Terry Riley-Persian Surgery Dervishes
February 16, 2009
Persian Surgery Dervishes
Terry Riley embodies the essence of minimalism. His music has always tapped into the primal recesses of my brain and lured me into some pretty deep meditative states. His mastery isn’t a surprise since he learned under the tutleage of the master of Indian classical music, Pandit Pran Nath, who has also blown a few of my synapses over the years. His devotion to the open-ended nature of composition and performance via his series of All-Night Concerts in the 60s and divine patience in developing themes only to allow them to morph into something even more transcendent is awe-inspiring in my grubby book. Plus, I like the idea of how he would invite people to bring sleeping bags and pillows to his All-Night Concerts so he could play tape-delayed saxophone and the harmonium until sunrise. I can only imagine what it would be like to experience the incessant undulation and shifts in tone as Riley whisked all of his willing passengers into a trance state. Maybe I am just a born sucker for the hypnotic powers of a slowly developing riff or composition, but my weary heart wishes it could be a part of such a near-religious experience. Alright, enough of my pseudo-mystical banter and butchered romanticism toward altered states of mind, let’s get to the nitty gritty of what makes Persian Surgery Dervishes a welcome addition to my life.
I don’t have the second half of the double cd which collects these dual performance of Persian Surgery Dervishes, but the one pasted here includes a 1971 performance in Los Angeles. I prefer this one over the Paris performance since it is somehow more damaged, yet serene. I am drawn to Persian Surgery Dervishes since there is so much accomplished with two distinct elements. You have a slow-motion organ riff that kind of percolates in the background. It really doesn’t deviate much from its bearings. Its job is to throb in the background while Riley goes bananas on an electric organ. This second element is essential to the piece since it is the motor which drives the composition. Well, this motor gets quite revved up at times, but doesn’t really go anywhere. It is static, yet incredibly busy at time. Riley knows the allure of restraint and pacing and slowly builds from a sensual tease to a goddamn psychedelic frenzy. He really beats the shit out the organ when the piece gets hectic. It’s even hard to type this as I listen to it since there are sections which make your brain feel like taffy left on the radiator for the night. There isn’t really any concessions to melody, but to twisting patterns that kind of collide and coalesce into something larger than the previous motif. For me, it mimics the many thoughts that bounce around in our minds. There is something soothing about examining one’s life closely and traversing the pathways of thought. Somehow, Persian Surgery Dervishes is the perfect companion for those times when you find yourself in the eye of the storm and can lucidly examine the reasons behind the tumult and transition. Again, I am getting a but too heavy for my own good, so let’s just say that it’ll blow your boo-boo loose and make cole slaw out of your cabbage.