Musician Terry Riley Returns to Berkeley

Photo: Musician Terry Riley performs at the Berkeley Art Museum with his son Gyan as part of the museum's L@te: Friday Nights program.
Christopher McDermut/Photo
Musician Terry Riley performs at the Berkeley Art Museum with his son Gyan as part of the museum's [email protected]: Friday Nights program.

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Musician Terry Riley, a UC Berkeley alumnus, returned to the Berkeley Art Museum for a performance on Friday night as part of the museum's "[email protected]: Friday Nights" program.

Over 700 people gathered to listen to Riley-who graduated with a degree in music and composition-sing and play the piano alongside his son, Gyan Riley, who played the guitar.

Sarah Cahill, guest curator for the program, said Terry Riley had a "checkered relationship" with some UC Berkeley professors because his wild performance art and new approach to music conflicted with their more conservative academic teachings in the 1960s. However, despite any past tensions, the father-son duo played well past midnight at the concert.

Riley is credited with starting the minimalist movement in 1963. Cahill said he inspired bands such as the Velvet Underground and the Who, which wrote "Baba O'Riley" as a tribute to Riley's work.

But many audience members refused to define Riley's music, saying they were hesitant to confine his work to a single genre and preferred instead to just listen.

"It's all about the person just as much the music," said music and composition graduate student David Coll. "(Riley) is a person (who's) growing and trying everything out, and he has a very mystical nature that I haven't quite understood, and I don't know if I want to understand it."

Applause greeted 74-year-old Riley as he walked into the gallery, careful not to step on the audience members lying at his feet. Many concert attendees brought pillows, blankets and mattresses to the event to stay late into the night.

"We're so used to the concept of sitting upright in a chair and being attentive and having to listen in that position-it's uncomfortable," Cahill said. "It's kind of a great thing to listen to music as you sleep. That's a wonderful state to be in."

Riley is well-known for his all-night concerts and his willingness to challenge conventional norms and promote peace, both on and off the stage.

Cahill said Riley was a peace activist in both his music and his personal life.

"Sometimes when you look at the news, it's grizzly and negative, and it's so overwhelming," she said. "I think what Terry does is to try to counteract that with spiritual healing and peace."

Riley said he thinks of the music itself as an inspiration, comparing it to a religion.

"I feel that music is a spiritual path," he said. "I feel like a musician is another way to feed your spirit.


Contact Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato at [email protected]

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