Tag Archives: Steve Reich

Steve Reich, Bang on a Can + London Sinfonietta @ RFH

Earlier this evening I returned to the Royal Festival Hall for the first time since its major refurbishment a couple of years ago. Steve Reich was performing in person, as he did when I last saw Music for 18 Musicians at the Barbican three years ago. At 73, I’m stunned that he can still manage to play such demanding stuff, but he seemed to have no problem on the piano and also performed Clapping Music to open things up.

The show properly got going with Mark Stewart‘s performance of Electric Counterpoint – one of my favourite Reich compositions. It’s a piece that Reich wrote for Pat Metheny in 1987. It’s performed by recording up to ten guitars and two electric bass parts, with the 11th part added live. The song is most notably sampled in The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” and it’s quite ear-opening to hear the work in its entirety if you’ve only heard the sample of it before. What really surprised me about seeing it live was the remarkable amounts of bass in the delayed swoops of guitar that return throughout. This also revealed how good the acoustic refurbishment has been. It sounded great.

Next up, Bang on a Can All Stars played Sextet, which I’ve not knowingly heard before. I’m very surprised it’s not on the 5-disc Phases box set, but I suppose that’s already pretty full of good stuff. I’m rectifying this presently by picking up the mp3 release (can’t go wrong for $6).

Sextet is quite melodically complex and he does some unconventional things like bowing vibraphone to produce slow attacks and longer sustains from percussive instruments (see 2:15 in the video below). Who’d have thunk of bowing a percussive instrument? It must take a great deal of skill. It’s crazy to watch and sounds great, particularly when one bowist starts a beat or two behind the other, adding depth and duration. They also bang mallets together, use two enormous bass drums and generally do stuff to make a six-person performance produce a much wider range of sounds than you’d typically get from six instruments. I can’t wait to hear this again and feel lucky to have heard it in such an excellent acoustic space.

It’s all been said before about Music for 18 Musicians. A “joy machine” is exactly right. It’s nearly overwhelming hearing and seeing it performed live. Unfortunately this time I got a bit distracted towards the end so it lost some of its impact, but the first half of it was an intense, immersive, moving experience like few others. It’s without question one of the best pieces of music ever written.

Rosas dancing to Steve Reich

Went to see Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas run and jump around to Steve Reich, performed by Ictus at Sadler’s Wells tonight.

Here’s the blurb:

Rosas presents an evening of dance devoted to Steve Reich’s music, featuring two existing pieces of dance and two new works. The first of two new works is Four Organs, set to Steve Reich’s controversial composition created in 1970 for four Hammond organs. The second, Eight Lines, is danced to Steve Reich’s piece of the same name for two pianos plus wood and strings.

Completing the programme is the classic Piano Phase, which sees Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s choreography stripped down to its bare bones, as the dancers’ deft movements mirror the tight phrases of Steve Reich’s music.

Drumming – Part 1 is another celebrated work in which Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s powerful, energetic choreography is once again partnered perfectly with Steve Reich’s definitive style as 13 dancers move to the beat of four live percussionists.

Steve Reich’s score will be brought bursting to life on stage by the acclaimed music group Ictus.

It started with Pendulum Music, which does what it says on the tin. Two swinging microphones fly across stage, feeding back as they pass over two speakers. They fall out of sync and you get Reich business. Set the tone nicely.

The highlight of the night was the first full piece, Marimba Phase, performed by two drummers, with two dancers behind them with their shadows projected on a large screen. There was also another set of lights at opposite angles that projected their shadows on the same location on the screen, and this joint image would pulsate strangely to their dancing to the phases as they fell out of sync. This was really beautiful, and the only part of the evening I’d struggle to criticize. There was none of that twee dancey, running and jumping around bollocks, just good fluid dancing to the music.

This was followed by Piano Phase, which is a brilliant piece of music, but the dancing was much more interpretive rubbish modern dance crap.

Eight Lines was probably the most disappointing part of the evening, as it is one of my favourite Reich compositions (it’s like a digest version of Music for 18 Musicians, for those who don’t know it), but it was just played from a recording, and it sounded like it. In fact, it sounded like there was an unusual recording of it or as though the sound engineer was purposefully accentuating the volume of the most newly introduced part, which felt like training wheels for Reich’s music. The dancing was well up its own ass as well.

Four Organs was performed live after this, but the all-male dancing to it was completely inappropriate for the piece. In fact, I’d struggle to understand how anyone could dance to it. This was pretty irritating.

After that we found out what the 100 funny looking triangular objects were at the front of the stage. It was György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes. One guess what happened.

They concluded with Drumming Pt. 1, which was the grandest of the dances, and probably the best other than what they did to Marimba Phase. I actually quite enjoyed it despite the odd karate kick thrown in, etc. I was a bit disappointed they only played Pt. 1 though.

