Terry Riley’s In C is well known for being able to be played by any instruments for any duration of time. It is not a composition per se, but a generative system that allows one or more individuals to combine improvisation and composition according to Riley’s rules for the piece. Each performance is unique. As a result, it has been recorded numerous times using various instrumentations, many of which sound quite different. Just in these pages, we’ve covered doom metal and raga versions.
Enter Greg Nieuwsma, a lover of flea markets. From one in Krakow, Nieuwsma acquired various electric and acoustic guitars, a zither, a glockenspiel, a melodica, an electric harmonium, and a toy piano. These instruments came from around the world and were in need of a bit of fixing up. On this recording, Nieuwsma played all but the guitars, which were handled by his son.
As compared to other versions of In C that I’ve heard, this one is more raw and sparse (despite overdubs). The nature of the piece slowly morphs as the Nieuwsmas swap instruments in and out. The familiar lilting patterns are present, but these are tempered by the instruments’ states of repair – some fall out of tune, the timing is a bit rough, and there was a bit of percussion that may have been accidental. And yet, all of these imperfections were expected and only add to the charm of this version. The result is a very pleasant – and only occasionally discordant – listen spanning 42 minutes.
Of course, Nieuwsma missed the opportunity to title this piece “In Flea”. That would have won the “pun of the week” award. But alas…