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Steve Reich video interview
May 28, 2012 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Minilmalist composer Steve Reich talks about Influences.
posted by Ardiril (40 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, Reich is doing a Radiohead piece? I guess it truly is all over for him.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:36 AM on May 28, 2012


Okay, I was prepared to like this, but then he started talking about Music For 18 Musicians, and then I completely loved it. (I'm more than a bit mildly obsessed with that piece. I have the score! I just need 17 more people and we could perform it!)
posted by hippybear at 8:51 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is great! The Radiohead piece isn't such a stretch, Greenwood's orchestral music has been recorded by Penderecki, after all. Radiohead are interesting, substantive artists working in a different musical idiom than Reich has been, and I think they all might have a facinating collaboration--and if not, it's great to see a high-profile, very established composer working out of the box like this. Especially impressive considering that Reich is in his 70s and doesn't need to take any risks creatively.

hippybear, don't be too jealous, I'm planning to perform 18 with my students next year. SO. EXCITED.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:15 AM on May 28, 2012


I'd rather listen to the music than watch him talk about it.
But this is nice.
posted by MtDewd at 9:17 AM on May 28, 2012


Just what I needed this morning, thanks.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:27 AM on May 28, 2012


One of my very favorite Reich works, Proverb.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:28 AM on May 28, 2012


I think my derision comes from my realization that for all the "revolutionary" aspects that attracted people to minimalism in the 70s, it has now became a very easy stylistic choice for inexperienced composers who don't have enough formal training to "go further." And don't get me wrong, I've loved Reich since I was a kid. I discovered his music in junior high, rooting through my friend's mother's cassette tapes. My freshman year in college I began playing his music and have performed Music for Mallets Voices and Organ, Nagoya Marimbas (of course), Piano Phase, Drumming, City Life (twice!), Music for Pieces of Wood, etc.. I've worked with Reich on his music, seen him and his ensemble perform Music for 18 multiple times, went to the premieres of Triple Sextet, Three Tales; have seen his video opera The Cave, performances of Desert Music, Sextet, Drumming multiple times. I know and have studied Reich's music in depth. And even after a lifetime of his music influencing me, I now find he has regressed and lost his creative spark. I can't be convinced that anything he writes now is as interesting as his early masterworks of the 70s and early-mid 80s. He writes tepid watered down "rock" music for groups like Bang on a Can, boring retreads like Mallet Quartet for "So So Percussion", and now a Radiohead piece. Undeniably an intelligent man, he lasted way longer creatively than Philip Glass, but I'm afraid he has passed his prime. Other composers continue to mature, whereas as some write their best work early on. It's not a judgment call. I will treasure Reich's original ECM recordings and all of his masterworks forever. I just don't see that Radiohead piece being any more interesting than what any moderately intelligent rock band would do. In fact, there's a good chance I'll have the opportunity to perform a program of Reich's music in Switzerland next summer with a percussion group I'm in.. and in our discussions, we all unanimously agree that we will play only pieces that were written before 1990.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:42 AM on May 28, 2012


Minilmalist composer Steve Reich talks about Influences.

minimal
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:47 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"So So Percussion"

Tee hee!
posted by kenko at 9:50 AM on May 28, 2012


It's not a judgment call.

That's simply a silly thing to say. You statement boils down to "my judgment is not a judgment." And no, the listing of your (impressive) bona fides doesn't change that. I could easily find someone with just as impressive bona fides who arrives at a different judgment on Reich's late work than yours.
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on May 28, 2012


Yes, of course it's a judgement call. And while Music for 18 Musicians is historically important and lovely, I'd put Three Tales and Desert Music in the top rank of his work (The Cave isn't, but ya can't win 'em all). That said, I actually thought "Hindenburg" was much better as a stand-alone piece than as part of Three Tales---it had a stunning conclusion that got pared down when it was incorporated into the larger work.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:20 AM on May 28, 2012


ReeMonster, you're certainly entitled to your opinion, but do you think there is value in someone like Reich 'going there' and creating new work from blasphemous popular music? I know that's not exactly revolutionary, and others may do it better, but I think he's still opening doors, conceptually, for younger artists--not nearly as groundbreaking as his younger days, but how high are your expectations?

