The worst performance of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’?

I don’t usually mention my home studio project, Eponymous 4, except when I let readers know I’ll be neglecting this site to do work there. But I just spent the last two or so hours on an experiment.

It involves Ableton Live and Terry Riley’s seminal work, In C.

The Session View of Ableton Live lets musicians take snippets of a song and arrange them in different configurations. Say you have a bass line in a verse. If you want to hear what it sounds like in another part of the song, you have to cut and paste in a linear setting but not with Ableton Live. You can even experiment with how different parts of a song connect. It’s tough to describe Session View (especially at 2:40 a.m.) without some demonstration.

When I was introduced to the Session View, I immediately thought of In C. If it’s so easy to isolate every portion of a song to mix and match every which way, why not leverage that with the 53 motifs in In C?

So I experimented a bit with Ableton Live’s interface. I set the time signature of the entire proejct to 1/8 — since the 8th note piano pulse marks the piece — and programmed each motif of In C in relation to that pulse.

Then I went into Session View and did a live run-through of the piece using the sampled solo strings in Propellerhead Reason. On the second time, I armed the record button.

Let me say I put some real hurting on my machine when I rendered the resulting arrangement in Live to a WAV file. My computer sounded like a vacuum cleaner as the fan went into overdrive trying to process the file. The 26-minute “performance” ended up being 286 MB.

In essence, a piece that’s supposed to involve at least 10 players was boiled down to one. Here is an MP3 of that alleged “performance”

This is more of a proof-of-concept exercise than an attempt at an actual performance. I’m off rhythm at the start of the piece, and when the score gets out of range for the viola and cello in Reason, those notes just get dropped.

And part of the charm of this piece is the ability of each player to experiment with dynamics or to pause from playing, neither of which this version accommodates. With more time and effort, I’m certain I can figure out a way to let Live do that.

Still, Live makes it possible for a single person to perform this piece. Imagine what would happen if I used entirely synthetic sounds? Or how boring a performance would be with a bunch of laptop geeks on stage?

OK. I better get to bed before I get delusions of using Ableton Live to assault other minimalist works.

[UPDATE: 7/18/07, 8:28 a.m.] I replaced the file online with a “cleaned-up” version I worked on last night. That’s another hazard with Ableton Live — if you didn’t arm a clip right on a beat, you can always go back and fix it. I’m not sure if that really keeps in spirit with the piece, but at least now Live plays the score correctly. The parts that were out of range for the cello sample were transposed down.

I tried to play a version with gamelan samples, but I got ill from a crush of high frequencies toward the end of the piece. I may still work with that one yet.

Also, I edited the 2 a.m. grammar errors. Fatigue and writing don’t mix.

[UPDATE: 7/18/07, 9:19 a.m.] Since I did such a literate job describing Live’s Session View, it would probably be helpful to include some links which try to explain it better than I could: