Dec 4, 2016

Sundaze 1649


American composer (and native New Yorker) Steve Reich has been writing the definitive city soundtrack for 40 years. From his early tape pieces "Come Out" and "It's Gonna Rain", to his now classic minimalist works-- though Reich would certainly scoff at the term-- Drumming and Music For 18 Musicians, to more recent works bother greater in scope and somehow conventionally attractive (Tehillim, Different Trains, The Desert Music), he's invented a sound that nails both the intricate detail and speed-ridden blur of some abstract "downtown." Where Philip Glass's music from the 1960s and 70s is vaguely futuristic and precise, Reich's is warm. Where Terry Riley, who never felt a particularly strong allegiance to the minimal aesthetic in the first place, is boundless and organic, Reich is brainy, propulsive, and hardened to the interiors of a metallic landscape. I read someone call him the "greatest living American composer," and though any all-encompassing title is debatable, you'd be hard pressed to find a more fitting example of individualism and stubborn will so often identified with this place....... N'Joy

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A highly influential avant-garde composer and one of the key founders of the minimalist school of music, Reich has embraced a wide variety of musical styles and interests, forging from them a unique synthesis.

Reich took piano lessons as a youngster, but his first big musical revelations came at 14, when he encountered the music of Bach and Stravinsky. He also had his first exposure to bebop, and immediately started learning drums and playing in a jazz band with friends. He played on weekends while studying at Cornell, which he entered at age 16 and where he received a degree in philosophy, specializing in the work of Wittgenstein. In 1957, he entered Juilliard, studying with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti (and meeting fellow student Philip Glass). Here Reich first heard 12-tone music; he got a further dose of it during graduate studies at Mills College in Oakland, working with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud, and eventually earning his master's degree.

At about that time Reich met Terry Riley, who was in the process of writing In C (1964). Reich played in its premiere, and In C's tonal approach and use of repeating patterns had a big influence on Reich's own music. In turn, Reich suggested the use of the eighth note pulse, which is now standard in performance of the piece. Reich had been experimenting with tapes, creating loops of speech and layering them, allowing the layers to move in and out of sync with one another. His early works It's Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966) led to similar experiments with live performers, the first of which was Piano Phase for two pianos (1967). Back in New York, Reich and Glass formed an ensemble to perform their music (1968-1971). Several of those players later formed Steve Reich and Musicians, which has toured the world many times over.

In 1970, Reich studied for several weeks at the University of Ghana. His encounter with Ghanaian music and dance inspired his ambitious work Drumming (1970). Encounters with Indonesian gamelan music in 1973-1974 at Seattle and Berkeley were equally significant, and broadened Reich's rhythmic and timbral palette. His most significant composition of the time was Music for 18 Musicians (1974-1976), a large and colorful work which brought Reich worldwide recognition.

In the mid-'70s, Reich started taking Torah classes with his future wife, video artist Beryl Korot. He also studied traditional Jewish cantillation and incorporated it into his psalm settings, Tehillim (1981). Several chamber and orchestral works followed in the 1980s. For Different Trains (1988, a Grammy winner), Reich used a digital sampler to record speaking voices and derived the rhythmic and melodic ideas of the piece from those voices. Reich knew that Different Trains was going to lead to some kind of new documentary form incorporating both video and music. Collaborating with his wife for the first time, the two completed their theater work The Cave in 1993. They continued to explore the combination of music and video with Three Tales (1998-2002).

Music for 18 Musicians [Nonesuch 1998] By the end of the 21st century's first decade, the lasting significance of Reich's music was being recognized worldwide. After 1998's new recording of Music for 18 Musicians won a Grammy, Reich received honorary doctorates and awards from Juilliard, Budapest's Franz Liszt Academy and other schools; the 2007 Polar Music Prize; the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music (for Double Sextet); and, in 2012, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Music. On March 5, 2013 the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Brad Lubman, at the Royal Festival Hall in London gave the world premiere of Radio Rewrite for ensemble with 11 players, inspired by the music of Radiohead. The programme also included Double Sextet for ensemble with 12 players, Clapping Music, for two people and four hands featuring Reich himself alongside percussionist Colin Currie.

In 2013 Reich received the US$400,000 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in contemporary music for bringing a new conception of music, based on the use of realist elements from the realm of daily life and others drawn from the traditional music of Africa and Asia. In September 2014, Reich was awarded the "Leone d'Oro" (Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Music) from the Venice Biennale. In March 2016, Reich was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Royal College of Music in London at the ripe old age of 79 years.

