In C

About 10 days ago my good friend and sometimes (though not frequently enough) musical collaborator M. Stover wrote to ask me if I’d be interested in joining the People’s Liberation Big Band of Kansas City (in which he plays pedal steel guitar, among other stringed things) in a performance of Terry Riley’s In C. After a quick glance at the score and about four seconds of deliberation, I said hell yes.

The PLBB, a collective led by keyboardist Brad Cox, is KC treasure–a 14-piece (give or take n) ensemble with a repertoire that includes pieces by well known and obscure composers alike (the show on which I was to play featured a John Zorn piece arranged by a local guy and a work by a member of the band). The group celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first LP release of Riley’s minimalist masterpiece with an auxiliary cast made perfect sense. The more I thought about it, the more enthused I became about taking part in the event. Would there be a rehearsal? Yes – one. (Does this sound familiar for me of late?)

And where else would a forward thinking band of musical renegades practice but a puppet studio? That’s right, the home of the Paul Mesner puppet troupe hosts the PLBB rehearsals. I suppose I’ve mentioned how much I love my strange life, haven’t I? So, off to the puppet studio I went on a Tuesday evening to play guitar with a group of mostly strangers.

What a thrill. Sitting amidst brass and reed players reading manuscript is not exactly an every day occurrence for me. I found it very exhilarating. Before we gave In C its proper treatment, it was decided that we should, as a group, play through each of the piece’s 53 phrases together. This led to a few starts and stops and discussions. To be privy to a five minute dissection of one measure of music is something I found awesome. Given, we’re not talking about playing The Black Page here, but still the shifting metrical nuances of In C gave rise to some debate.

Brad Cox pondering subdivisions.

Brad Cox pondering subdivisions.

We eventually made it through the piece in a manner that Terry Riley wouldn’t likely hate. I broke a sweat, but not in the way that I normally would when playing. In my normal context I’m often working hard, moving around, physically and emotionally giving it my all. At this rehearsal I was counting my ass off, trying not to get lost in a labyrinth of eighth notes (Brad decided we should play at about quarter note = 52, or “Stayin’ Alive”). I think I held my own with this herd of sight reading motherfuckers.

Sam Hughes, a sight reading motherfucker.

Sam Hughes, SRMF.

Riley business dealt with, we ancillary members said, Seeya Sunday and headed out. I drove home with a slightly fried brain–in a good way, of course. As I tried to fall asleep, some night bug outside my window was keeping pretty good time and I eventually passed out thinking of some phrase in 10/8.

The gig itself was, by all accounts, a success. We wound up with 23 players (there were maybe 12 at the practice session – see, SRMFs), creating a beautiful swarming mass of sound. I was situated between a tenor sax (one of my favorite instruments) and a bass clarinet (one of my favorite instruments) – how cool. I found one  interesting consistency between this performance–essentially a jazz show–and my normal milieu (yeah, I said it) of a rock show: the tempo was a little faster than rehearsal and the development was a little rushed. (Riley notes that performances generally last between 45 and 90 minutes, but that some may be as little as 15 minutes–we clocked in at about 19.) Even with this collection of seasoned players the energy of the live show pushed the band to a more excited level.

Somewhere in there is my silhouette.

Somewhere in there is my silhouette.

It was a helluva lot of fun and very inspiring to stretch beyond my comfort zone and step into a world that is out of my ordinary and to join great musicians with whom I normally wouldn’t have the chance to play.

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One Response to “In C”

  1. […] of the player or some other force external to the original composition. (The previously discussed “In C” by Terry Riley is a type of aleatoric music.) Examples of this concept actually date to the 18th […]

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