I'm a little baffled by this attitude from someone who purportedly loves and performs his music. If you like the earlier works better, fine, program those (I mostly do). But why disrespect the man and mock his authentically important contributions to the musical art because his later works haven't, in your opinion, been up to snuff?

Specifically: I think my derision comes from my realization that for all the "revolutionary" aspects that attracted people to minimalism in the 70s, it has now became a very easy stylistic choice for inexperienced composers who don't have enough formal training to "go further."

1. Musical minimalism was truly revolutionary, and its influence in the past 50 years or so is far, wide, and deep. The jury is not out on that question. If you think its influence has turned out to be primarily stylistic or cosmetic, you aren't paying attention closely enough.

2. Why on earth should Reich, or any other artist, be held accountable for how other artists respond to their ideas and influence? That's just stupid. It's not Reich's fault that some young composers are lazy. (Do you blame Schoenberg for the Darmstadt School too?)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:33 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Other composers continue to mature, whereas as some write their best work early on.

I don't know much about minimalism (but I knows what I likes)--who are some composers that, in your view, have continued to mature over their careers?
posted by box at 11:05 AM on May 28, 2012


Yeah, I used a poor choice of words. What I meant was, if one composer writes their best music early on, and another composer continues to write better and better music as they age, it doesn't mean that one or the other is a better composer in my opinion. I DO admit it's a judgment call for me to say that Reich's later shit is pretty crappy... I mean honestly, isn't he a little late to the Radiohead game?

As for the bona fides, I ONLY went to the trouble so that it didn't seem like I'm just someone spouting off opinions. Loving a composer doesn't mean you can't have opinions about them. And many artists appreciate when someone tells them I love this piece but I hate that piece. We're all human after all.

I never said minimalism wasn't a revolution, because it was. But not anymore. For young composers today it is not a reaction against anything, the way minimalism was a reaction against European modernism, Second Viennese School, atonality or whatever you want to call it. Today it is en vogue because younger listeners who were raised on ambient indie-rock or awesome bands like Sigur Ros and Radiohead, or Brian Eno and the like find it attractive. It's easy to listen to and doesn't require much study to appreciate. You can put it on in the background, or listen deeply and space out. Or you can enjoy it in a club or a formal concert hall. So it's very versatile music. But there isn't as much intellectual rigor behind it.

As for "blasphemous pop music", that's not how I feel about pop/rock. I was raised on the stuff and was a drumset player before a percussionist. Always a musician first. I love all genres and I wouldn't give any of them up for the world, and I do appreciate cross-polination. At the same time, I don't want to listen to Blues written by Boulez, I don't want to listen to Radiohead written by Reich, and I certainly don't want to listen to "orchestra music" written by Johnny Greenwood. Now when a composer like Stravinsky chose to incorporate stylized dance forms in his music, like jazz or ragtime, the music stands the test of time. In 90 years, will Reich's Radiohead piece be continually performed? Or will his masterworks remain. It will be interesting to find out.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:19 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's easy to listen to and doesn't require much study to appreciate. You can put it on in the background, or listen deeply and space out. Or you can enjoy it in a club or a formal concert hall. So it's very versatile music. But there isn't as much intellectual rigor behind it.
A genuine question: is anyone making versatile, listenable and intellectually rigorous music these days?

I'm reminded of the 'rehash' of Sibelius's Fifth symphony that made it less 'innovative'. While I am sure the original version is more intellectually interesting, trade-offs have to be made and I'm grateful that some composers make them rather than stubbornly sticking to the high ground.

And would you apply your criticisms also to John Adams?

