In C

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Riley's 1968 LP recording of In C as part of the CBS Records "Music of our Time" series.

In C is a musical piece composed by Terry Riley in 1964 for an indefinite number of performers. He suggests "a group of about 35 is desired if possible but smaller or larger groups will work".[1] A series of short melodic fragments, In C is often cited as the first minimalist composition to make a significant impact on the public consciousness.[2]

The piece was first performed by Steve Reich, Jon Gibson, Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Morton Subotnick and others at the San Francisco Tape Music Center.[3][4] It received its first recorded release in 1968 on CBS Records. Subsequent performances have been recorded many times since.

In 2022, the 1968 LP recording of In C was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Recording Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.".[5]


In C consists of 53 short numbered musical phrases, lasting from half a beat to 32 beats; each phrase may be repeated an arbitrary number of times at the discretion of each musician in the ensemble. Each musician thus has control over which phrase they play, and players are encouraged to play the phrases starting at different times, even if they are playing the same phrase. In this way, although the melodic content of each part is predetermined, In C has elements of aleatoric music to it.[6] The performance directions state that the musical ensemble should try to stay within two to three phrases of each other. The phrases must be played in order, although some may be skipped. As detailed in some editions of the score, it is customary for one musician ("traditionally... a beautiful girl," Riley notes in the score)[7] to play the note C in repeated eighth notes, typically on a piano or pitched-percussion instrument (e.g. marimba). This functions as a metronome and is referred to as "The Pulse". Steve Reich introduced the idea of a rhythmic pulse to Riley, who accepted it, thus radically altering the original composition by Riley which had no pre-determined rhythm.[8]

Program notes from first UK performance, May 1968

In C has no set duration; performances can last as little as fifteen minutes or as long as several hours, although Riley indicates "performances normally average between 45 minutes and an hour and a half." The number of performers may also vary between any two performances. The original recording of the piece was created by 11 musicians (although, through overdubbing, several dozen instruments were utilized), while a performance in 2006 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall featured 124 musicians.

The piece begins on a C major chord (patterns one through seven) with a strong emphasis on the mediant E and the entrance of the note F which begins a series of slow progressions to other chords suggesting a few subtle and ambiguous changes of key, the last pattern being an alternation between B and G. Though the polyphonic interplay of the various patterns against each other and themselves at different rhythmic displacements is of primary interest, the piece may be considered heterophonic.

The first UK performance of In C was on 18 May 1968 at Royal Institute Galleries by the Music Now Ensemble directed by Cornelius Cardew as part of a series of four Music Now, Sounds of Discovery Concerts, during May 1968.[9][10]


The piece has been recorded a number of times:

