Terry Riley (1935)

Cactus Rosary (1990)

A Semi-Secular Song for Bruce Conner, for clarinetist-vocalist and ensemble

electronic work

  • General information
    • Composition date: 1990
    • Duration: 33 mn
    • Publisher: Associated Music Publishers
    • Commission: New Music America
Detailed formation
  • soloist: narrator (also other accessory [Peyote Rattle] )
  • clarinet (also bass clarinet), trumpet, 3 percussionists, piano, electronic/MIDI keyboard/synthesizer [synthétiseur] , double bass

Premiere information

  • Date: 17 November 1990

    Canada, Toronto, ON, Rivoli Café



Information on the electronics
Electronic device: dispositif électronique non spécifié

Program note

I was inspired to do this work upon reading the following opening statement of old friend and artist/film maker Bruce Conner in a conversation with Robert Dean.

This is the Peyote Rattle and this is the industrial quality pepper shaker rattle made by the same Indian in Wichita, Kansas. Now as we go through the interview, if there is something that signifies the use of the Peyote Rattle, you will hear that. If it signifies the use of the pepper rattle — the aluminum pepper shaker — you will hear that.

The interview and the Peyote Rattle form the basis for this music theater piece. The performance should take place in a theatrical setting with atmospheric lighting and the instrumentalists arranged in a triangular pattern with the Peyote Rattle in the center. If it is possible a teepee-shaped structure should enclose the performers in a transparent gauze covering. A variety of colored lights should shine through the gauze onto the performers in the teepee.


  • Peyote Rattle
  • 1 set of East Indian Temple Bells (bell clusters to be shaken like sleigh bells)
  • Narrator quasi-singing the text
  • Clarinets
  • Trumpet
  • String Bass
  • Piano tuned in just intonation (see tuning ratios below)
  • Thai Gong
  • Cymbals
  • DX7 ll FD with E! (This was the synth Cactus Rosary was written for but any synth or software synth can be used as long as it is tunable)
  • Digital Delay Unit

Rosary Tuning Ratios:

G    A-flat    A    B-flat    B    C    D-flat    D    E-flat    E    F    F-sharp1/1    49/48    13/12    7/6    5/4    4/3    49/36    3/2    14/9    5/3    7/4    11/6

This work was commissioned by New Music America and written especially for Arraymusic in September of 1990.

"’It could be said of a Cactus Rosary that, taken internally, it may loop together the heavenly constellations in a blissful symmetry."

Terry Riley (ed. Schirmer).