Anti-Materialist Xmas Special: The Search For a Terry Riley Score You Literally Can’t Buy
|Dec 24, 2019|
This is HARD TO GET, a weekly newsletter about awesome stuff that’s (almost) impossible to find online.
Tons of junk will trade hands this week, so you don't need HARD TO GET to recommend anything -- well, anything material. Instead, we want to share the story of how a chance encounter in an art museum *last* Christmas put us on a monthslong quest for a piece of music that proved fascinatingly, frustratingly and, in a way, beautifully impossible to put our hands on. During a visit to Minneapolis' Walker Arts Center this time last year, we heard a muffled synthesizer drone coming from an adjoining gallery. It tugged us, hypnotized, around the corner, where we discovered Bruce Conner's haunting 1976 art film "Crossroads," the score of which is split between compositions by Patrick Gleeson and the bearded post-minimalist god himself, Terry Riley:
We're huge fans of Riley's music, but we'd never seen "Crossroads," in which Conner cuts together black-and-white footage of mushroom clouds shot by the U.S. military during the 1946 Bikini Atoll nuclear tests -- and so we'd never heard this piece. It was firmly in the style of '70s-era Riley, a trippy, hypnotic electric-organ swirl, made, according to Artforum, "via the use of tape delays at differing speeds" and "two separate Yamaha organ tracks." But when we got to a computer and tried to track down a copy for ourselves, we discovered ... nothing.
No CD release, no vinyl, no YouTube stream. According to Discogs, a tiny label called Latter-Day Quixote put out a bootleg cassette in 2015, but it too was nowhere to be found. Some people, discussing Riley's "Crossroads" score online, noted its similarities to another Riley piece from the same period, "Descending Moonshine Dervishes," but similar wasn't going to cut it. Further digging turned up an archived 2018 WFMU broadcast containing the Riley portion of "Crossroads" -- albeit with an "untranslated Cambodian artist" mixed in over the start, and with the DJ doing a station-ID and coughing over the middle of the track. This struck us as better than nothing, and for a while we contented ourselves with an MP3 rip. Further further digging led us to a total stranger on social media who asked several years back whether anyone had a copy of "Crossroads." We figured it wouldn't hurt to message this dude cold: Did he ever find it, and if so, would he share it?
Within a week, thanks to this stranger's kindness, a (digital) copy was ours. HARD TO GET is about the intersection of obsession and scarcity in an era of digital plenty, so rather than share the full Riley score we got so obsessed with locating, we want to respect, and preserve, its scarcity. To that end, here's a five-minute clip from the 24-minute score, with a few stills from the Conner film interspersed. This is to give you a taste. If you're compelled to hear the rest, you can 1) find a gallery showing the Conner piece, which we highly recommend, or 2) scrub through the WFMU stream for that audio. If that's not enough, we wish you better luck than we had locating that 2015 cassette ; ) Happy holidays, thanks for subscribing, and see you next year.