Adrian Utley in C

Adrian Utley is an established guitarist thanks to his longstanding and impressive (yet still rather slim) catalogue of work with Bristol based band Portishead.

This month he  brings together an orchestra of electric guitar players to interpret Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ on a new CD released by Invada.

Written in 1964,‘In C’ is one of the most influential pieces of music from the 20th Century, it established minimalism as a music genre. In C’s simple musical rules – 53 musical phrases in C and no duration – allow for infinite variations.

Utley’s impressive Guitar Orchestra is augmented by organs and a clarinet making for a mesmeric sound experience. The Guitar Orchestra consists of 24 musicians from Bristol: 19 guitarists including John Parish (PJ Harvey), Thought Forms, and Jim Barr (Portishead live band); 4 organs and a bass clarinet.

Composed in 1968 by Terry RileyIn C is a minimalist exercise of sorts, with its roots spreading into aleatoric music due to the large element of chance and interpretation in its score. The arrangement itself is particularly non-traditional, made up of 53 individual short phrases instead of your standard score of music that runs straight from beginning to end. Focussed on the ideas of crescendo/diminuendo, polyphony and polyrhythm, Riley’s score honours interpretation and encourages performers to actually stop playing sometimes and listen carefully to the piece’s progress:

“Patterns are to be played consecutively with each performer having the freedom to determine how many times he or she will repeat each pattern before moving on to the next. There is no fixed rule as to the number of repetitions a pattern may have, however, since performances normally average between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, it can be assumed that one would repeat each pattern from somewhere between 45 seconds and a minute and a half or longer.” [From Riley’s In C Performing Directions]

Utley’s arrangement for his orchestra is made up of 19 guitarists (including John Parish, Invada-band Thought Forms and Portishead live-member Jim Barr), 4 organs and a bass clarinet to round it all off. The organs are a particular treat in the performance and amidst the flurry of arpeggios give the whole thing a Philip Glass feel to it (though it is hard to think minimalism without Glass popping up anyway).

Read more on Echoes and Dust

Of course, this isn’t the only guitar music that Terry Riley has written.
Here is David Tanenbaum performing “Ascension” on classical guitar – far from minimalist and great playing.

Here’s “in D”! with Stefano Scodanibbio and the Double Bass Ensemble Ludus Gravis