“My teacher used to say, “Nada brahmam” which means ‘musical sound is God’. I always felt that, if there was a supreme being, he would be music, or she would be music. To worship that being would be to be a performer and composer, to try to make the most beautiful offerings you could.” -Terry Riley
Paris, 1962. An American expat struggles to support his young family playing boogie-woogie piano at Fred Payne’s Artists Bar in Pigalle. In the pool room one day, he bumps into jazz trumpet legend Chet Baker, just out of an Italian prison for drug possession. They become friends. The man is Terry Riley, quite possibly one of the most important living composers of our time. Two years after this auspicious meeting, Riley would use tape loops of Baker’s playing as the basis for creating a radical new piece of music that would change everything.
That composition, which Riley called “In C,” premiered in 1964 in San Francisco. It’s a performance piece of varying length for any combination of instruments comprised of the continuous rhythmic cycling of 53 interlocking musical fragments in the key of C. Riley leaves it up to the individual musicians to decide how many times they’ll play each phrase. The sheet music is just one page long — plus two pages of open-ended instructions — but its possibilities are literally endless. “In C” is a piece of structured freedom that introduced elements of intensive repetition into Western music for the first time. Compositions like this, without melody and having as the main ingredient only repeated musical patterns, are part of a musical language that is commonly heard today in the works of renowned composers like Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. But at the time it was a revelation – unlike anything before it. “In C” created a bridge between improvised and composed music and became the musical foundation for what would later be called ‘minimalism.’ The piece also established Terry Riley as one of the most innovative composers in the world.
During the course of his 60-plus year career, Terry Riley has created and notated well over 200 compositions and improvised countless others, dozens of which are also considered to be groundbreaking musical masterpieces. To say Terry Riley shaped the landscape of modern music is an immense understatement. His work helped to establish an entirely new genre. And it also reached deep into pop culture, influencing everyone from The Who’s Pete Townsend (Baba O’Riley) to the Velvet Underground and Brian Eno. Interestingly, Riley does not consider himself to be a minimalist. His early compositions helped to establish the genre, but his musical ideas have continued to morph and expand throughout the decades, always remaining on the cutting edge of innovation and influence.
TERRY RILEY: BEAUTIFUL OFFERINGS is a feature-length documentary story that lives on two levels. At the most basic, it explores and celebrates the life, creative philosophy and ecstatic music of this virtuosic composer. But on a deeper level, the film uses Riley’s music and ideas as metaphors; teasing out how people – musicians, listeners, and viewers of the film – use Riley’s works as the basis for spiritual and creative journeys to discover how we’re connected with others and what we need to do to make the world better.
Bouncing between literal life story and powerful musical sequences, we follow Riley beginning in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We experience the times through the lens of this central figure in the ‘new music’ movement, as he leads some of the first formal experimentations with electronic music. We see how Riley’s early experiments in tape loops and delay systems produce sublime, hypnotic keyboard and saxophone recordings such as “Shri Camel,” “A Rainbow in Curved Air,” and the soundtrack to Bruce Conner’s haunting apocalyptic film, “Crossroads.” And through his collaborations with Pandit Pran Nath, John Cale, Kronos Quartet and many others, we follow his immersion into North Indian classical music, jazz and improvisation, experiencing Terry Riley as he pioneers an awakening in Western art and culture that investigates and verifies the transformative power of music.
At the granular level, the film documents Terry Riley over four years of his life (2015-2019), capturing the personal and public experiences of an artist who is at once at the nexus of his career and nearing the end of his life. We capture verité-style footage of Riley at home as he goes through his daily rituals of making chai, tending his garden, walking through the hills, practicing, chanting, composing and communing with his beloved family, neighbors and friends. We are with him as he performs for adoring fans around the world including his annual European performance tour with his son, guitarist Gyan Riley. We witness how the beautiful musical and personal relationship between Terry and Gyan deepens following the sudden death of Terry’s wife Ann and how it becomes the thing that allows Terry to overcome his grief and the challenges of aging.
“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono
TERRY RILEY: BEAUTIFUL OFFERINGS will honor and recognize one of world’s greatest living composers. Through the prism of his story, we hope to move audiences to reflect on the culture and history that shaped Riley’s life and work and the power of music to change people. As we analyze his beautiful, conceptually – deep and sometimes unusual work, we add depth to the understanding of how art (and music composition in particular) is built from layers of social, cultural and personal meaning and can convey information, energy and meaning just from sound vibrations alone.