TERRY RILEY: In C – The Salt Lake Electric Ensemble – SLEE 001 [sleearts.com] Both standard CD and special 96K/24-bit DVD-Audio, 65:56 ***:
Terry Riley’s seminal work In C ushered in the minimalist movement in 1964 with its 53 little phrases of music in C which could be played by any performers on any instruments, beginning at the first phrase and moving thru each module at whatever pace they felt liked, repeating the module as many times as they want. The original recording has been re-released by Sony Classical, along with stories about how some performances of the work ran well over an hour, with the continuously-repeated middle C note on the piano sometimes eventually damaging the piano’s action or strings. In C ignored the main concepts of music of the past centuries and ruthlessly edited down musical structures to the bare essentials. It can be maddening on one level but stunning and exciting on another. The work has been re-done a number of times by other ensembles, but this one differs in its reinterpretation of the work in a number of ways.
The new Salt Lake City group do their unique version with six laptops – which they consider the musical instruments of the present day – plus a kegdrum kit and other percussion, a glockenspiel, marimba, vibes and piano. But the piano does not strike the incessant note thruout the whole piece, in fact there really isn’t a beat here, and the key changes from C to other minor keys before returning near the end to C Major again. Those listeners who are fans of electronica, experimental rock and new music will probably be bowled over by this interpretation of In C, feeling that it takes this seminal work of the 60s into the digital age. But I’m afraid I don’t. I found it having little musical impact, just a lot of electronic noise and cacophony.
Audiophile-wise I’m afraid I don’t understand the option of offering this re-invention of the piece in a hi-res 96K/24-bit DVD-Audio version. The majority of the sources – laptops – are electronic to begin with, so why bother? Yes, the cacophony is a bit cleaner and clearer in the DVD-Audio version, but who cares? The acoustic instruments of the original version had lots of interesting overtones – where are those in this electronic version? Frankly I wasn’t able to stick it out to the 66-minute conclusion. But that’s just me. There is “interpretive video art” that accompanies the performance, available at the sleearts.com website, but I have no idea how one syncs that up with the recording of the music. It is also paired with the music on a DVD-R version available from SLEE.
— John Sunier