In C.

I’ve  been working on this one for awhile, but I finally got it to a point where I can post it.

It’s an adaptation of Terry Riley’s famous 1964 composition In C, which instead of having a completely static arrangement is a score sheet of 53 looping phrases that each musician plays one-by-one, at her own pace, until she feels like progressing to the next phrase.

"In C" score by Terry Riley

"In C" score by Terry Riley

A few years ago when version 6 of Ableton Live came out, I read about the new “Follow Action” feature which allows for the user to introduce a certain amount of randomness to the arrangement. I immediately thought of In C and that if I could each phrase into a separate MIDI clip, I could arrange it so that it would play much as Riley directed. The only problem was that my music-reading skills were pretty limited, my last formal music lesson having been in 4th grade. A short book called Learn To Read Music (of all things) and the Wikipedia entry on modern musical symbols got me over that hurdle.

I decided to make 8 instruments, even though Riley suggests more, because the amount of synchronicity that occurs with human players is less likely to happen with a computer. Each of the 8 computer instruments isn’t listening to the other 7, so there’s no natural temptation to fall into sync with the others. In addition there’s the pulse on the eighth notes as Riley suggests.

I have set it up so that each instrument will play each phrase 4 times, then after the 4th time there is a 1:3 (or 25%) chance it will play the next phrase; otherwise it will loop once more on the current phrase. At the end of each phrase, the computer throws the dice again. There may be better ways to experiment with the probabilities to get it to play closer to Riley’s very general direction that players not get more than 3 or 4 phrases ahead or behind of each other; the computer does not take this into account. (It would be feasible with Max but not Ableton Live).

Each time the piece is played by the computer, it should be a completely different arrangement (although computer random numbers are really pseudo-random, and I don’t know how Live picks random numbers), but contain all the patterns and polyrhythms of patterns intersecting that is the hallmark of In C.


Ableton Live playing "In C" by Terry Riley
Ableton Live playing “In C” by Terry Riley

Chances are good you don’t have Ableton Live 6 (or later), but if you are interested in the Live set, let me know and I will send it to you or post it here. However, below I have posted several mp3s representing performances of the piece:

Performance #1: In C #1 (23:09, 31.8MB)

Performance #2: In C #2 (19:30, 26.8MB)

UPDATE: I added one more. Skipped #3, it wasn’t interesting enough. This might be the best so far. It’s also the shortest.

Performance #4*: In C (#4) (16:35, 23.4 Mb)

UPDATE (27 mar 2012): By popular demand, I am including the Ableton project file.

Ableton Live Set:  InC v2-alec.als

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10 Responses to “In C.”

  1. andrew dalio Says:

    You SOB; I’ve been meaning to do In C with sequencers for a while now! Great job!


  2. alec Says:

    I’m sure someone else beat me to it long ago, as well. I hesitate to google something when I have an idea these days, at least until it’s completely done. 99% of the time, it’s been done.

  3. konsum Says:

    Great work. I really like #4. I have to agree with Alec, 99% of the time someone else has done what you are doing long before you 🙂
    However it would be great to see the Live set if possible.


    kon sum sun ra

  4. Terrence Youk Says:

    I cam across your listing by random (fitting), and I am wondering if you would grant me permission to use a short segment for background music for a film I am producing? I would of course credit Terry Riley, Ableton Live, and you in the credits. I love Terry – and worked with him on the 20th anniversary BBC recording of In C at St. John the Divine. Many thanks,

  5. aleatoric Says:

    Sure, fine by me. What’s the film?

  6. ale{atori}c» Blog Archive » Generative Music, an experiment (no. 16) Says:

    […] the concept of generative music, something that Terry Riley first brought to my attention (see my blog entry and version of his aleatoric/generative composition “in C”) and that of course Brian Eno has championed. Eno has found success with many different generative […]

  7. Jean Says:

    Excellent I have been looking for this for sometimes.
    Would it be possible to get the Ableton .als file ?


  8. aleatoric Says:

    OK, I uploaded the Ableton Live file. See the end of the original post!

  9. ale{atori}c» Blog Archive » It’s been a minute. Says:

    […] that I’ve sketched out and am working on implementing, inspired by Terry Riley’s In C. (Which I have written about and produced an Ableton Live version of here […]

  10. ale{atori}c» Blog Archive » Terry Riley’s “In C” (reprise) Says:

    […] In C. […]

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