Artist Instrumentation Duration Tempo (=) Recording information Release information
Terry Riley and Center of Creative and Performing Arts (SUNY-Buffalo) saxophone, oboe, bassoon, trumpet, clarinet, flute, viola, trombone, vibraphone, marimbaphone 42' 03" 132 March 27–28, 1968 (many overdubs) Columbia MS 7178 (LP); Sony SNYC 45368 (Re-mastered)
L'Infonie saxophones, trumpets, percussion, piano, guitar, bass guitar, trombones 29' 20" 104 Recorded in 1970 Volume 33: Mantra (LP); Reed Streams / In C, Cortical Foundation Corti 2
Ensemble Percussione Ricerca vibes, glockenspiel, marimbas, xylophone, crotales 41' 01" 116 Diamine Studio, Mestre-Venezia, Italy in 1983 In C / Djembé, Materiali Sonori
Shanghai Film Orchestra traditional Chinese instruments ("various lutes, zithers, mouth organs, flute, and percussion") 28' 35" 108 Recorded in January 1989 at the Recording Studio of the Shanghai Film Industry. Mixed by Terry Riley, Jon Hassell and Brian Eno Celestial Harmonies 13026
Piano Circus concert grand piano, upright piano, Rhodes piano, harpsichords, vibraphone 20' 00" 132 Recorded in 1990 Six Pianos / In C, Argo 430380
Terry Riley and Friends saxophones (sopranos, alto, tenor, and baritone), xylophone, synthesizers, voices, flute, viola, violins, trombones, cello, piano, guitars, glockenspiel, drums, marimba, clarinet, accordion, xylophone, bass clarinet 76' 16" 108 Recorded live on January 14, 1990 at the New Music Theatre and Life on the Water, San Francisco In C – 25th Anniversary Concert, New Albion 71
Quebec Contemporary Music Society flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, French horns, trumpets, trombone, tuba, harp, percussion, sitar, tablas, violins, viola, cello, double bass, vocal ensemble 35' 46" 116 Recorded live on June 12, 1997 at the Salle Pierre-Mercure Atma Classique 22251
Ictus (with Blindman Kwartet) percussion, double basses, harp, cello, guitar, piano, accordion, oboe, violin, clarinets, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone 65' 00" 130 Recorded live on May 31, 1997 at Chapelle des Brigitines, Brussels. Slightly overdubbed at Acoustic Recording Studio, Brussels Cypres 5601
Bang on a Can cello, glockenspiel, vibraphone, bass, mandolin, soprano saxophone, pipa, piano, violin, electric guitar, chimes, marimba, clarinet 45' 32" 120 Recorded live on November 20, 1998 at the World Financial Center, New York Cantaloupe 21004
Terry Riley Repetitition [sic] Orchestra keyboards, clarinet, trumpet, violins, cello, fretless baritone guitar, double bass, chime-bells, percussion, voices 76' 40" 108 Recorded live on April 20, 2000 in DOM, Moscow Long Arm Records 01033
The Styrenes guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, vibraphone 53' 19" 120 Recorded on September 21, 2000 at Unique Studio, NYC (many overdubs) Enja 94352
Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O voices, monster bass, electric guitars, synthesizers, drums, violin, zuruna, tambura, shruti box, vibraphone, glockenspiel 20' 31" 92 Recorded at FTF Studio, Indo-yo and Acid Mothers Temple, 2002 Squealer 37
European Music Project, zignorii++ violin, viola, violoncello, marimba, electric piano, English horn, clarinets, alto saxophone, electronic arrangements 60' 48" 120 Recorded April 19–22, 2001 at Sendesaal des Funkhauses Köln Wergo 66502
re-sound flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, voice, electric guitar, electric bass, percussion, keyboards, violin, cello 57' 00" Recorded in Australia Move Records MD 3262[11] (2002)
DésAccordes / d-zAkord classical guitars, electric guitars, electric basses, harp, cellos, percussion, drums, bass 48' 54" 120 Recorded on November 23, 2003 at Espace Culturel du Bois Fleuri, Lormont, France MUSEA/GAZUL GA8681.AR
Ut Gret synthesizer, alto saxophone, vibes, marimba, flute, bass clarinet 64' 11" 120 Recorded live at Tewligans in 2002 Recent Fossils, Ear-X-tacy Records
Ars Nova Copenhagen, Percurama Percussion Ensemble vocals, marimbas, bass marimba, vibraphone, Bali gong 55' 16" 116 Recorded on January 17, 2005 at Focus Recording, Copenhagen Dacapo 8.226049
American Festival of Microtonal Music just-fretted guitars, viola, harpsichord, kanon, guitar "pulse" 23' 11" 112 Recorded live as "In C in Just Intonation," Terry Riley's reworking commissioned by the AFMM in 1988 Ear Gardens, Pitch P-200209
Oxford Minimalist Ensemble 45' 09" Recorded live at Sheldonian Theatre Oxford UK on 11 May 2006
The New Audience Ensemble 16' 36" Live at the Edge, Odessa Mama (2006)
Jeroen van Veen Piano and other keyboards 57' 56" 120 Recorded at Barbara Church, Culemborg on October 23–28, 2006 (many overdubs) Minimal Piano Collection, Brilliant Classics 8551
GVSU New Music Ensemble piano, percussion, xylophone, bassoon, accordion, flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, cello, English horn, soprano and tenor saxophones, marimba, vibraphone, guitar, trumpet, violin 20' 43" The project included remixed versions by 16 other musicians, In C Remixed, Innova 758 (2009)
Orkest de Volharding 51' 36" 108 The Minimalists, Mode 214/215 (2009)
Hans Balmer Flutes (overdubbed) 40' 04" 124 Minimal Flute, Fontastix (2009)
Salt Lake Electric Ensemble Laptop orchestra with percussion 65' 56" 85 Laptops recorded live Feb. 3, 2010 in Salt Lake City, acoustic instruments overdubbed Feb/Mar 2010 (2010)
GVSU New Music Ensemble Piano, Percussion, Flute, Cello, Accordion, Violin, Clarinet, Bass, Saxophone, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Trumpet. Featured Guest Dennis DeSantis on laptop and effects. 61' 28" 124 Recorded live on November 8, 2009, at Le Poisson Rouge, New York City Terry Riley: In C
Ghostly International GI-108 (2010)
Limited Edition CD + Digital Download
Invisible Polytechnic Analogue modular synth 'pulse', organ, piano, marimba, percussion, violin, viola, hurdy-gurdy, harp, bass guitar, oboe, daegeum, bassoon, voices 45' 40" 115 Recorded at Hatchlands Park, Surrey, and Them Usem, London Junior Aspirin Records (ASP020, 2011)
Anton Glushkin and friends Piano 'pulse', guitar, electric guitar, 2 violins, viola, cello, balalayka, balalayka-contrabass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, bayan, harp, harpsichord, synthesizer, percussion 51' 110 Recorded live on March 17, 2012, at museum of contemporary arts "Erarta", St. Petersburg, Russia Hands For Friends studio
Sensorium Saxophone Orchestra Saxophones, snare drum Recorded December 2010, Brooklyn, New York Living Records (2012)
University of Lethbridge Electroacoustic Ensemble clarinet, alto saxophones, voices, electronic bells, DTX electronic drums, MIDI sequencer, CDJ-2000 turntable, iPad, piano, Minimoog Voyager, microKorg XL, keyboards, acoustic guitars, electric guitar, bass guitar (Ableton Suite and Logic Pro controlled by iPad and keyboards) 41'13" 96 Lethbridge, Canada, April 2013 Digital Audio Arts University of Lethbridge
PressingPlay laptop Orchestra Ableton Live 8, APC40, Kore 2 23'52" 128 June 2013 Recorded live at PlonkPlonk Records in June 2013
Adrian Utley's Guitar Orchestra Electric Guitars, Organs, Bass Clarinet, Percussion 61'24" Recorded live at St. George's hall, Bristol, 6 February 2013 Released by Invada Records on 14 October 2013
Haanwijk Guitaret Ensemble 21 Hohner Guitarets 19'47" Released April 2014
Africa Express balafons, baritone-guitar, calabash, djembe, flutes, guitars, imzad, kalimbas, kamel n'goni, koras, melodica, percussions, violin, vocals 40'45" 130 Recorded at Maison des Jeunes, Bamako and Studio P5, Berlin Released February 2015; titled In C Mali. Features Brian Eno and Damon Albarn.[12]
Fighting Windmills + Sethstat clarinet, soprano saxophone, trombone, percussion, electronic percussion, analogue synthesizer, modeling synthesizer, electric guitar, electronics, bass guitar, contrabass 78'41" (variable) Performed without pulse in a varying, free-flowing tempo. Recorded live at Kino Frosina, MKC – Skopje, Macedonia, December 16, 2016. Released by PMG Jazz on July 5, 2018
dBs Music Synthesizer Orchestra 53'50" 85 Recorded at dBs Bristol Performed December 2018[13]
Selfie Orchestra and Friends strings quintet, piano, guitar, bass, mezzo-soprano, accordion, electronics 66'10" 93.75 Recorded live at Onerkhana Performing Arts Theatre (Almaty, Kazakhstan) Performed June 24, 2021[14]
The Young Gods electronics, guitar, voice, drums and percussions 51'59" Recorded live at the “Studio des Forces Motrices”, Geneva, Switzerland, 21 October 2021 Released 9 September 2022[15]

