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This Just In: "Autodreamographical Tales"

Members of the Bang on a Can All-Stars are superimposed over a neutral gray background; elements of the album cover of Terry Riley's Autodreamographical Tales are scattered throughout, including a doodle of a person with a dog's head, an octopus, and other stray psychedelic imagery, as well as the title of the album, portrayed in a hand-written, comic book-like style.
Photos and album cover courtesy of Cantaloupe Music. Graphical treatment our own.
Bang on a Can All-Stars

Part dream diary, part chamber piece, and 100% psychedelic fever dream, minimalist maverick Terry Riley's Autodreamographical Tales bursts into life with the flexible and frenetic Bang On A Can All-Stars.

In 1964, American composer Terry Riley broke onto the classical scene with his mesmerizing and arresting minimal masterpiece In C, premiered by fellow esteemed composers and musicians Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, Jon Gibson, and Morton Subotnick. The work has become a hallmark of the minimalist movement in music, and is praised for its modular construction, as well as its indeterminate compositional structure and melodic nature. Since then, it has been performed by many instrumental forces in a variety of ways, including a recent treatment for looped solo cello by Maya Beiser.

But that was composed in 1964. Today, at age 89, Riley is still as busy as he’s ever been, performing, teaching, and composing in a variety of genres and formats. Not one to be easily categorized, Riley’s music is informed by an eclectic mix of Indian classical music, jazz performance practice, and the classical avant-garde, with improvisation, psychedelia, and repeated musical fragments frequently recurring in his music.

And in 2022, in collaboration with the composer, the widely acclaimed contemporary ensemble extraordinaire Bang On A Can All-Stars brought an exceptional synthesis of Riley’s aesthetic and life’s work together in Autodreamographical Tales.

Part dream diary, part chamber piece, and 100% psychedelic fever dream, Autodreamographical Tales is a semi-coherent exploration of the subconscious, sometimes sung and sometimes spoken by Riley to his own text with the All-Stars as his backing band. Musically, the album spans a wide variety of styles and genres; at times, conventionally classical (for Riley, at least), like in moments of Zucchini, a song about a dream in which a piece he didn’t write is rehearsed and performed by an orchestra:

Zucchini excerpt

And at other times, the music is funkier than can be, like in Black Woman:

Black Woman excerpt

And sometimes, just plain goofy, like in The Miracle:

The Miracle excerpt

One could be forgiven for thinking that Riley is just throwing a bunch of musical ideas into a pot and seeing what comes out on the other side. On the contrary, Riley effectively and concisely combines disparate musical elements into an engaging and compelling narrative experience, deftly manipulating orchestration, harmony, and musical gesture in tandem with the development of these nonsensical tales. Even when we frankly have no idea what he’s talking about, where dreamlike narrative logic dissolves, a coherent musical logic stands on its own, making this recording all the more interesting for it.

William Peacock is a Lead Music Programmer for WCRB.