Steve Reich
Octet/Music For a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase


4.0
excellent

Review

by Alex Robertson STAFF
January 21st, 2010 | 19 replies | 6,678 views


Release Date: 2000 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A fascinating snapshot of the career of one of our very best composers.

Reich's most important action in his early career was indeed not much of an action at all: when the tape recorders set up for his piece "It's Gonna Rain" slowly fell out of sync, he simply decided not to stop them. In a move that could have been the result of laziness, extreme patience, or innocent interest, Reich allowed the tapes to naturally fall in and out of place with each other, and didn't do much to change the mechanical process. The end result was operatic, frightening, and innovative; an almost "necessary" experiment that, if not by Reich, would have been done by someone else, one way or another, a few years later. However, for many listeners of less, ahem, experimental music, the piece also came off as a little too perfunctory; music to stand back and admire rather than legitimately enjoy. As well, much of Reich's early works were pierced by this kind of "programmed" precision, from the almost unbearably tonal "Four Organs" (which had the honor of nearly setting off a riot at its 1973 Carnegie Hall performance) to the pseudo-phasing techniques of "Clapping Music". His extreme interest in shifting and phasing rhythms peaked with 1971's "Drumming", a 90-minute all-out combination of phasing and polyrhythms, the piece represented the apex of his use of patterns, mechanics, and complicated rhythms in music.

However, "Drumming" was also special in a very different way: it drained Reich of the fascination of the cold and rigid processes that had determined the direction of his earlier works. By the mid-'70s (and, especially, his masterpiece "Music for 18 Musicians"), the mechanism-obsessed Reich had virtually disappeared, leaving in its place a fantastic and finally completely accessible composer, capable of stunning beauty. Right after the 1976 premier of "Music for 18 Musicians" in New York, Reich set to work on making a piece that, well, kind of sounded like what came before it. Reich's new piece, entitled--get ready for this--"Music for a Large Ensemble", featured much of the same uplifting, marimba-injected progressions that its predecessor had. However, in comparison to "Music for 18 Musicians", "Music for a Large Ensemble" is also considerably condensed; only fifteen minutes as opposed to "Music for 18 Musicians", which skirted around an hour. Criminally ignored upon release, the composition acted as an excellent introduction to some of Reich's more accessible works; a beautiful exercise in bright, colorful tones and elaborate rhythms.

In 1979, the year "Music for a Large Ensemble" premiered in Utrecht, Reich got working on "Octet" (later rescored in 1983 as "Eight Lines"), another piece that would utilize vivid tonality and overlapping pulses. However, unlike "Music for a Large Ensemble", the piece has more of a focus on pianos and shimmering flutes, rather than the marimba mainstays of many of Reich's '70s pieces. As well, "Octet" has more of a slow-build feel than either of the pieces that preceded it, showing Reich's ever-apparent mastering of restraint. "Octet", being slightly longer than "Music for a Large Ensemble", also takes longer to reach its eventual ending, perhaps stretching the patience of less enduring listeners.

However, both "Octet" and "Music for a Large Ensemble" seem totally accessible in comparison to "Violin Phase". Strangely grouped together on this recording with his later pieces, the 1967 composition was more or less "It's Gonna Rain" for solo violin, a phasing piece that lets its process unfold quite gradually. The rhythms contained within become a fascinating progression; as with many of Reich's early works, you can hear the process behind the music unfold. However, even as more rhythms and melodies are introduced, the piece, being fifteen minutes of mostly the same violin line repeated, becomes a little grating.

However, this is barely a problem, considering the wealth of excellence contained within this package. Though it may seem a bit random, the three pieces contained within this recording act as a fascinating snapshot of the career of one of our best living composers. To hear a piece evolving is fascinating, but to hear the career of a composer doing the same is something else entirely, and Octet/Music For a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase allows you to examine this enthralling process.



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user ratings (22)
Chart.
4.2
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
January 21st 2010



14883 Comments


probs too much history and not enough on the album itself but SCREW YOU

thebhoy
Emeritus
January 21st 2010



4459 Comments


awesome, Reich is cool.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
January 21st 2010



14883 Comments


im the only one who reviews him :sadface:

thebhoy
Emeritus
January 22nd 2010



4459 Comments


I was going to review 18 Musicians a while back, but someone beat me to it. I'm probably going to check this out.

qwe3
January 22nd 2010



21154 Comments


oooh i haven't listened to this but i love reich, will get on it.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
December 19th 2010



14883 Comments


music for a large ensemble is one of the best things this dude has ever written

GeorgeCostanza
December 19th 2010



196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah this piece fucking rules and the performance on the CD is excellent

Glass is great but Reich > Glass

conradtao
Emeritus
December 19th 2010



2088 Comments


Definitely. Glass is really beautiful but Reich takes the fundamental concepts of minimalism and builds on them in ways Glass never did.

thebhoy
Emeritus
December 19th 2010



4459 Comments


Has anyone heard the new release from Reich this year? It kinda sucks

conradtao
Emeritus
December 19th 2010



2088 Comments


Double Sextet? Yeah, it's underwhelming. Then again, the Pulitzer in music has been somewhat irrelevant for a while..

cendre
December 19th 2010



19 Comments


pulitzer never been relevant

conradtao
Emeritus
December 19th 2010



2088 Comments


Except when they gave it to David Lang. Very well-deserved.

thebhoy
Emeritus
December 19th 2010



4459 Comments


yeah it just feels like oh hey Steve Reich's doing that thing he does again, without any weight to it

conradtao
Emeritus
December 19th 2010



2088 Comments


When you've had a career the length of Reich's, it's hard not to lapse into the same old routine. Not everyone can keep developing like Mikel Rouse or Penderecki.

Enotron
December 22nd 2010



7695 Comments


heard octet on youtube and it was gorgeous. downloading this asap.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
December 22nd 2010



14883 Comments


have you heard his other works? music for 18 musicians is probably a better place to start but this is great, too. i think i even slightly prefer 'music for a large ensemble' to 'octet', though both are great. 'violin phase' is a little harsh for those who dont like his really repetitive phase shit haha.

Enotron
December 22nd 2010



7695 Comments


i own different trains/electric counterpoint

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
December 22nd 2010



14883 Comments


that shits goooood but also very different from music for 18 musicians (sonically)


get this but make sure you get mf18m too

Enotron
December 22nd 2010



7695 Comments


will get musicians when i'm done with this. half way into "large ensemble", the layering is gorgeous. love the horn swells.



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