Impact on other music[edit]

Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble produced an album of remixed versions of In C. A discussion of the In C remixing project including music played from three of the remixed versions can be heard in Radiolab's podcast on In C from December 14, 2009.[16] The remixers included Jad Abumrad, Mason Bates, Jack Dangers, Dennis DeSantis, R. Luke DuBois, Mikael Karlsson/Rob Stephenson, Zoë Keating, Phil Kline, Kleerup, Glenn Kotche, David Lang, Michael Lowenstern, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), Nico Muhly, Todd Reynolds and Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR).[17]


  1. ^ Riley, Terry, "In C: Performing Directions", from the score for In C, 1989, Celestial Harmonies
  2. ^ Christopher Bonds, The Musical Impulse, second, revised edition (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 1994): 345. ISBN 9780840398024
  3. ^ "A guide to Terry Riley's music" by Tom Service, The Guardian, 29 January 2013
  4. ^ "Radio Eclectus: Stuart Dempster interviewed by Michael Schell", April 9, 2020
  5. ^ "National Recording Registry Inducts Music from Alicia Keys, Ricky Martin, Journey and More in 2022". Library of Congress. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  6. ^ Honigmann, David (October 7, 2013). "In C, Barbican, London – review". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 2022-12-10. Retrieved 2014-07-28. In C – probably the second-best-known aleatory classic – is less a score than a set of instructions
  7. ^ This direction seems to be in the original score, but is not in the OtherMinds CC-licensed score.
  8. ^ Andrew Ford (May 6, 2012). "Steve Reich – rhythm and minimalism" (interview). The Music Show. ABC Radio National. Archived from the original on 2021-12-11 – via YouTube. Steve Reich turned his back on Serialism back in the late 60s. He'd heard John Coltrane's free jazz and following a trip to Ghana in the early 70s he decided rhythm was more important than melody. So Minimalism was born in uptown New York.
  9. ^ Programme for the Cornelius Cardew Ensemble, Royal Institute Galleries. (1968)
  10. ^ Anderson, Virginia (18 November 2013). "Systems and Other Minimalism in Britain". In The Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music, ed. Keith Potter, Kyle Gann, and Pwyll ap Siôn. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.
  11. ^ Move Records MD 3262 re-sound: In C
  12. ^ Clark, Philip. "Riley In C". Gramophone.
  13. ^ "VIDEO: A day recording with Portishead's Adrian Utley at DBS Music".
  14. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "In C by Terry Riley". YouTube.
  15. ^ "In C". The Young Gods. Retrieved 6 November 2022.
  16. ^ Radiolab, "In C", December 14, 2009
  17. ^ "In C Remixed". GVSU New Music Ensemble. Retrieved 26 February 2014.

Further reading[edit]