When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, Terry Riley decided to stay right where he was, which just so happened to be in Japan.
The composer had arrived in the country in February 2020 to do preliminary work for a piece commissioned by an arts festival held on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan.
It was supposed to be the first hop on a three-month worldwide tour with his son, Gyan, to mark his 85th birthday. And then, well, things changed.
“I got here, and then everything canceled,” Riley recalls, speaking over mugs of chai tea at his apartment in Yamanashi Prefecture, a few hours train ride from central Tokyo. “I had no work and nowhere to go, really, so I ended up living here.”
His next album will be a new version of Autodreamographical Tales, performed by New York contemporary-music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars. The piece was originally released as a solo recording, in which Riley read excerpts from dream journals he had kept during the 1990s.
“I often get ideas for music in dreams, where I’ll actually hear the music,” he says. But it isn’t a simple question of transcribing sounds from his subconscious.
“The actual music in a dream is way too good to ever manifest in an earthly situation,” he explains. “I think you come to understand, after a while, that they’re two different things, and you let the one influence the other. You let the dreams influence your work, without an expectation that they’re going to be the same thing.