Terry Riley's In C might be considered one of the seminal pieces of minimalism, but at its heart it's an open invitation. The score resides on a single sheet of paper with 53 phrases to be repeated by an indefinite number of musicians.
Over its 50-year history, the piece has been embraced, naturally, by classical ensembles. But then there those marvelously unexpected performances by everyone from boundary-pushing rock bands (The Styrenes, Acid Mothers Temple) to West African groups (Africa Express) playing instruments like the kora, ngoni and balafon.
Riley himself thinks of the piece in visual terms. "It's very much like if you're watching birds on a lake," he told NPR in 2009. "And they suddenly take flight and as they move through the air they create different patterns and they regroup."
Members of Brooklyn Raga Massive have taken up the In C invitation. The Indian classical collective takes the music out of the sky and into the streets of its New York borough. In this video directed by Ian Cinco, we see the everyday lives of the Raga Massive musicians — chasing children, dancing in kitchens, eating dosas, shooting hoops — soundtracked by their own version of In C. Eighteen musicians play a variety of traditional Indian classical instruments — sitar, bansuri, tablas — plus vocals, oud, violin and frame drum.
For Neel Murgai, the group's sitar player, Riley's music fosters civic pride and a sense of togetherness. "For us, playing Terry Riley's In C has always been about bringing the whole community together to play exquisite music," he tells NPR. "Indian classical music usually involves just two or three people. BRM has done many experiments involving more musicians, but In C is the first piece in our repertoire where we can include everyone. This video and our CD reflect a vibrant community coming into our own."
Terry Riley In C is out now via Northern-Spy Records. Brooklyn Raga Massive regularly performs live.