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The Cave is a December 1994 piece featuring the Steve Reich Ensemble (conducted by Paul Hillier) in collaboration with video/text writer Beryl Korot. The story concerns the only place in the world where both Jews and Muslims are allowed to worship, a mosque in Hebron supposed to be the Cave of the Patriarchs where Abraham and many of his descendants were buried. Reich's ensemble includes four vocalists, four percussionists, three vocalists and a five-piece string section. The work begins with regimented percussion and follows through short spoken-word parts and longer sung passages. In several of the spoken-word parts, the harmonics are echoed in the string section (one of Reich's most recognizable and appealing devices), and although the content may be uninteresting to those not familiar with the ongoing Israeli-Arab differences, The Cave is a fascinating piece.

Steve Reich 09 Excerpts from The Cave    (flac  302mb)

01 Act 1 (Part I) 2:58
02 Act 1 (Part II) 1:33
03 Act 1 (Part III) 4:42
04 Act 1 (Part IV) 2:32
05 Act 1 (Part V) 2:36
06 Act 1 (Part VI) 5:25
07 Act 1 (Part VII) 3:27
08 Act 1 (Part VIII) 1:20
09 Act 1 (Part IX) 4:30
10 Act 2 (Part I) 4:40
11 Act 2 (Part II) 5:19
12 Act 3 (Part I) 6:29
13 Act 3 (Part II) 4:23
14 Act 3 (Part III) 4:40
15 Act 3 (Part IV) 4:04
16 Act 3 (Part V) 4:28
17 Act 3 (Part VI) 8:42

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This recording brings together three disparate styles on one record showcasing Reich's compositional work. Opening with "Proverb," a piece for voices and a mixed ensemble, the disc begins on a somber note. The complete text of the piece is the following line from Ludwig Wittgenstein: "How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life!" This line is sung very, very slowly, note by note with style and chord structure hearkening back to medieval harmonization. Electric organs double the singers. The centerpiece of the record is "Nagoya Marimbas," with a sound reminiscent of Reich's marimba work from the '60s and '70s, and for fans of this era of Reich's work it is a pleasant surprise to hear another piece in this style again. Marimba parts themselves are significantly more complex here, showing Reich's continuing development even when returning to old haunts. The final piece, "City Life," is a kickback to an earlier composition style, utilizing sounds in the natural environment (or in this case the urban environment) to generate musical material. Rather than using manipulated magnetic tape, however, Reich uses what he calls the "extended idea of prepared piano" -- the electronic keyboard sampler. Unlike experiments using tape, this piece was recorded live and can be easily reproduced live on-stage. Sampled sounds come in the form of speeches at political rallies, car horns, pile drivers, and sounds from fire-department radios during the first World Trade Center bombing. Using a car horn to replace the sound of a clarinet is, it must be said, pretty darn cool. This record shows Reich playing with different styles -- it is a transitional point in his career -- which leaves the cohesiveness of the recording off-balanced. But seeing the forest for three different kinds of trees, the new works are exciting and musically satisfying.

Steve Reich 10 Proverb - Nagoya Marimbas - City Life  (flac  180mb)

01 Proverb 14:09
02 Nagoya Marimbas 4:35
City Life
03 Check It Out 5:51
04 Pile Drive - Alarms 3:53
05 It's Been A Honeymoon - Can't Take No Mo 4:46
06 Heartbeats - Boats And Buoys 3:58
07 Heavy Smoke 4:42

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Steve Reich continues his exploration of counterpoint and phasing with Triple Quartet, a commission piece for the Kronos Quartet dating to 1999. For this piece (a suite in three movements), Kronos recorded two quartet scores, then played along with the tape, resulting in the Triple Quartet. Originally inspired by Bela Bartok's Fourth Quartet, the movements alternate fast, slow, and fast, with thick contrapuntal melodies rising and falling throughout. "Electric Guitar Phase" began life as "Violin Phase" in 1967. For this version, Dominic Frasca plays four electric guitar parts designed to set up phasing patterns. The initial melody (which almost sounds like the intro to a Van Halen tune) is doubled on a second guitar, then gradually sped up so that the second guitar winds up one eighth note ahead of the original melody. As other guitar parts are added in, the melody constantly changes subtly, the end result being a fascinating mixture of stasis and evolution. "Music for Large Ensemble," originally dating to 1977, is for a group approaching 30 players and is reminiscent of "Music for 18 Musicans" (also from the same time period), while "Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint" is originally from 1981 and is performed by only one player performing multiple parts. For this piece, the original arrangement for flutes and piccolos is scored for MIDI marimba and xylophone. The natural duration of the notes was shortened in order to maintain the clarity of the composition, but the piece still shares a sonic kinship with "Six Marimbas." Triple Quartet is another beautiful offering from Steve Reich. It would also serve as a fine introduction to his work, as it surveys each of his four active decades as a composer and touches on the various styles and processes he's been interested in since moving away from pure musique concrète. Highly recommended.

