Friday, 5 August 2016

Terry Riley - Descending Moonshine Dervishes (rec. 1975, rel. 1982)

Here's one for the minimalists, to listen to in contrast to Philip Glass' early organ works that I've previously posted.  Where the Glass pieces focus on strict notation, and work their hypnotic effect from repetition, addition and mutation, Terry Riley on the organ plays more freely around scales, modes and rhythm cycles.  In a live performance such as this one, the first Riley album I picked up and still a huge favourite, this means lengthy droning improvisation with frequent bursts of high speed notes, like warp-speed transportation through the stars.

Descending Moonshine Dervishes was recorded in November 1975 at Berlin's Metamusik Festival, but wasn't released until 1982.  Riley plays a single Yamaha YC 45D electric organ, the sound filled out by a specially built in delay and the trippy, distinctly Eastern-sounding melodies/harmonies resulting from the organ being retuned in Riley's preferred just intonation.  Download and enjoy - preferably supine in a dark room.


Bonus Riley update, 20 August:

The new Rainbow In Cologne 2CD that I mentioned in the comments has landed!  Pleased to say it's rather good.  The recordings show their age a bit (both from 1971) but that's a tiny minus point compared to the performances, both on church organ.  The hour-long ARICA is fantastic, and I might actually end up preferring the Persian Surgery Dervishes version to the Shandar originals.  For the curious - here's a 15 minute Rainbow clip.


  1. Ther ewas no TC-45D, It was a YC-45D. cheers!

  2. Lovely album. Mny Thx!

  3. You can hear the "just intonation" mainly in the 5th, or "so" in the do-re-mi scale. It sounds out of tune due to the mathematics of the intervals in this intonation, and the 5th is the most basic part of any harmony so it builds a somewhat shaky foundation for the rest of the music. However the other notes of the scale sound a little MORE in tune than they normally do with standard intonation, including some of the exotic Eastern elements that Riley puts in there. So basically you get an interesting sound, closer to "Rainbow in Curved Air" than anything else I've heard by Riley though I certainly haven't heard everything. He's a master improviser and if you've heard his later work, played mainly on grand piano with no effects added, he really know his way around a keyboard... on a Keith Jarrett level (actually I prefer his solo piano improvisations to Jarrett's). Check out "Lisbon Concert" from 1996 if you haven't already.

    1. Interesting stuff, many thanks! Lisbon sounds like one to bookmark for sure - New Albion is a beautiful epic undertaking, but it's the only piano Riley I've got under my belt so far.

      Looking forward to the new 2CD 'Rainbow In Cologne', got it on order. An hour of Rainbow In Curved Air, and another 40-odd minutes of Persian Surgery? Yes please! Hope the sound quality's good.