Mouth Eating Mouth Eating Mouth

A Review of
I Like Your Eyes Liberty, SRI Moonshine 002
by Terry Riley & Michael McClure

Like a storm building and churning, turning in on itself and then outward, upward rumbling, this new CD by Terry Riley, the musician, and Michael McClure, the poet, is a dizzying testament to McClure’s depth and Riley’s subtlety. In the first selection, titled “Evil,” McClure intones that

It is not easy being eyes, ears, nose, mouth, tongue and a mind shaped so close to continuous practice…this can be perfect.

It cannot be easy to so effortlessly layer a room with perfect charm and tremulous cadence, but Riley and McClure weave a tapestry that moves from tranquility to cacophony and back almost instinctually, which affirms the years they have both practiced their art.

Riley’s palette includes what must be bells, harp, harpsichord, piano, timpani, gongs, and all manner of percussive chiaroscuro, but I did not see instruments listed in the liner notes. McClure knows exactly when and how to strike vocal percussives or else waft long, drawn-out assonance along the far reaches of a line for effect—that never comes across as mere effect. The line between the form and function of McClure’s delivery is imperceptible, both are one and serve the ultimate purpose of marvel.

In the fourth selection, titled “Each Side,” McClure says

Precisely interpenetrating/in countless directions./Free as the lion’s smile/as she purrs through the dharma./A wren calls/like a bell/from the canyon/and layers of colors/rise over the mountain/at sunset. Motorcycles/grunt/from the freeway/searching for excitement/I KNOW THIS

All of McClure’s lines, these being from his book Plum Stones: Cartoons of No Heaven, are more than the sum of their parts and come alive with his voice laying a veneer of additional emotion and sense to each. Riley fills in and leads off, intermeshing a variety of different sounds like the other hand of two fingers interlocked.

The trumpeter Booker Little once said, “I can’t think in terms of wrong notes—in fact I don’t hear any notes as being wrong. It’s a matter of knowing…”

McClure and Riley on this recording “know” where each line or riff leads before it is begun and therefore create circular passageways of thought and seem to suspend and reinvent time at will to make things interesting. McClure—throughout—deals with many themes but chief among them is the concept of Time. He writes

“COMPASSION IS BORN/SIXTY TIMES/in each second/of illusion/laughs out/clouds/while the cleaver falls/on a dust ball.”

The fifth track, “Doorways,” shows McClure and Riley really letting loose and breaking through speech toward groans and whispers and fevered background accompaniment. This move from a more meditative sound to a slightly more chaotic one entrances and excites as the two nearly chase each other through an aural forest of their own creation. The listener is privy to a multitude of thoughts and emotion as passenger on this melody. This may be the most interesting track on the album and the listener is reminded that all of McClure’s poetry could indeed be considered a doorway. McClure and Riley trade growls, coos, and chirps against percussive cymbal staccato gongs as this track takes off like a smoke ring in a room full of Siamese cats.

Indeed it seems as if McClure has a secret for us that can only be spoken in low tones. In “Coming” he relates,

“COMPASSION,/O WISE ONE,/for these scattering skulls/and crude jagged stones…/and the unending memories/of tiny black beetles,/and pink seaweed/of crusty coral/at/the/shallow edge/of the pool;/ALL,/ONE.”

Will the corporate vandals who are sucking the blood from this earth stop their destruction for a single moment and listen to Riley and McClure? It would be wise for them to do so. The listener is renewed by listening to this poetry—like a snake shedding its skin—and the realization comes that all is one. In an increasingly desperate, interdependent world, the livelihood of one truly affects the well-being of all. Fitting that McClure should be interested in the structure of things and of origins because he’s had a lifelong passion for the biological sciences. It was Whitman who wrote…in the beauty of poems are “the tuft and final applause of science.” This is merely the gist of McClure’s big wave of thought. Within that wave is a microcosm that would take lifetimes to explore in depth.

This collaboration is simultaneously a celebration of the oracular origins of poetry and an expansive meditation or extenuation of themes that bear repeating (because our existence on earth depends on it).  Also, there is a real concrete aspect to the sounds on this disc even as it ascends the heights. Perhaps this is because Riley and McClure are such experienced observers, savvy to the machinations of the cosmos, discovering ever newer constellations that this listener will look forward to exploring on many a night to come. 

McClure describes his hearing of I Like Your Eyes Liberty as “the fledging and shedding of souls as they are created—and the movement from man-language and man-music to the melody in our dark dumb brilliant wise silent flesh.” I have to agree. That these cuts were recorded as is, often as a single take or two, is remarkable. They gel inchoate, yes, but ultimately, this new offering from Riley and McClure hits home on so many levels and should be a must-have addition for any audiophile with even a passing interest in McClure and Riley’s work or even for those who simply want to hear some important new sounds from two veteran alchemists.

Review by Larry SAWYER