it is a principle of music to repeat the theme. Repeat and repeat again
March 5, 2018 6:01 PM   Subscribe

When I was at Columbia University in the 80s, I went to a talk at the Music school in about 84-85 where Reich came and talked about his compositional process in Different Trains, and played some of the reel-to-reel tapes that were used to create the tape loops. Yes, folks, composers used a laborious process of layering reel-to-reel tape to put together this stuff. (See this post about 10cc for more information on a similar process.)

Of course, I bought the record as soon as it came out. I also acquired it on CD years later.

I saw Seattle Symphony perform the whole piece a few months ago. It never gets old for me.

[Note: I wrote this whole comment about Different Trains, only after I posted it realizing that hippybear's post was about The Desert Music. Oops. I'll leave it here because the pieces are similar in time and in some aspects of the composition, although the themes are very different.]
posted by matildaben at 6:42 PM on March 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

It took me a long long time to get into Steve Reich, but now I think I enjoy him more than Philip Glass. Thanks for the post, hippybear!
posted by elsietheeel at 6:52 PM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Steve Reich has also been hard for to get into. My first introduction was after my love of Charles Ives. I respect his music, but might take a bit to fully appreciate. Thanks for posting, I am listening tomorrow at work.
posted by Benway at 7:00 PM on March 5, 2018

I’d also recommend this recording (starting at 30:57) by Alarm Will Sound. The tempos are brisker—I love the “it is a principle of music” section—and the vocal ensemble is smaller and sings the heck out of the piece.
posted by donatella at 7:39 PM on March 5, 2018

My first introduction to Steve Reich was Electric Counterpoint, and for young me it felt perfectly...right. I've been a fan ever since.

I don't know if anyone else here ever played far enough into the PS2 game "Dark Cloud," but the post-final-boss dungeon's background music reminds me very much of Six Marimbas. I like that.
posted by Guy Smiley at 8:12 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Awesome, this just came up in conversation yesterday. I’m excited to listen, thanks!
posted by TheCoug at 8:44 PM on March 5, 2018

This is just to
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This is just to
This is just to
This is just to
This is just to
This is just to
This is just to
This is just to
This is just to
This is just to
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posted by flabdablet at 8:44 PM on March 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

Steve Reich is awesome. That classic Reich rhythm (xxx-xx-x-xx-). We did Clapping Music in a chamber ensemble once, and it was really fun. He's got a knack for making such brilliant pieces out of such simple formulas.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:16 PM on March 5, 2018

shapes that haunt the dusk, I almost linked a video of Clapping Music. What was it like to maintain focus on your own part, rhythm-wise? That's the thing I always worry about, for individual musicians in Reich's works.
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:22 PM on March 5, 2018

I have the full score for Music For 18 Musicians and while it's comprehensible to read as a score, I have NO idea what it must be like to play any of the parts. The whole "this piano is doing a thing and the other piano is doing the same thing only in between" ... like the whole score is like that.
posted by hippybear at 10:29 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I found The Desert Music when I turned was 17 and turned on my local public radio station and heard probably the last half of Fifth Movement (fast) and it was so haunting to me that I called the station to find out what they were playing and I went out the next day and bought the album.

At age 17, that one short radio moment and that album purchase... opened up a world of music to me that, even with my deep study of classical music at the time, I didn't know existed.

A few years later, I met my husbear who handed me some other Reich, including 18.

My life has literally never been the same since.
posted by hippybear at 10:32 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I played the first movement for my husband earlier this evening. He went and found a recording and downloaded it and has been listening to the whole thing all night long on repeat (he's been a Philip Glass fan for a long time, so in a way it's not a surprise that he'd like Reich as well).
posted by filthy_prescriptivist at 11:25 PM on March 5, 2018

Try Terry Riley’s In C too. It’s been recorded with orchestra, chamber ensemble, electric guitars, traditional West African instruments, and probably anything else you can think of.
posted by matildaben at 7:20 AM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really like Reich's vocal works.

Proverb is beautiful, taking a single sentence ("How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life") and turning it into a 14-minute piece.

Here's a performance of Tehillim staged with an accompanying light show. Fun to watch on a screen, but I wonder if it was incredibly distracting in the concert hall.
posted by amk at 7:58 AM on March 6, 2018

I recommend seeing any Reich piece performed live if you get the chance, especially the ensemble pieces. The visual rhythms of the musicians are just as striking as the music. But even Clapping Music live is a delight. Or there's always this version.
posted by YoungStencil at 11:10 AM on March 6, 2018

What was it like to maintain focus on your own part, rhythm-wise

It was fun. I volunteered to be the part that shifts the rhythm every 8 measures. The shifts themselves were tricky because they break the pattern of the rhythm for you. You get locked into the rhythm, even when it’s really syncopated, and I remember having to really concentrate to be able to break that. I think the other part said it was tricky to keep the same rhythm and not follow the new one.

I’m having a hard time describing what I mean, but if I post the sheet music later it should make more sense.

Anyway, we didn’t end up performing it in the concert because the director decided he wanted more people to participate, and it got much harder to coordinate with like 10 people. I was really annoyed. It’s a fun piece!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:27 PM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have never listened to Reich, try Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards, which is on YouTube if you look for it. Haunting.
posted by wittgenstein at 3:20 PM on March 6, 2018

That's 2 in a row hippybear. Are you feeling OK? Keep this up we might be trading CD's or something.
posted by evilDoug at 6:00 AM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Steve Reich is great. Some of it (like Clapping Music) confounds me... I can't imagine the musical discipline and training required to perform it competently. At the same time, it's delightful to listen to.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:34 PM on March 7, 2018

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