Every year that we have a family vacation down in Brown County and get back with nature(in an air-conditioned cabin with game room and hot tub) I always try to bring one or two records back from our stay. On one of the days we head 25 minutes west to Bloomington where I put my family through a tortuous 45 minute visit to Landlocked Music. It’s tortuous for them, for me it’s heaven. When I’m at Landlocked I always try to bring home something I can’t find in a 45 minute drive from my house. Landlocked has the most amazing electronic/experimental/avante garde section I’ve seen in any brick and mortar. In years past I’ve brought home gems from Karlheinz Stockhausen, Klaus Schulze, Wire, and Tom Verlaine. In 2014 I brought home Terry Riley’s A Rainbow In Curved Air. This past June Landlocked had the brand new reissue of Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes. How could I say no to that? I couldn’t. 

So here’s the scene:

It’s 1971 in a warm Los Angeles music hall. There’s something in the air that hangs low. A smog of breath, heat, and re-purposed smoke that leaves the lungs of waiting listeners. Soon the looping and loping organ lines of avante composer Terry Riley make their way out into a crowd wanting to expand their minds, both musically and chemically. There’s a hypnotic quality to Terry Riley’s organ work. Phrases seem to repeat over and over, but if you listen closely you can tell there are small shifts in the music lines. The music feels like individual puzzle pieces that eventually create spots to fit into each other, right before your eyes.

So here’s the scene:

It’s 1972 in a warm Parisian music hall. There’s something in the air that hangs low. A smog of breath, heat, and re-purposed smoke that leaves the lungs of waiting listeners. Soon the looping and loping organ lines of avante composer Terry Riley make their way out into a crowd wanting to expand their minds, both musically and chemically. There’s a hypnotic quality to Terry Riley’s organ work. Phrases seem to repeat over and over, but if you listen closely you can tell there are small shifts in the music lines. The music feels like individual puzzle pieces that eventually create spots to fit into each other, right before your eyes.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Terry Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes.

I don’t think I can adequately describe this record. It’s improvised music done by the genius Terry Riley. One record was recorded in Los Angeles in 1971, while the other record was the same piece improvised again and significantly different in Paris in 1972. This is totally zone out music. You put it on, close your eyes, and try to transcend your surroundings. For some of my readers this may sound boring or tedious, and I understand that. But if you let the music work its magic you could possibly psychically work some stuff out.

Maybe.

I first came into contact with Terry Riley through his A Rainbow In Curved Air back in 2013 or early 2014. I’d discovered Steve Reich and was on the hunt for like-minded cats that went about creating music in a unique and heady way. I listened to A Rainbow In Curved Air an incredible amount of times. I eventually picked up a reissue of it the summer of 2014. I also found a first pressing of Riley’s In C, which influenced me to improvise a song with my Cambodia Highball partner entitled “In D” in the cold harsh winter of 2014.

Riley seemed(and still seems) like a guy that wanted more out of a piece of music than just the satisfaction of composing. He seemed to be searching for enlightenment through music. His performances were more like a gathering of tribes. He looked more like a Yogi than he did a beat generation music composer. Each successive music project got closer and closer to what he arrived at with Persian Surgery Dervishes. And what he got to was another state of mind. It’s a trance-inducing musical piece that improvises on organ(which is specially tuned to just intonation). It works to put you into a free-floating spot in your own little universe. I think it works in the same way Indian music does or Middle Eastern music. It serves a purpose to enlighten the listener, and in Riley’s case the creator as well.

This isn’t the record you’re going to throw on when company is over and you’re playing a few rounds of euchre. It’s also not one you put on when the kids have friends over as you’ll certainly scare them away by the trance-like sound that will emanate from the speakers. I think Terry Riley is an acquired taste, but he’s a taste I have certainly acquired. Bands as heavy as Om, Sunn O))), and Sleep have taken the simple ideas of transcendence through repetition that Riley perfected way back in the late 60s and early 70s to new, crushing heights. Terry Riley is in his 80s now and still playing live. I think there may be something to his spiritual style of improvisational composition. He connects with an audience on an existential level and gives that connection back through the organ. In these times I think we need all the help we can get in connecting back to the universe.  It’s a beautiful thing, really.

So is Persian Surgery Dervishes.

About the Author jhubner73

This is where I drop the spat and spittle, the sentimental fat and drivel... Music and such, and maybe a word or two about a word or two. Midwest point-of-view, without all that religion and gun stuff. Intellectually unintellectual. Elitist for the pizza and beer crowd. Grab a bean bag and lounge in the basment for a while, won't you?

7 comments

  1. It is so difficult to describe or categorise, isn’t it? I struggled when trying to write about Rainbow In Curved Air a while back. Certainly this is one of the few albums I know that induces (or invites) an altered state. Having had the CD for a few years, I was delighted to land the 2LP set last week. It’s had a number of spins already.

    Lovely introduction to this unusual music, JH.

    Liked by 1 person

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