Sunday, April 05, 2009

Steve Reich "Phases"

Basically, this is more Steve Reich than you can shake a stick at – five CDs worth of stuff recorded on the Nonsuch label, being sold in a small box for €19.99. If this is not a bargain then I do not know what is. The two biggies I recognised by name are Music for 18 Musicians & Different Trains, though I bet that people who know about these things would know of many of the other tunes here. There is so much stuff here that I have only managed to listen to everything once, but it is all great. I was particularly struck by Different Trains, both the locomotive rhythms that Reich conjures up and the subject matter it evokes. The latter becomes apparent the moment you see the titles of the piece's subsections: 'America -Before the War', 'Europe – During the War', and 'After the War'. You don't have to be a genius to work out to where the European trains are going and whom they are carrying there.

When Steve Reich was approached to be the subject of the Living Music festival in 2007, he agreed to come along as guest of honour on condition that no music by Phillip Glass was included in the programme[citation needed]. I suppose Reich and Glass are probably the two giants of 20th century Minimalist music, but my thinking now is that Reich is a far more interesting composer. Listening to the tracks here, there seems a much broader range to his musical palette. With Glass, on the other hand, everything really does kind of sound the same*, so had the two gone back to back the comparions would very much have been in Reich's favour.

While this Reich collection is very extensive, it does not quite include everything noteworthy the great man has composed. There is no 'Clapping Music' or 'Street Life', but in 'New York Counterpoint' it has the tune that The Orb sampled to produce 'Little Fluffy Clouds'. Famously, when this was played to Reich by The Wire for Invisible Jukebox he said "Who was that again? I'll have to get my lawyers onto that one".

* Although, bizarrely, the radio has just played some Glass organ piece that did not sound that much like what I think of as classic Glass (i.e. it does not sound like anything from Koyaanisqatsi)


Simon O'Connor said...

I don't think thats true, although it wouldn't surprise me. At any rate, Crash Ensemble performed Glass's Two Pages (or was it Music in Fifths?) at the festival.

ian said...

Surely you cannot doubt my story's unimpeachable source (i.e. someone I met in a pub)?