Steve Reich - Triple Quartet  (flac  277mb)

Triple Quartet, for 3 string quartets
01 First Movement 7:10
02 Second Movement 4:04
03 Third Movement 3:33

04 Electric Guitar Phase (arr. of Violin Phase) 15:20
05 Music for a Large Ensemble14:58
06 Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint, for MIDI marimba 9:04

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The composer's first new work since 2002's Three Tales finds him working with choral and orchestral elements, but is as rhythmically driven as anything he's done in years. Urban activity: buses moving; keypads clicking; bikers cutting off cabs; window washers scaling up a half completed skyscraper; the distant wail of an ambulance siren, and its sudden pitch modulation as it zooms past, carrying a rush of wind and a trail of receipts, wrappers, or the rare leaf; the clang of the subway; cash registers opening, closing, opening; everyone is counting something: time, money, appointments, each other; the whistle of a traffic cop and hundreds of half-heard conversations in the street. The flurry of the city isn't something best described as "beautiful" so much as alive, unstoppable, cruel, and complex.

You Are (Variations). is Reich's first album of new material since the not altogether warmly received Three Tales (2002). If the composer has suffered complaints from critics of lacking ambition in recent years, he hasn't let that affect his writing: You Are is prime Reich, using choral and orchestral elements similarly to older pieces like Tehillim and The Desert Music, but seeming as rhythmically driven as anything he's done in years. Harmonically, he sticks to majors and relative minors (that is, a minor key that utilizes the same notes as a major one, but starts from a different point in the scale)-- a common Reich device-- thereby blurring the line between different tonalities. He uses a choir to impart text translated from Hasidic mystical verse: "You are wherever your thoughts are", "Explanations come to an end somewhere," and the idea of saying "little and do much". Words are repeated and spread out over great lengths, so the end effect is not one of narrative but of words as purely musical ingredients. The closing track is Reich's Cello Counterpoint, featuring cellist Maya Beiser (Bang On a Can) overdubbed eight times to create a surprisingly dense string ensemble. As Reich points out in the insert, the cello is great because its capable of resonating clearly in a very wide range-- this piece was actually written for a full string octet, but its marked accents and interweaving melodies sound great all performed by one person.

Steve Reich - You Are (Variations)  (flac  184mb)

You Are (Variations)
01 You Are Wherever Your Thoughts Are 13:14
02 Shiviti Hashem L'Negdi (I Place The Eternal Before Me) 4:15
03 Explanations Come To An End Somewhere 5:24
04 Ehmor M'Aht, V'Ahsay Harbay (Say Little And Do Much) 4:04

05 Cello Counterpoint 11:31


Steve Reich's 2007 Double Sextet, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, is given its first performance by eighth blackbird, the group for whom it was written. For most of his career, Reich has constructed his music with canons using matched pairs of instruments, and he writes that when he was presented with the request from eighth blackbird, he felt he could only write the piece for two identical ensembles, with the live players performing to an accompaniment they had previously recorded, creating the effect of two antiphonal sextets. It's that version that's played here, although both Reich and the ensemble agree that an ideal live performance would feature 12 players. That is somewhat less of an issue in a recording of the piece than in a concert setting, but it is in fact easy to imagine that the give and take of two live sextets could produce subtly different results. Except for conventionality of the instrumentation -- Pierrot ensemble plus percussion -- the Double Sextet doesn't particularly break new ground for Reich, but it's the territory of Eight Lines and Music for Eighteen Musicians in which he's endlessly inventive, and it's loads of fun to hear him so happily and imaginatively at play. Like many of his instrumental works, it's in three movements -- fast, slow, fast -- as is his 2008 2x5 for a double quintet of rock instruments, also recorded for the first time with players from Bang On A Can playing against a recording of themselves. Both works are bright and frisky, saturated with contrapuntal zigzagging, but the Double Sextet is the subtler and more substantial. They receive absolutely top-notch virtuoso performances by their respective ensembles and should certainly delight the composer's fans and listeners who enjoy the cross-pollination of rock and classical that is Reich's specialty. Nonesuch's sound is immaculate and beautifully engineered.

Steve Reich - Double Sextet, 2x5    (flac  188mb)

Double Sextet 22:18
01 Eighth Blackbird Fast 8:39
02 Eighth Blackbird Slow 6:43
03 Eighth Blackbird Fast 6:56
2x5 20:32
04 Bang On A Can Fast 10:12
05 Bang On A Can Slow 3:12
06 Bang On A Can Fast 7:08

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Anonymous said...

Rho, fabulous! Thanks a bunch!

Anonymous said...

Any chance you could reupload the Triple Quartet? Thanks.