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Steve Reich 3rd Movement "Fast" from Electric Counterpoint
Transcript of Steve Reich 3rd Movement "Fast" from Electric Counterpoint
Hallmarks of Minimalism
Some typical and common features of minimalist compositions include...
Note Addition and Subtraction
Augmentation and Diminution
Reich's music is rhythmically complex with much repetition which means performers have to focus and concentrate on their timings and entrances. Because of this, his music is especially difficult to play so he formed his own ensemble in 1966 complied of performers who he believed were capable of meeting the demands of his pieces!
Then came minimalism...
The restricted composes "rebelled" and decided to give the performer back a lot of the control, using symbols for them to interpret as they chose.
In contrast to serialism, minimalism involved:
scores with very little or no detail
scores with staff notation replaced by written directions and text
graphic scores with symbols and pictures instead of notes
Minimalist composers liked pushing boundaries in pitch ranges of instruments and unconventional playing methods, for example, plucking piano stings. They took it to extreme levels, often using ordinary objects as instruments! These composers were experimental composers...
La Monte Young
Two famous minimalist composers who very often used the previous techniques in many of their compositions. For example, Young made a 6 hour piece in 1964 called the "Well Tuned Piano" based around the idea of 1 continuous note with added melodies and the act of improvisation within strict boundaries. This often meant no one piece ever sounded the same!
Terry Riley's work "In C" brought minimalism to fame as it uses short repeating C quavers to keep the beat with short musical fragments on top.
Experimental Composers were...
fascinated with drones and repetition so based their compositions around this e.g. one long note to which harmonies and melodies are added
using minimal resources and motifs/ideas
experimenting with tape loops and only occasional instrumental sounds
Steve Reich (1936-)
Steve Reich was born in New York in 1936 and grew up here and in California. He studied Philosphy at University and progressed to Juliard and Mills College were he worked with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud (an experimental Italian composer and famous French polytonal composer).
After performing with Terry Riley, he too became fascinated with tape loops.
1965/6 brought "It's gonna rain" and "Come out" which each contain 2 identical loops of speech that Reich felt had musical qualities. In these he used rhythmic displacement by playing them on 2 tape recorders at different speeds. These were the breakthrough of his compositional technique
Electric Counterpoint Loops
The piece uses a constantly repeating loop to capture the sound of the one performer, producing a very different sound to that of many separate performers. The loop is developed using note addition etc. which wouldn't be possible if it was a fixed loop. Still, the only source used is the guitar.
The key is basically E minor but Reich keeps the listener guessing with ambiguous keys until bar 33 when the bass guitar clearly establishes E minor. In section B, he again switches between E minor ad C minor. An odd change, very minimalist!
Background of Electric Counterpoint
Electric Counterpoint is the last of 3 pieces for soloists playing with pre-recorded tracks of themselves
Others are "Vermont Counterpoint (1982)" for the flute and "New York Counterpoint (1985) for clarinet
It was commissioned for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny for the Brooklyn Next Wave Festival
Methney pre-recorded 12 guitar parts and 1 bass
These are seen as a way for the performer to play in an ensemble with himself rather than just accompaniment
It takes great precision to record this and Methney commented it was much harder than he first imagined
The 20th century brought with it many new and interesting forms of music with composers to match...
Schoenberg developed expressionism
This led on to serialism
Serialism brought a strict mathematical approach to composing which was quite restricting but simplified things for composers
But some rebelled...
Steve Reich studied...
1970- African drumming in Ghana
1971- "Drumming" phasing techniques and rhythms
1972- "Clapping Music" phasing techniques and rhythms
1973-4 - Gamelan music but only took the use of mallet instruments e.g. marimba
1976-7 - traditional Hebrew chanting
Over this time, Reich wrote many ensemble piececs which won him many prestigious awards
The New York Times went as far as to call him "our greatest living composer"
As our wonderful textbook says...
"Parallels can be drawn between minimalism in music and minimalism in art - the use of minimal resources mkaes us experuence tge wirj ub a different way, getting drawn into a world of the composer's/artist's creation. People tend to react to this quite strongly, either positvely or negatively." Example" Mark Rothko.
Fast is actually in the aelian mode transposed to E (E-aelian). Reich does not depend on perfect cadences so doesn't need the V chord of B major. This is the main chord using D sharp which we would expect to hear in E minor. Because it is not present, we say this piece is in the E-aelian mode as many minimalist pieces are modal.
Texture builds up gradually and helps to define the structure of the piece, particularly the subsections of A. It thins towards the end by fading certain parts but the piece finished with a dramatic crescendo anyway. It usually stays quite constant throughout but has a clever way of making the listener feel like it is shifting when it actually isn't, possibly due to the interweaving rhythms and imes when some parts enter and exit.
Changes in metre from 3/2 to 12/8 in Section B demonstrate how important rhythm is in this piece. Reich was tuned to the subtle feels of metre, possibly more so than we are so we may not feel as definite as he about the "clear" end in 12/8. For the more traditional, the piece can feel as if it is in triple time with weaving cross rhythms rather than changing metre. The ostinati have quaver rests at different places to cause rhythmic displacement in the bass as the rhythms are out of sync with each other.
This plays a resultant melody because the interweaving between parts 1-4 cause certain notes to jump our at the reader and form a melody which is split between the parts. The live guitar plays this melody, reinforcing it by playing it on one individual instrument.
Minimalism inspired many composers outside of Western and classical music, for example, Brian Eno (famous English ambient composer) picked up Reich use of extreme repetitions when Reich dropped the technique. Eno commented that it was "rather fortunate because it meant that I could carry on with it"! This developed into ambient music e.g. "Music for Airports (1978)" which later influenced bands like The Orb and Orbital to develop more loop-based dance tracks.