Peter Van Riper (1940-1998)



Sustainable Music

  1. Acoustic Cups (13:12)
  2. In Memory of John Cage (14:37)


Total time 27:49
Self-released cassette, Brooklyn, NY, undated

In 1978, during a collective exhibition titled Tower, curated by Jean Dupuy at PS1 gallery, Brooklyn, Peter Van Riper (1942-1998) took advantage of a 3-level, metallic structure erected inside the gallery to experiment with metallic resonances, in addition to room resonances from saxophone, Buddhist wood bell and tape. As Van Riper puts it: “Sounding the room, sounding the tower, sounding the acoustics of the room with different saxophones from different levels.” (quoted in Collective Consciousness: Art Performances in the Seventies, edited by Jean Dupuy, Performing Arts Journal Publications, New York, 1980). In an other piece from the 1970s, Greetings for Chow En Lai, for metal gong, Van Riper also experimented with sending resonances from metallic objects to the 4 walls of an art gallery. Later in the mid-1980s, he became better known using suspended aluminium baseball bats as percussion instruments. ♫ Though it looks and sounds like a mid-1980s artifact, the Sustainable Music undated cassette bears one track dedicated “In memory of John Cage”, which could date it to 1992. In any case, both tracks are collages of various Van Riper performances playing shells, hand bells, small percussion and aluminium baseball bats, interspersed with documentary or environmental recordings (building a fire, children playing, birds, wind, plane). Infused with Oriental philosophy, the metallic sounds resonate in various room acoustics and harmonics arise from the vibration of similar sound objects. Van Riper also experiments with room resonances from water gurgling or his own voice. -- Continuo


Sound To Movement (1979)

  1. Big Room (33:55)
  2. Circle Song (3:19)
  3. Double Sound (4:31)
  4. Doppler Piece (3:40)
  5. Long Note (4:14)
  6. Keys Sound (1:28)
  7. Bonnie & Jeff (2:37)
  8. Moku Gyo (5:16)


Total time 59:00
LP released by VRBLU, New York, 1979

The name of Peter Van Riper (1942-1998) is never mentioned in the reference books on sound art by the likes of Alan Licht, Douglas Kahn or Brandon Labelle, yet I consider him one of the most vital presence of NY’s Downtown scene in the 1970s. The fact he self-released his recordings and was not helped by a gallerist or concert venue might explain why he’s so under-documented today, but he certainly deserves to be considered on a par with other artists like Bernhard Leitner, Max Neuhaus, Marianne Amacher or Keith Sonnier. Van Riper was first a hologram specialist during the 1960s – see my Wikipedia article –, but when he turned to music in the 1970s he concentrated on the sonification of specific venues with wind instruments, small percussion, thumb piano or mere footsteps. Distinct from Minimalist music, his art lies in the resonances and acoustic properties revealed by the instrument.

Published 1979, this was Van Riper’s first LP, released on his own VRBLU imprint like all his other releases – including his 2nd LP, Room Space, 1981, see previous post. Sound To Movement includes several recordings made with choreographer Simone Forti, as well as some site-specific sound experiments. The A-side offers the entire performance of Big Room, a Forti/Van Riper collaboration premiered 1975, here recorded in Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art during their 1978 European tour. In this recording, Forti is heard stomping the floor around the room, performing the kind of informal/formless dance she was known for at the time – see ps below. The score is for saxophones, plastic hose, flute and kalimba, all performed by Van Riper. The dancer’s footsteps and the room’s acoustic properties thus explored recalls Tom Johnson’s Nine Bells.

Other tracks further documents how Van Riper’s music is about revealing various rooms’ acoustic properties and how playing saxophone is just one way of making the room sound. The mesmerizing #3 Double Sound is played on plastic hose and saxophone simultaneously, creating otherworldly resonances. The last track, Moku Gyo, is for percussion, a kind of cow bell, and just about examining how the percussion resounds in the room. On other tracks, the soprano and sopranino saxophones favored by Van Riper creates shimmering sounds echoing against the walls around him. -- Continuo


Room Space (1981)

  1. Long Tones - Basel (2:03)
  2. Loft Rehearsal - NYC (7:15)
  3. Palazzetto Dello Sport - Bari (8:11)
  4. Spazzio Dell'Arci - Bari (6:45)
  5. Alpine Pasture (4:30)
  6. Water Heater (24:20)

    Bonus tracks:
  7. Heart (from Acoustic Metal Music) (4:00)
  8. Radio Interview (4:25)


Total time 60:01
LP released by VRBLU, NYC, 1981




Peter van Riper was a US sound artist and saxophone player who often collaborated with performance artists such as choreographer, video or visual artists (see my Wikipedia article for more details). This LP (presumably his 2nd) documents his Long Tones saxophone technique on side A and field recordings or found sounds on side B. Van Riper being used to the magic of reverberant spaces and resonant metallic objects, his saxophone playing retains some of these techniques. Long notes are emitted in large empty rooms, the player moving around the room and interacting with resonant waves, obviously listening to the echo as much as his own instrument. I've heard similar saxophone experiment from Swiss saxophonist Markus Eichenberger during the 1980s, especially in a cassette called Atemwerke or Breath Works. That's what side A is about, breath works, with absolutely no hint at jazz music, by the way. Side B is pure sound art. Alpine Pasture is a recording of multiple cow bells, though presumably not recorded in the field. The sound is gorgeous and strangely reminiscent of Japanese temple bells - van Riper lived in Japan during the 1960s. It may or may not be part of the numerous Acoustic Metal Music van Riper created for installation artist Eugènia Balcells during the 1980s. Now 'Water Heater' is another matter altogether. It's a straightforward recording of the composer's New York flat water heater. The mesmerizing tiny, ambient sounds of the metal's dilatation, the gas burner's flame, the quiet humming make for a peaceful background music. The only equivalent I can think of is Japanese Sui Kin Kutsu music (see previous posts here and here). The VRBLU label was presumably Van Riper's own imprint and this record can be considered a self-release. During the 1990s, Van Riper used to release his music on CDs without mentioning any label or publisher. As a bonus I'm adding a great track from The Aerial #4 cassette (1991) and an interview from a 1997 radio program.

Notes by Continuo