Aleph was recorded in 2008, a live concert at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum captured by a small digital recorder set on MP3 mode instead of WAV (afterwards, the audio was refurbished by Scott Hull). The lone keyboard exploited by Riley was a Korg Triton 88 workstation, its palette confined to the spurious replica of a reed and variously hued synthetic patches. This has been enough for a couple of “critics” to throw gratuitous comments ranging from dandily illiterate to utterly disdainful: a guy on examiner.com called it “a two hour meditation for a rambling horn and a bumbling synthesizer that is a show of aged magician playing with some of his toys in the garden” (sic). So much for the ability of distinguishing a real instrument from an artificial one, not to mention the crass ignorance diffused by this variety of aspirant educators.
Speaking more seriously, one of the factors that will probably keep this recording at safe distance from a complete appreciation is the combination between the above mentioned fake-sounding timbres and the just intonation system employed for the piece. Western ears are too used to the twelve-tone temperament, which is often a way of caressing an average listener’s head with a “no-worry-it’s-all-OK” smile. To unaccustomed audiences just intonation may result as somewhat jarring; in general, what’s actually out of tune is the being who perceives it as such, though this is a topic that would require a book to discuss.
As far as how the mere musical content works, Riley is still able to bring forth endless spurts of enthralling Eastern-tinged melismas upon reiterative structures; no hints of weariness whatsoever. Look for loops, patterns and chants and you’ll find them; leave the whole unfold without excessively concentrating on the detail of what happens, and singular resonances are going to generate the sort of auricular and mental reaction that only bona fide mavericks can elicit with their work, despite physiological ups and downs. Forget the shopworn comparisons with rainbows and poppies, and the obligatory citation of In C: like it or not, this is Terry Riley’s current art. The 60s and the 70s are gone. Accept this simple truth, and move on.