It’s April 20! Which means that it’s 4/20, and for a sequence of strange reasons involving some stuff some stoners did years ago, “420” is now a cannabis reference. This stuff is weird, really. I’ve nicked the following from Wikipedia:
In 1971, five high school students in San Rafael, California, used the term “4:20” in connection with a plan to search for an abandoned cannabis crop, based on a treasure map made by the grower. Calling themselves the Waldos, because their typical hang-out spot “was a wall outside the school”, the five students — Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich —designated the Louis Pasteur statue on the grounds of San Rafael High School as their meeting place, and 4:20 pm as their meeting time. The Waldos referred to this plan with the phrase “4:20 Louis”. After several failed attempts to find the crop, the group eventually shortened their phrase to “4:20”, which ultimately evolved into a code-word the teens used to refer to consuming cannabis.
OK, then. I think that story seems pretty accurate, at least as far as my personal dealings with the occasional stoners have gone.
Well, anyway, since it’s 420, I got to thinking about composers and their drug habits. When you read histories of classical music, you quickly realize that a lot of composers spent a lot of their time under the influence of a lot of different stuff. Beethoven loved alcohol, and Berlioz leaned heavily on opium. Cannabis, though? For that I had to do a Google search, and while a number of names did crop up, one cropped up a lot: minimalist and electronica composer Terry Riley. As one writer notes:
One obvious point of consensus emerged right away: If you’re talking about the confluence of marijuana and new music, you’re talking about Terry Riley. The prolific Northern California minimalist composer and performer has never been coy about his recreational predilections (one of his pieces, “Autodreamographical Tales,” includes the sung lyric “Cannabis is a wonderful drug/ Sometimes you’re like a cat on a rug”).
That in turn feeds into some of the distinctive qualities of his music, including gentle, lapping rhythms, beguilingly sweet harmonies, and a seductive dream logic that provides a quasi-improvisatory feel. One person proposed including Riley’s entire discography on such a playlist, which has a certain simple appeal.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of Riley before this, but I do find him interesting after listening to today’s selection. I grant that you might not be all that interested in this, but I do like non-traditional approaches to music-making and composition. Riley’s approaches and use of electronics and repetitions of sound proved highly influential, providing ideas that later surface in the music of The Who and in the work of musicians like Mike Oldfield.
Today’s piece, A Rainbow in Curved Air, is an exercise in the dreamy soundscape of repeated sounds, modal improvisations, and experiments in pure sound. Over time the work seems to almost suggest melody, without actually coming out and stating one; it’s a hypnotic and expansive work…which one might well expect from a composer who enjoys his 420 action.
Here is A Rainbow in Curved Air.