Re­ich’s great­est hits

BBC Music Magazine - - Colin Currie -

A quick guide to the Amer­i­can com­poser’s per­cus­sion mu­sic

In the 1960s Steve Re­ich de­vel­oped ‘phas­ing’, a sys­tem of grad­u­ally mov­ing two iden­ti­cal lines of mu­sic out of sync with one another. He ini­tially used tape loops in film sound­tracks, then later ap­plied this tech­nique in a live set­ting where he used per­cus­sion to ex­plore the con­cept fur­ther. Drum­ming was com­posed in 1971 on Re­ich’s re­turn to New York from Ghana, where he was in­spired by the coun­try’s mu­sic en­sem­bles. With no changes in melody or rhythm, it’s the slight shifts in tim­ing and pitch that cre­ate mo­men­tum.

Test­ing the lim­its of min­i­mal­ism, Re­ich then cre­ated a piece that uses noth­ing but the hu­man body as an in­stru­ment. Clap­ping Mu­sic fea­tures two per­form­ers, one of whom main­tains a 12-qua­ver-long clap­ping phrase, while the other shifts by one qua­ver ev­ery 12th bar. They move out of sync be­fore re­turn­ing to uni­son 144 bars later.

Nagoya Marim­bas, com­posed in 1994 for a brace of marim­bas, sig­nalled a change in Re­ich’s com­po­si­tional style, with mo­tifs un­der­go­ing more melodic de­vel­op­ment, while still main­tain­ing the tech­nique of phas­ing.

Re­ich’s most re­cent per­cus­sion work, Quar­tet, was ded­i­cated to Cur­rie, and fea­tures two pianos and vi­bra­phones. With con­stant changes of key, melodies are con­tin­u­ally in­tro­duced and aban­doned along­side a strong pulse.

Sound of ap­plause: Cur­rie per­forms with Re­ich in 2014

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