24 October 2006

Steve Reich, "Classical" Father of Sampling?

I am a major fan of the form of 'classical' music known as Minimalism. As with the visual artists we now know as "The Impressionists" that term, Minimalist, has as often been avoided by the composers creating these works as it has been embraced. In any case, the repetitions, the stasis and slow evolution of changes, even the occasional way in which the music might be seen as 'boring' more often as not engages and transports me. My CD collection is heavy with the work of John Adams, Michael Nyman, Philip Glass -- and Birthday boy Steve Reich.

Reich, along with LaMonte Young, Terry Reily, Glass, and Pauline Oliveros, is one of the founding figures of the music. Holding to his convictions the creater of a once reviled music is now the subject of a major retrospective at that temple of the musical establishment, Carnegie Hall. Ah, to be back in New York again!

One of the things that has consistently fascinated me about Reich's music is his use of 'sampling' (while most Hip Hop artists were dreaming of big wheels for Christmas) and its relationship to African and African-American music and speech. In 1970 he studied drumming at the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana in Accra (before heading on to study Balinese gamelan music and the singing of Jewish cantors). But even before that, in early Process Music pieces like It’s Gonna Rain (made up of recordings of a sermon about the end of the world given by a Pentecostal minister, 1965) and Come Out (a line of testimony given by an injured survivor of a race riot, 1966), he sampled African-American voices to create music. 1972's Clapping Music always struck me as a 'highbrow' version of the kind of rhythmic clapping I grew up watching the girls in my neighborhood doing (Think Miss Mary Mack goes to Juliard) There have been any number of Reich's pieces I've found myself bopping my head to.

I've also been to a party where the art school student DJ showed up with his masterwork Music for 18 Musicians in the milk crate along with his other records. DJ's Coldcut, Mantronik, Spooky (That Subliminal Kid) and others have returned returned the favor on Reich Remixed.

Personally, I was somewhat disapointed by the Remix CD, and continue to like my Reich 'straight'. Here's a VERY short list of some favorites for the uninitiated:

African Rhythms A mix of works by Reich, the late great Gy├Ârgy Ligeti, and the singing of the Aka Pygmies. A haunting and glorious recording.


Music for 18 Musicians

Different Trains A True Masterpiece of 20th Century music.

City Life

Triple Quartet

Happy Listening! And get ready for next year's celebration of the 70th Birthday of Reich's friend and former roomate, Baltimore's Own Philip Glass!

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