Sunday, 26 August 2012

Steve Reich - Triple Quartet

Steve Reich
Born 1936
I was first taught about the music of Steve Reich four years ago in GCSE music. When it came to the subject of minimalism, our teachers told us that the only four words we needed to know were 'Philip Glass' and 'Steve Reich'. Then, I looked down on minimalism as I thought it was just like copying and pasting different phrases into Sibelius - but I couldn't have been more wrong. Musical innovations of Reich include tape loops, phasing and other typical minimalist techniques such as addition, subtraction and cell displacement. Not only has Reich influenced many classical composers, but also many Pop and Rock musicians such as King Crimson and Michael Hedges.

When it comes to his own influences, Reich says that Bach, Debussy, Bartok and Stravinsky are the composers that he admires the most. However, Reich was also heavily influenced by Jazz musicians such as singers Ella Fitzgerald and Alfred Deller, as he was interested in the vocal techniques such as vibrato and scat singing that could change the overall sound of their voices. Like Philip Glass, Reich is vague when it comes to a detailed description of his musical style, and finds the term 'minimalist' rather restricting.

An extract from an interview by Rebecca Kim with Steve Reich in 2000:

The point is, if you went to Paris and dug up Debussy and said, 'Excusez-moi Monsieur…are you an impressionist?' he'd probably say 'Merde!' and go back to sleep. That is a legitimate concern of musicologists, music historians, and journalists, and it's a convenient way of referring to me, Riley, Glass, La Monte Young. It's become the dominant style. But, anybody who's interested in French Impressionism is interested in how different Debussy and Ravel and Satie are—and ditto for what's called minimalism. Basically, those kind of words are taken from painting and sculpture, and applied to musicians who composed at the same period as that painting and sculpture was made.

Reich's 'Triple Quartet' was composed on commission by the Kronos Quartet. The music - despite being written for three separate quartets - is played by one, as they pre-record the 2nd and 3rd quartets in the studio, and play along to them as the 1st for the album, and for their own live performances. To me, the movements are
good examples of Reich as a minimalist composer, and contain all minimalist techniques, as well as sounding exotic and cathartic with his use of held pedal notes and chimes on bells. Despite the fact some criticise minimalism for its repetitive nature, I see it as the exact opposite - as it is much more fun trying to identify the subtle changes that go on that - without listening carefully - might just go over the listener's head.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nevada, I had left a comment but it looks like it must not have saved.
    I had never heard of Steve Reich until I read this. I have since looked him up and have seen his piece "Phase" with him playing 2 pianos. Incredible.

    The 'Triple Quartet' that you link to instantly reminded me of the Tangerine Dream tune called 'Love on a train'. It was a favourite of mine back in the 90's *shows his age*