Around the same time Riley was launching the minimalist movement with his classic In C , he composed his Keyboard Studies, which offer the pianist assorted figurations to choose from and juxtapose and repeat in various combinations. He describes them as “long meditational exercises,” and has said that he engages in these minimalist patterns as a kind of extended morning ritual. While there are no recordings of him playing his Keyboard Studies, it’s always illuminating to listen to his phenomenal minimalist improvisations, in which his two hands play in independent meters often at lightening speed. He explains:
“I had been playing Keyboard Studies No.1 and No.2 (1965) for a couple of years before notating them. Both are repetitive studies of time, hand coordination, improvisational flow and texture. John Cage had asked me for a page of music for his Notations book of graphic scores, and I submitted Keyboard Study No.2.”
The version recorded here actually combines both Keyboard Studies at once. I had ordered the score in the mail and had asked Terry if he could show me how it works. My memory is that when we got together at his piano, he suggested combining figures on page one with figures on page two, so I started doing that, playing page one with my right hand and pages two and three with my left hand. It was only years later that I noticed with chagrin that the first page reads “Keyboard Study 1” and the other two pages are “Keyboard Study 2,” but by then Terry had given his approval, so that is the version on this recording. While demonstrating the Keyboard Studies, he pointed out how he makes use of the sostenuto (middle) pedal, allowing for particular pitches to ring out over the repeated patterns, so I made frequent use of it on this recording.