Born in 1935 in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California, Terry Riley launched what is now known as the Minimalist movement with his revolutionary classic In C in 1964. This seminal work provided the conception for a form comprised of interlocking repetitive patterns that was to change the course of 20th-century music and strongly influence the works of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams, as well as rock groups like The Who, The Soft Machine, Curved Air, Tangerine Dream and many others.
In the 1960s and '70s he turned his attention to solo improvisational works for electronic keyboards and soprano saxophone, and pioneered the use of various kinds of tape delay in live performance. This approach resulted in another set of milestone works, A Rainbow in Curved Air, Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band, The Persian Surgery Dervishes and Shri Camel. These hypnotic, multi-layered, polymetric, brightly orchestrated, eastern-flavored improvisations set the stage for the New Age movement that was to appear a decade or so later.
Terry Riley has written for a variety of new-music soloists and ensembles, including the Rova Saxophone Quartet, Array Music of Toronto, Zeitgeist, Stephen Scott's bowed piano ensemble, The California Ear Unit, guitarist David Tanenbaum, the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, pianist Werner Baertschi and the Amati string quartet. In 1989, he formed the new performance ensemble KHAYAL which specializes in group vocal and instrumental improvisation. In 1992, he formed a small theater company, The Travelling Avantt-Gaard to perform his opera/theater piece The Saint Adolf Ring, based on the divinely mad drawings, poetry, writings and mathematical calculations of Adolf Wölfli, an early 20th-century Swiss artist.
In 1970 Riley made his first of a series of trips to India to study with the renowned North Indian vocal Master, Pandit Pran Nath. Over the years he has frequently appeared with Pandit Pran Nath as vocal and tamboura accompanist.
Riley taught North Indian Raga and music composition during his years at Mills College in Oakland, California, in the 1970s. It was there he met David Harrington, the founder and first violinist in the Kronos Quartet, and began the long association that has produced nine string quartets, a keyboard quintet, Crows Rosary, and a concerto for string quartet and orchestra, The Sands, commissioned by the Salzberg Festival in 1991. Cadenza on the Night Plain was selected by both Time and Newsweek as one of the ten best classical albums of the year 1985. The epic five-quartet cycle, Salome Dances for Peace, was selected as the number one classical album of the year by USA Today Magazine and was nominated for a grammy.