I am not musically trained, this comment does not constitute musicological advice. You should consult your own musicologist.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 11:47 AM on May 28, 2012


I don't know much about minimalism (but I knows what I likes)--who are some composers that, in your view, have continued to mature over their careers?

Some are alive and some are dead, but explore these composers:

Henri Dutilleux: not so well-known, and often overlooked but one of the greatest living composers. One of his masterworks Timbres, espace, mouvement is a musical evocation of Van Gogh's Starry Night. He also wrote one of the greatest violin concertos around, The Tree of Dreams

Gyorgy Ligeti: quite popular because his music appeared in several Kubrick films. Most people know only his atmospheric stuff or his piano etudes which were heavily influenced by the mechanical player-piano music of Conlon Nancarrow. From his early roots as a sort of "modern Bartok" to his middle period full of theatrical and over-the-top wackiness to his later years writing the Nancarrow-style music, his career had an unbelievable trajectory.

Pierre Boulez: From his early days as a radical and controversial modernist, famously calling for the world's opera houses to be burned down, to his later years writing more lush and beautiful, pieces this living legend has a made a career of constantly developing previous works as well as exploring interactive electronics in live performance.

Igor Stravinsky: Stravinsky started as a successor of Ravel, composing highly textured music in the French tradition but with his own ear for orchestral color. His famous ballets added a heavy Russian influence, and the heavy neo-classical influence can be found in many works, most notably his opera The Rake's Progress which combines his arhythmic and refined harmonic sensibility with the classical influence of composers like Mozart, Gluck and even Monteverdi. Later on he experimented with serial music, but never lost his individual compositional voice.

Kate Bush ;)

Those are just a FEW. Other composers worth exploring are Mauricio Kagel, Gyorgy Kurtag, Bela Bartok and Gerard Grisey.

Special mention for Elliot Carter is who is still writing music here in New York City, and he is almost 104 years old!
posted by ReeMonster at 12:05 PM on May 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


A genuine question: is anyone making versatile, listenable and intellectually rigorous music these days?

Yes, the living composers I mentioned, and composers such as Matthias Pintscher, Peter Eotvos, George Benjamin, Oliver Knussen, Tristan Murail, Philippe Manoury, Roger Reynolds, and on and on.. yes, there are amazing composers out there.

And look, you can probably tell that I'm simply one of those people who is NOT into the "Bang on a Can" aesthetic of writing edgy music rooted more in rock/pop. It can be fun to play and fun to listen to but it's more or less disposable in MY opinion and has almost nothing to actually say. I need to be moved in some way, and what moves one may not move another. I acknowledge that.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:11 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, basically, you've come into this thread to say that this composer, indeed his entire genre of music, sucks.

Thanks for sharing.
posted by hippybear at 12:13 PM on May 28, 2012


Hippy if you read closely what I'm saying you'll see that you're entirely off the mark on that. Minimalism was a huge part of my musical upbringing and to this day I still listen to Music for 18 constantly, as well as many of his early greats. I could probably still sing the extremely fast counting choruses from Einstein on the Beach from memory (learned them freshman year) and some of the most fun music I've ever performed live has been by John Adams. I did Piano Phase on my graduate recital at conservatory, which is significant because for recitals you have to choose music that is personally meaningful. I haven't shit on the entirety of Reich's oeuvre. I'm simply being critical of his current compositional decisions. If you need further proof I'll take the time to create a loving post on the history of minimalism including all of the more obscure composers and innovators in the genre. So calm down man.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:23 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you need further proof I'll take the time to create a loving post on the history of minimalism including all of the more obscure composers and innovators in the genre.

I think you should do this whether I ask for further proof or not, actually. It would be excellent material for an FPP.
posted by hippybear at 12:34 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


ReeMonster, it sounds like you value a particular type of musical experience very highly (i.e., it takes music of intellectual substance to really move you), but you mistake that for an objective valuation scale, as so many in our field do, using yourself as synecdoche for all listeners. Music does not need to be intellectually substantive to move listeners deeply, but it does need to be to move you. That is not the only way music is valued, nor the only way that it has lasting value, nor even, to many people, the most important.

