By Roy Kasten
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Terry Riley's shadow might be daunting, but his influence on modern music is immeasurable. Electronic musician Dan Deacon frequently name-drops him as an influence, as does experimental monolith Animal Collective. When the latter group curated an edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, it selected Terry Riley as a performer. The event was a significant opportunity to appeal to an audience outside of his normal niche, and he chose to perform alongside his son.
"The indie-classical and indie-rock fields are very close together," Terry says. "I enjoy the opportunity because I get to play different venues to a new audience. It's very lively, and I like the musicians I meet and what they're doing. And when it's Gyan and I, he usually plays electric guitar, and I play synthesizer, so it's more of a plugged-in thing."
The Rileys will be in quieter form at the Sheldon, with Gyan on classical guitar and Terry on piano and vocals. The pair released a collection in 2011 of live duets, which gave insight to both musicians' unique takes on Indian ragas, Spanish flamenco and American jazz. They plan on recording soon for John Zorn's Tzadik label but are not currently touring or promoting an album. This performance is a matter of convenience; the duo plays in New York the Friday before, and St. Louis is a relative midway point between Gyan's base in Brooklyn and Terry's home in Northern California.
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Besides the instrumentation, the specific program is unknown. Tasked with explaining whether the pair will perform compositions or simply improvise, Terry Riley uses noncommittal words like "probably" and "most likely" while searching for an answer. The correct response is probably, most likely, "both."
This loose atmosphere is typical for the Rileys. "Usually we don't have a chance to get together beforehand to play," Terry says. "It's kind of like winging it. When we play together I feel very synchronized. We both often reach for the same ideas at the same time. There are probably genetics in play, but it's also a spiritual experience for me."
"It's interesting, because you'd think our experience with each other would translate into knowing what the other person is going to do onstage," Gyan says. "But my dad is incredibly spontaneous, so we might talk about doing a piece and then totally not do it at all. And even though I might know a piece of his that we're playing, he'll often take it in a different direction unannounced. So we know each other very well, and there's a certain level of intuition that always comes into play, but it's always unpredictable. He keeps me on my toes."
Gyan then laughs mischievously, the giggle of a son aiming a defiant gesture at his father, and says, "Of course, I try to keep him on his toes, too."