MIXTAPE: Daniel Hammersley | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Terry Riley

Daniel Hammersley is Principal Cello of one of Europe’s leading chamber orchestras, the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Here he presents his own musical choices themed around the minimalist composer Terry Riley’s In C. The orchestra will perform In C on Thursday 12th November at Sage Gateshead.

Terry Riley – In C
Terry Riley’s In C is ‘experimental’ in the truest sense of the word, but don’t be put off! Riley’s idea was to translate onto live instruments what he had been generating in the studio, looping his own playing and layering it into longer sections of music. Performed by any number of players in any combination of instruments, no two performances of the piece can ever be the same. The music is written out, but the performers themselves choose how to navigate through it, subject to a few (easily breakable) rules. The result can be a shimmering, mesmeric masterpiece lasting anything from twenty minutes to an hour.

Steve Reich – Nagoya Marimbas
At just under five minutes it may be short, but it’s a brilliant, stripped down example of Reich’s phasing process. The two percussionists start off playing the same simple music together, but by slowly adding notes to the pattern Reich gradually sheers them apart, creating ever more complex rhythms before they find each other again.

Philip Glass – Violin Concerto
Along with Michael Nyman, Philip Glass is probably the best known minimalist composer. Like Nyman, Glass has been a prolific soundtrack creator, with scores for major Hollywood movies such as The Hours and the nineties horror classic Candyman. My favourite Glass track is from a straight concert piece: the Violin Concerto from 1987. It features the string arpeggios, subtle shifting harmonies and a relentless propelling energy that have come to characterise much of his film music.

Sibelius – Symphony No. 5
I’ve always thought you can hear the roots of minimalism all the way back in Sibelius. Perhaps it’s because his music is so different from the classical mainstream. It works to a different set of rules. Or perhaps it’s the way Sibelius’ music emerges slowly, gradually built from small elements that are combined, extended and melded together. There’s definitely a feeling of process in it all that reminds me of Reich, Riley et al. Playing the amazing fifth symphony is the experience which most often makes me grateful to my Mum for making me learn the cello.

Velvet Underground & Nico – Venus In Furs
Alongside jazz, a major influence on Terry Riley was Indian classical music and there’s an intense, almost ritualistic element to Venus In Furs that stems from John Cale’s raga-like drone. The viola underpins the song much like the ever-present piano octaves hammered out for the duration of In C. Cale and Riley were to go on to collaborate a few years later on the album Church of Anthrax.

Aphex Twin – To Cure A Weakling Child
When critics compared Aphex Twin’s Collected Ambient Works Vol. II to the music of Reich and Glass, Richard D James said he’d never heard of them, although he’s since collaborated with both. To Cure A Weakling Child is a cheerfully brilliant collage of weirdness.

Four Tet – Love Cry
A tenuous link this one, but Kieran Hebden uses Terry Riley’s Music For The Gift as a segue between tracks on his 2004 album Late Night Tales. And the most recent Four Tet album also features the voice of Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar. There’s a meditative quality to Love Cry that recalls the spirit of the Californian minimalists.

Anna Meredith – Orlok
Knowing Anna quite well, I’m pretty sure she’d rather be thought of as a ‘maximalist’. But it’s back to that idea of processes again. Orlok is full of jarring contrasts, rhythms appear to skip a beat and metric transformations so subtle you wonder if they’re intended, accidental or if you’re imagining them.

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