FWIW, I'm not questioning your bona fides at all, and love your composer list above, but I find myself just sick and tired of complexity at times. And I have, I suspect, many of the same bona fides you do. But your tone, at least in this thread, comes across as disrespectful and dismissive. Reich working with Radiohead tracks may not be super innovative and groundbreaking in concept, but the piece isn't composed yet, so you really have no idea what he'll do and whether or not it will be original, and it IS a big deal when a big-time composer like Steve Reich decides to engage with popular music in a substantial way, given the 20th century's preoccupation with the division between high and low art.

No matter how much you try to make it otherwise, your musical judgments will always reflect your musical/artistic values, and those are not universal.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:39 PM on May 28, 2012


"I'll take the time to create a loving post on the history of minimalism"

!
posted by Ardiril at 12:42 PM on May 28, 2012


At the same time, I don't want to listen to Blues written by Boulez, I don't want to listen to Radiohead written by Reich, and I certainly don't want to listen to "orchestra music" written by Johnny Greenwood. Now when a composer like Stravinsky chose to incorporate stylized dance forms in his music, like jazz or ragtime, the music stands the test of time.

Wait, so why does Stravinsky get a pass, and Greenwood doesn't? I mean: if you have listened to Greenwood's orchestral scores and on that basis say you don't want to listen to it (again), that certainly makes sense. But if not, why dismiss it out of hand? Isn't it possible that he'd produce some interesting music?

So, basically, you've come into this thread to say that this composer, indeed his entire genre of music, sucks.

I have no idea where you could get that from ReeMonster's comments here.
posted by kenko at 12:58 PM on May 28, 2012


True, LooseFilter. I like "non-complex" music as much as I like complex music but I went to music school and became a professional performer because I wanted to explore deeper, so the fact that I can seem dismissive about what is admittedly a small genre (post-minimalism) comes not as a knee-jerk reaction but something that's developed over a long period of time and informed by my experiences, opinions, tastes and preferences, which I admit are picky.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:00 PM on May 28, 2012


Wait, so why does Stravinsky get a pass, and Greenwood doesn't?

Because, for me, Stravinsky's music is highly original even when he's trying to write a fake ragtime, and Greenwood's stuff strikes me as extremely derivative. That's not to say it doesn't sound cool or that he isn't really talented. He's one of the better crossover type guys writing orchestral music, but it still sounds like a mix of romanticism with Ligeti, Varese and Stravinsky influences. Ambient soundscapes, romantic melodic sweeps, microtonal dissonances, it's all there. It's quite nice actually.. but totally unoriginal.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:16 PM on May 28, 2012


not as a knee-jerk reaction but something that's developed over a long period of time and informed by my experiences, opinions, tastes and preferences, which I admit are picky.

I went to music school three times and have become less, not more, picky. My views through my MM were pretty artistically solipsistic, then elitist, and now much more populist. Even within the field of professional classical music, your values and the opinions that result are not universal, nor universally accepted. So you have picky tastes. Big deal. Just because they're well-informed, complex and refined opinions and tastes doesn't make them any more universally true. All art is fundamentally subjective. So if Bang on a Can-type stuff doesn't do it for you, that's totally cool, but I don't think you should be so quick to be dismissive, either (in fact, many of the composers you esteem, judging from your list above, were very dismissive of the early Reich music you love, for exactly the kinds of reasons you mention...ironic, that).
posted by LooseFilter at 1:24 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Art doesn't need to be complex or original to be valuable. Steve Reich is one of the greatest composers I have ever heard that truly understands that music can be simple and tonal and still be a powerful, deep, and moving experience. What is good art after all? Does it have to be revolutionary? For me, it is all about the most effectively engaging experience.
posted by KaleidoscopeLife at 1:46 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


ReeMonster- as someone who has posted a couple of minimalist pieces, I too would love a little known minimalist music FPP.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:46 PM on May 28, 2012


ReeMonster: Today it is en vogue because younger listeners who were raised on ambient indie-rock or awesome bands like Sigur Ros and Radiohead, or Brian Eno and the like find it attractive. It's easy to listen to and doesn't require much study to appreciate. You can put it on in the background, or listen deeply and space out. Or you can enjoy it in a club or a formal concert hall. So it's very versatile music. But there isn't as much intellectual rigor behind it.

