Terry Riley Missing

It’s happened again, the composer is missing. In a piece about a will.i.am song being played from Mars, the New York Times refers to other instances of sounds from space, including the following:

But this is not the first time that NASA has dabbled in music from outer space. The radio emissions of Saturn, recorded by the Cassini spacecraft, were shifted into audible frequencies, and the Kronos Quartet then incorporated the space sounds into a composition called “Sun Rings.”

This would give you the impression that the Kronos created “Sun Rings”, when it is actually a composition by Terry Riley. The pop music assumption that the performer and the composer are one again takes precedence over reality. Ned Rorem wrote about this problem in a letter to the Times Book Review several years ago:

To the Editor:

In her review of ”Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With ’50s Pop Music,” by Karen Schoemer (March 26), about seven pop singers of the 50’s, Nellie McKay doesn’t once mention a composer. Yet these singers were recreators, not creators, without whom the songs would not exist. These ”performers . . . were poets of unspoken passion, earnest preachers,” McKay writes. ”Their lyrics and melodies have never served the ‘in’ crowd.”

Like most listeners, McKay must think the singers make it up as they go along. In the 50’s great songwriters — Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and so on — were still being heard. Today they are mostly invisible. How, anymore, can ”we know the dancer from the dance”?

Ned Rorem

New York

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