After a roaring ovation (I reckon these dance people don’t get out much, or that they’ve never heard Reich before) the musicians came back on and did a short piece for five woodblocks. Most enjoyable, despite the dancers fucking about all around them during it.

In sum… I tried out modern dance. I reckon it’s shit. Steve Reich is wicked though, and it was great to see so much of his music performed live in one night. That Marimba Phase dance was pretty wicked too though, so maybe there’s some hope for this art form.

Oh, and the other thing that struck me is that Reich is a very strange choice for this. While his music is undoubtedly rhythmically compelling and challenging, watching the live performance of it has always seemed balletic enough for me.

Hydrology Plus 1 + 2

Had a bit of moolah in ye olde paypal reserves as a result of selling a few items via my Discogs page and eBay in recent months, so I repurchased Alan Wilder’s first two solo records as Recoil, 1+2 circa ’86 and Hydrology circa ’87. I used to own the CD which compiles these two records, but I believe it was one of the victims of the 2001 car thefts. At any rate, I now own it again for the first time on wax.

So who is this Alan Wilder you ask? He be the man that replaced Vince Clarke in Depeche Mode after Speak & Spell, then left in 1995, sometime around Dave Gahan’s heroin addiction by my faulty memory. To situate the music, you need first think of Black Celebration and Music For the Masses era Depeche Mode, without the singing, with a bunch of disparate vocals, from indigenous peoples to operatic shit. There are five tracks across the two records, ranging in length from 14 to almost 19 minutes, save the first track which clocks in at 7:43. Within these lengths he builds up some serious density, and roves a fair amount, often incorporating a few movements.

The result is totally coherent, and these were landmark works for their time. In my mind, nothing much approached this level of coherence, complexity and artistry in electronic music then. This was before Detroit Techno as we know it today – contemporary with its beginnings. It had little to do with it and less to do with Chicago house. It was its own electronic beast. I guess its most common style would have to be ambient stuff a la Eno and maybe Tangerine Dream, and I certainly hear some Reich in there.

That “Love on a Fast Train” track from Risky Business (which also accompanies the youngest boy in The Squid & the Whale) that I posted my surprise about a while ago is maybe fairly comparable. Maybe it sounds most like Global Communication’s 76:14 album (on which Maiden Voyage is the interpolation of Love on a Fast Train), but eight years earlier, and probably the superior work given how well it holds up 20 years down the line. I listened to this album hundreds of times in the 90s and never tired of it. I can’t recall the last time I listened to all of 76:14 straight through. Having it again now is a treat. If you’ve never heard it and love that middle era Depeche Mode like I do, definitely give it a go.

Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” and more at The Barbican

Made another trip back to the Barbican yesterday for the continuing celebration of Steve Reich’s 70th birthday. But first, here’s The Guardian’s brief, ** review of The Cave and another slightly more in depth one, both confirming my critique.

But Sunday was another day. We were total idiots and missed Konono 1 (again) when they were playing free that afternoon but we got there in time for the Bang on a Can All Stars, and they were good! The first song was some Michael Nyman thing that was OK. Nothing special, and perhaps a bit grating. The second was something that had been written specifically for them and it was wicked. Really mental frenetic cello and upright bass bowing. The third was a four-section song that covered loads of territory and really worked well for them. The last track was by Louis Andriesen, which was relentless psychotic cartoon music, vaguely reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s theme to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Gutted I missed Konono 1 earlier, but Split with Sims/Surgeon doing Frequency 7 the night before pre-empted.

The later Reich performance was totally brilliant. It opened with Cello Counterpoint, which had been written specifically for the performer. She had pre-recorded (and filmed) seven of eight parts that were broadcast on a large screen behind here, while she played the eighth part live. It’s fairly short but gripping.

The second part was the world premiere of Daniel Variations (quoted from the press thingy):

Reich puts a text from the Book of Daniel alongside words by the violinist and mandolin player Daniel Pearl, the journalist taken hostage and murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002.

There were twenty performers for this, with most of the same instruments as Music for Eighteen Musicians, except there were two more strings IIRC. And it was a very string-heavy piece, and heavier on the orchestration, lighter on the repetition. The singing in this was a bit too loud in the mix for my liking, and really I thought it could been nixed altogether. Hannah really liked the singing though, and I reckon this just would be divisive. Still quite good on the main. Would love to hear an instrumental version, but I’m doubtful that would happen.

Finally we got to Music for Eighteen Musicians, which was every bit as brilliant as you’d expect, except twice as good for being able to appreciate the visual element of it. It was particularly cool that Reich played with them (with his distinctive baseball cap and all), although I could have sworn I heard him hit a couple of wrong notes. Still… it was absolutely gorgeous. The liveness of it is stunning. They called it a ‘joy machine’, which sums it up perfectly. The concentration it must take to play that is pretty unfathomable to me. Totally humbling and enjoyable. Made up for The Cave about 5 times over.