Sounds similar to what people from the academy were saying about Steve Reich's music back then...

Not sure intellectual rigor has shown itself to be what makes so called serious music great or lasting. Milton Babbit is the emblem of intellectual rigor, but is he someone you want to perform or is his music something you want to listen to? Not saying that intellectual rigor is a bad thing, but what is more important is a composer who can communicate something meaningful to listeners. How deep the meaning, does not necessarily rely on intellectual rigor.

Tastes change over time, sometimes the zeitgeist demands intellectual rigor and then it shifts to a styles that are accessible. It seems odd that this truism seems to escape you who is clearly someone with extensive knowledge and experience. Not sure that present an argument that comes across as authoritative, and closed, shows off the best of what you have to offer here. That is not to say that you should not be opinionated, but more about expressing your views.

Personally I am happy that contemporary music seems to be more accessible to a wider audiences these days. For me, difficult sounding, is not the top quality that makes music great.
posted by snaparapans at 1:47 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think ReeMonster's assessment is pretty spot-on, actually. I enjoy Reich's work from before 1985 or so but I find most of his later stuff to be insipid. I have heard very little of Greenwood's orchestral music so I reserve judgement. But the comments in this thread so far have really demonstrated how extremely defensive some people get whenever anyone questions the value of "accessible" or "crossover" new music. ReeMonster offered his/her opinion founded upon years of experience, yet everyone seems to be demanding he/she admit that they're dumping on all minimal, post-minimal, and pop music, or to otherwise admit that his/her opinion doesn't count for any more than anyone else's. If we don't think our carefully formed opinions better than the contrary, why do we bother forming opinions at all?

It's just amazing to me how defensive people get of the music they like. To suggest that there's value in complexity and difficulty that just isn't found in a lot of post-minimal works today (not necessarily Reich's) is anathema in a lot of circles, and to me that seems sad. Why aren't we willing to permit people to make judgments? Why must everyone undercut their opinions with "of course, all taste in music is subjective"? It's not. There's good and bad complex and non-complex music. But it's easier to get away with writing derivative, uninspiring non-complex music, because it's evolved from something radical and challenging at its inception in the 70s, with Reich's and Reilly's early pieces, to a safe, popularized formula in many cases today.

And Babbitt is beautiful, fascinating music, incidentally. It would be great if we could stop characterizing him as a cold, overintellectual robotic failure to compare to Reich's accessibility, such as it is.
posted by daisystomper at 2:06 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


many of the composers you esteem, judging from your list above, were very dismissive of the early Reich music you love

Not entirely true. Ligeti liked Reich's music a lot. Boulez probably didn't care for it but his ensemble plays Reich's music plenty. Boulez DID really respect Frank Zappa and recorded his music however.

There's no evidence as far as I know that Dutilleux or Kurtag or Carter had any negative opinion of Reich's music when it came out.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:19 PM on May 28, 2012


daisystomper: I was poking fun at myself with my authoritative statement about Babbitt... to tell you the truth I am fond of neither Reich or Babbit... but both are geniuses as far as I am concerned when you compare them to Phillip Glass..

We all have judgements about music, and are pretty passionate about them, best not to take ourselves so seriously though, because not only does our own view often change over time but history usually proves us wrong.
posted by snaparapans at 3:48 PM on May 28, 2012


It's quite nice actually.. but totally unoriginal.

