On October 3, 2016, the great American composer Steve Reich will turn 80. His name conjures the image of encyclopedia, as he is one of the founding fathers of minimalism, which became one of the principal styles of the academic music in the second half of the 20th century. His best-known compositions date back to the end of 1960s. Steve Reich’s influence extends from John Adams to Brian Eno, and it’s impossible to discuss classical American music without mentioning his name.
Despite his advanced age, Steve Reich is still a performing musician and active composer. He performs as a special guest at Kraftwerk concerts, and his latest work, Pulse, was completed a year ago. According to the laconic author’s annotation, Pulse is based on the same pillars of musical construction that preoccupied Reich in the beginning of 1970s: it’s all about the flickering of short sound stimuli, which connect to make extensive forms, the games with repetition and intermittency effects, and the conscious deceleration of the harmonic scenario and, subsequently, the musical time.
Steve Reich was among the group of American composers who articulated the stylistics of minimal music at the height of avant-garde pursuits of the postwar period. They sidestepped the dismal psychological damage associated with the war, and the fall-out that the art of music suffered from the ideologically scorching air. This was America of 1960s, the age when fashion dictated devotion of Eastern philosophy, hippie culture, trips to India, and learning the mantras.
Mantra-like bass ostinato is actually a very recognizable feature of minimal music: it’s a mechanical repetition of the simplest (sometimes just one note) sound unit, which changes very slowly as if mutating over time. This happens so gradually that the musical process, having slowed down to the max, no longer speaks to the heart or the mind. It puts the audience in a state of hypnotic trance and resets its perception of time. Stalling, crumbling, budding, tying up in knots, tangling up in loops, and cutting itself up, time becomes a soft clay in the hands of the minimalists. Reich’s best-known invention is the so-called “phase shifting” — the sound effect of two rhythmical processes that start together, but then experience subsequent separation, as if two imperceptibly asynchronous clocks that tick away in one room, here coming together, here moving apart again.
The mutual flickering of ornaments and the phase shifting game can both be heard in the “Six Pianos”, which Steve Reich wrote in 1973. The composer had organized the countermelody of rhythms in the mechanical keyboard chirping of the six grand pianos with such cunning and forethought that it starts to resemble the nature itself, where the balance gives birth to illusion of chaos. One can attempt, for a while, to resist the shutdown of senses, which the composer triggers in his audience, and to follow the slow, crystal-like growth of the musical process of the “Six Pianos.” If successful, one can notice the similarity of the piece with the electronic music that was contemporary to Reich at that time as well as with techno sounds that in 1973 were still a decade and a half off into the future.
On October 6, the sixth concert of the SOUND UP series will present six Russian composers who will honor Steve Reich by performing their own works as well as the famous “Six Pianos” piece.
Trekhgornaya Manufaktura, "Nadezhda"
Rochdelskaya street, 15/24