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A Rainbow in Curved Air

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A Rainbow in Curved Air
Studio album by
LabelCBS Records
ProducerDavid Behrman
Terry Riley chronology
In C
A Rainbow in Curved Air
Church of Anthrax
Reissue cover
1990 CD release cover, based on elements from the LP back cover.
Professional ratings
Review scores
Rolling Stone(favourable)[7]
The Village VoiceA−[8]

A Rainbow in Curved Air is the third album by American composer Terry Riley, released in 1969 on CBS Records. The title track consists of Riley's overdubbed improvisations on several keyboard and percussion instruments, including electric organ, electric harpsichord, dumbec, and tambourine.[1] The B-side "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band" is a saxophone-based drone piece featuring tape loops and edits, drawing on Riley's all-night improvisatory performances in the 1960s.[1]

Riley's record deal with CBS was part of "Music of Our Time," a short-lived album series on American experimental music helmed by CBS employee David Behrman, who also facilitated the release of Riley's 1968 album In C;[1] these two were the most successful LPs in the series.[9] The album subsequently influenced a number of rock and electronic productions.[2]


In the late 1960s, composer David Behrman was working for CBS Records's Columbia imprint as an editor when he visited Terry Riley in his New York apartment, witnessing his use of tape loops as accompaniment for his saxophone playing (achieved via the use of two Revox tape recorders running into one another).[1] Riley had previously used this tape loop approach for productions such as Music for The Gift (1963). In 1967, Behrman had received permission from CBS to curate a series of albums on the American experimental music scene titled "Music of Our Time," which would eventually include recordings by Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros and Richard Maxfield.[1] The first of Riley's releases on CBS was a 1968 recording of In C; the second would be A Rainbow in Curved Air.[1]

A Rainbow in Curved Air was an early recording at CBS to utilize a professional eight-track recorder.[10] The largely improvisational nature of the work, based on modal scales, owes much to Riley's background in jazz improvisation and interest in Hindustani classical music. Jazz pianist Bill Evans, one of Riley's piano "heroes",[11] had utilized overdubbing on his classic album Conversations with Myself from four years earlier.[12] Riley would intensify this overdubbing approach with added instrumentation.[12]


Using overdubbing, Riley plays all the instruments on the title track: electric organ, 2 electric harpsichords (a Baldwin electric harpsichord & a RMI Rock-Si-Chord), dumbec, and tambourine.[1] The piece moves through several sections; following the opening theme and introduction of "placid chords," Riley introduces "an explosion, a procession of right-hand lines that flutter and pirouette over the pulsing rhythmic patterns."[1] The calmer second half of the recording features shorter, high-register keyboard lines which syncopate with the music's modal base.[1]

The B-side of the original LP is titled "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band." It is a saxophone-based drone piece featuring tape loops and jump cuts.[1] The piece is a version of the performances given at Riley's "All-Night Flight" concerts in the late 1960s.[1] It employs overdubbing, with Riley again playing all instruments (including saxophone inspired by the playing of John Coltrane).[13] Riley used a time lag accumulator, consisting of two tape machines, looped audio tape, and a patch cord.[14] The titular Phantom Band refers to Riley's tape delay accompaniment.[10] A note on the album explains that "The spatially separated mirror images were adapted for studio recording by Glen Kolotkin and resemble the sound Terry gets in his all-night concerts."[15]

Release and legacy[edit]

The original LP jacket includes a idealistic poem on the back cover, written by Riley, which depicts a world in which the Pentagon is "turned on its side and painted purple, yellow & green within a plainly psychedelic environment" and "the concept of work was forgotten."[15]

The album received a favorable review in Rolling Stone.[7] Writing for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau opined positively that the "title side of this has to be a fair approximation of the music of the spheres."[8]

The album inspired Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Pete Townshend's organ parts on The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Riley," the latter named in tribute to Riley and to Meher Baba.[16] It has also inspired progressive, jazz fusion band Soft Machine's instrumental piece "Out-bloody-rageous".[17] A Rainbow in Curved Air has also had a significant impact on the developments of minimalism, ambient music, jazz fusion, new-age music, progressive rock, and subsequent electronic music. It foreshadows the later overdubbed instrumental works composed by Steve Reich. The 1970s progressive rock band Curved Air named itself after this album.[18] The album's title track is also featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV on the in-game radio station "The Journey." Some of the music on this album was used as the background accompaniment of The Guide in the original BBC Radio 4 series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It was sampled/copied as the sound effects for the 1980 arcade game Moon Cresta.[citation needed]

Other appearances[edit]

Sections of A Rainbow in Curved Air were used in the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series.

In 2009 the track "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band" featured in the BBC documentary Prog Rock Britannia: An Observation in Three Movements.

On April 26, 2007, Riley gave a live performance of A Rainbow in Curved Air (Revisited). Necessarily, he had to be assisted by other performers: Willi Wynant on percussion and Mikhail Graham working synthesizers and samples.[19]

Track listing[edit]

All composition and performances by Terry Riley.

  1. "A Rainbow in Curved Air" – 18:39
  2. "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band" – 21:38


Credits adapted from liner notes.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Seth Colter Walls (September 4, 2016). "Terry Riley - A Rainbow in Curved Air". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Ankeny, Jason. "Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  3. ^ Gibbons, William James (2018). Unlimited Replays Video Games and Classical Music. Oxford. p. 69.
  4. ^ "Minimalism". International Piano: 62. 2007.
  5. ^ Paste Staff (June 3, 2024). "The 300 Greatest Albums of All Time". Paste. Retrieved June 3, 2024. His 1969 record, A Rainbow In Curved Air...[is] a tour de force in psychedelia.
  6. ^ Tyranny, "Blue" Gene. "A Rainbow in Curved Air". Allmusic. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  7. ^ a b Silver, Conrad (7 February 1970). "Records". Rolling Stone. No. 51. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. p. 44.
  8. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (April 23, 1970). "Consumer Guide (9)". The Village Voice. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  9. ^ Grubbs, David (2014). Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording. Duke University Press. p. 7.
  10. ^ a b "Terry Riley - Interview". Red Bull Music Academy. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  11. ^ "21st Century Music" (PDF). 21st-centurymusic.com. February 2004. pp. 3–10. Retrieved 30 March 2022.
  12. ^ a b Lawrence, Nick. "10 ambient-inspired albums to keep you meditated during quarantine". North Texas Daily. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  13. ^ "Microsoft Word - 80558.doc" (PDF). Newworldrecords.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2011-07-14.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ a b c "Terry Riley – A Rainbow In Curved Air". Discogs. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  16. ^ The Who: The Ultimate Collection (Media notes). The Who. MCA Records. 2002. p. 12.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  17. ^ Third_(Soft_Machine_album)
  18. ^ "Curved Air: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-04-15.
  19. ^ "Listen to samples of Terry Riley's music". Mikailgraham.com. Retrieved 30 March 2022.