Eh, originality is probably the most overrated attribute something could have; haven't we gotten beyond all that Romantic folderol? (Total serialism was pretty explicit about trying to get past it, not that it really worked.)

Ligeti is on record as appreciating minimalism but he was always one of the least dogmatic of the orthodox art music composers.
posted by kenko at 4:33 PM on May 28, 2012


So, you know, recently in Melbourne there was a Steve Reich performance where they did Different Trains, Vermont Music, Drumming I-IV, and Clapping Music. And then afterward Steve Reich gave a talk on his influences and such things with a couple of members of one of the ensembles. I was there, and Vermont Music was surprisingly good, and if you don't know that piece you should take a look. Designed for flute and tape, and the flutist was wearing a blue shirt and ragged tie when everybody else was wearing concert blacks.

Art doesn't need to be complex or original to be valuable. Steve Reich is one of the greatest composers I have ever heard that truly understands that music can be simple and tonal and still be a powerful, deep, and moving experience. What is good art after all? Does it have to be revolutionary? For me, it is all about the most effectively engaging experience.

One of the more striking things he said in that talk was about Bach; the greatness of Bach's music being its adaptability. If it was on in one of the numerous coffee shops we have here, you could appreciate it as a pleasant background; or if you were doing a musicology degree you could delve deeply into it and appreciate all the small composerly details. I thought it was an interesting refutation of "difficult" music; you probably wouldn't put on Stockhausen in a coffee shop, after all.
posted by solarion at 4:41 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


solarion: the greatness of Bach's music being its adaptability...the greatness of Bach's music being its adaptability; you probably wouldn't put on Stockhausen in a coffee shop, after all.

Actually Bach, being very late baroque, was reviled in his time for being too complex and old fashioned; difficult for sure, compared to the less complex sounding music that the the classical style epitomized.

Also, I think that both Bach, and Stockhausen, would not easily find a place as background music in a coffee shop. Hip coffee shops, yes, but standard diner types, I do not think so.
posted by snaparapans at 5:15 PM on May 28, 2012


Reich and pretty much every minimalist that once did good work seemed pretty exciting to me for a while, but I can't imagine spending serious time with the oeuvre of Morton Feldman and still hearing those other guys with anywhere near the same kind of excitement and respect--and even if their high points still thrill, their career arcs are pretty bleak in comparison to Sexy MF's. Plus, WTC 9/11, oof.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:31 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you watched until the end, Reich talks about Eno, and he's working with Bang on Can, which might work really well. Have you seen Bang on Can performing Eno's Music for Airports?
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:06 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The need for "originality" in a composer is, I think, an unfortunate side effect of the academicism of most serious music listening today. Those in the academy place a high value on originality, because the first person to (be acknowledged to) do something is the one who goes on the syllabus. But of course, a listener couldn't care less about originality; listeners care only about execution. This is one of the many factors making "new music" an academic phenomena; the works that academics care about are the original ones, and those seem of little interest to listeners outside the field.

Reich, I think, particularly raises this issue, because he's both original and tremendously listenable, but not always in the same piece. It's Gonna Rain is tremendously original and important and a riveting experience when one's up for it, but on any given afternoon I'm a lot more likely to put on the much less sui genris, but ravishingly beautiful, Nagoya Marimbas.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:27 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why must everyone undercut their opinions with "of course, all taste in music is subjective"? It's not.

Yeah, I’m afraid it is. If Ogg like the sound of stick hitting rock in straight time, then it’s good music. Ones education or experience doesn’t play into whether my mom likes Venetian Snares or not. If she doesn’t like it, it’s not good, to her. Your own opinions about music don’t matter outside of your own head.
posted by bongo_x at 5:09 PM on May 29, 2012


Every time I see something about Steve Reich I think of Robert Rich, and then I’m surprised and confused trying to figure out what he’s talking about.
posted by bongo_x at 5:11 PM on May 29, 2012


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