less in order, though they can skip if they want and go back and forth if they feel like it, and each person only goes on to the next snippet when they feel like it. The piece ends when the last person finally makes it to the end of the list of snippets.

It’s the most sonorous scheme you could dream up for a composition. Tonally, it’s like playing a major chord over and over again, except that the inner parts keep changing and the whole of the sound feels rich and alive.

I vaguely remember this being called part of a movement called “the cult of the beautiful” because it was about reclaiming music from the clutches of highly conceptual, unlistenenable serialist composers who followed Schoenberg.

The elements of this piece are simple enough for non musicians to play by design, so that anyone can come together and make sonorous, relatively complex music that is a joy to hear.

I can’t remember which recording is my favorite, and I’m tired so I’ll post it in comments tomorrow. There’s even a gamelan one that’s interesting though not my preference. And here we’re getting to it – Acid Mother’s Temple released a recording of In C in 2002.

These guys were fucking great. They scared away the old people who started wandering out from the first bowed-guitar note. Actually I think the exodus started before the music, when the impresario warned about earplugs, and the long-haired motley crew wandered onto stage.

And the biggest joy of the night was to see my guest, who knew nothing about any of this music or anything related, visibly getting into when they reached full-peak-spazzo-rawk-out. She swears she will never miss an Acid Mothers Temple show if she ever has chance to see them again. NOTHING could please me more about taking random strangers to concerts and I will continue to do so until I score another win.

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