Dusted Reviews

Terry Riley - Les Yeux Fermés & Lifespan

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Terry Riley

Album: Les Yeux Fermés & Lifespan

Label: Elision Fields

Review date: Aug. 1, 2007

I’ve never known anyone who has heard of, let alone seen the two movies whose soundtracks are compiled on this disc. Les Yeux Fermés is an art film from 1972, the first by Moroccan-born director Joël Santoni, a movie about which there is little or no information beyond a rudimentary cast list and a date, which has never been issued on VHS or DVD. Lifespan has a slightly higher profile, though not by much. It features Klaus Kinski in a major supporting role in a generically indeterminable sci-fi thriller. That either would be able to attract Terry Riley to write their soundtracks is fairly incredible. Perhaps it was that very low profile that attracted him, because it gave him the freedom to more or less write whatever music he wanted without having to heed the demands of overbearing directors or producers. But given the complete lack of information about the origins of the works, it’s impossible to know. The two soundtracks are markedly different, for reasons that are unclear without the ability to hear them in context.

Les Yeux Fermés is the stranger of the two when thought of as a soundtrack, but also the stronger. The two 18-minute long tracks come from the same basic place as his 1969 album, Rainbow in Curved Air. The first 33 minutes or so center on two related minor chord drones in the lower register of the organ, around which Riley creates twirling modal figures and minimalist textures using the various timbres of his organs, synths, piano and saxophone. The first track, “Journey from the Death of a Friend,” feels faster, involving denser figurations and thicker, quasi-psychedelic organ tones. “Happy Ending,” the second part, starts with wonderfully interlocking saxophone lines that eventually give way to the meditative interplay of sax, piano, and organ. For the last few minutes of the piece, though, Riley goes kinda crazy, unleashing something that resembles a rock song, with a propulsive bass line in the piano, and a (somewhat clichéd, but contextually powerful) rising chord progression under bleating saxophones. The drone occasionally interjects, but its power has been subverted, so the track plows on until it dissipates on its own accord. I can’t imagine what kind of film goes with this shifting drone. Would it be the foreground or the background? In a certain way, it raises questions of what the relationship between film and music should be (though the answer to that is far beyond the scope of this review). It’s tempting to treat this like the other great soundtracks whose films have been forgotten, but I feel like there has to be something in the film (beyond a paycheck) that would have inspired Riley to such musical heights.

Lifespan, on the other hand, feels much more like a conventional soundtrack. The tracks themselves are shorter and sound very much like vignettes or parodies of conventional soundtracks: “G Song” (later a piece for the Kronos Quartet) and “The Oldtimer” are fake carnival music, “Music Inside Curved Lines” is fairly mundane stab at Western-music-with-tabla, “Slow Melody in Bhairavi” is Hindustani music on synthesizer, and “In the Summer” with its wordless vocals, flaccid chord progression, and “excited” synths is the prototype for all generic “compelling things are happening” music. Only the 12-minute long “Delay” comes close to replicating the inventive force of Les Yeux Fermés, and even then only in spectral form, having been tarnished by the rest of the soundtrack. Riley’s music really needs time to establish and develop itself, which is why it is so unsuitable for film music. Les Yeux Fermés sidesteps the issue of film entirely and is better for it, but Lifespan gets lost in the particulars of scene and plot and character.

By Dan Ruccia

Other Reviews of Terry Riley

Assassin Reverie


Read More

View all articles by Dan Ruccia

Find out more about Elision Fields

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.