A drawing of Terry Riley
Terry Riley: Obsessed and Passionate About All Music

Terry Riley: Obsessed and Passionate About All Music

6. Just Intonation

FRANK J. OTERI: Now the decision to retune the piano into just intonation. At first you were doing it with electric keyboards, but then later you played on a retuned acoustic piano. I’m thinking of my favorite solo piano recording of yours, The Harp of New Albion. What prompted the decision to work in just intonation? Was that also derived from working with La Monte and talking to La Monte?

TERRY RILEY: Of course The Well Tuned Piano is a real monument in just intonation piano, and was beckoning me to also work in this way. The piano becomes a totally different instrument when you retune it. You know it doesn’t sound like the European piano. It becomes a much more pure instrument. The overtones start reinforcing themselves, each other. And you start getting a different timbre out of the piano. So it’s a real temptation to retune the piano to create music. Plus, when you have a tuning you actually have a piece. If you retune the piano, that tuning actually will create a piece. So you’d have as many times as you’ll retune it, you’ll have that many pieces. You know, and you just have to change intervals slightly in it to create a different color in the piano. I’m sure it’s something that will be explored more and more in the future. The only problem is that pianos are quite tedious to retune and to stabilize. It takes many days of tuning. So it’s labor intensive and it drives a lot people away from trying it. Plus it’s hard to find a venue that will let you take a piano for three or four days and just hold it there in that tuning because usually there’s demand for other people to use it.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right, so now when you tour you mostly play pianos in twelve equal.

TERRY RILEY: Especially if I’m doing one nighters. You know.


TERRY RILEY: If I’m going here to there there’s just no time to do it. It has to be set up so that you have several days in the place where you’re going to play the retuned piano.

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  1. Pingback: The music of Terry Riley « tiboresque

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