Interview: Steve Reich (Maker Of Harmonic Invention) At The Red Bull Music Academy

February 16, 2010

So today we got invited to the Red Bull Music Academy to hear Steve Reich (pronounced Risch) talk. Hearing Reich talk about his life and work is very inspiring. He starts with his initial tape experiments with loops and phasing whilst working as a cab driver, and in turn a postman (due to crashing the cab), moves through his 1970 trip to Ghana and then plays two phases from his seminal ‘Music For 18 Musicians’ (to avoid discussing it). It was, to say the least, a very informative two hours and to hear him play ‘Music For 18 Musicians’ on the RBMA’s ridiculously big Genelec speakers was pretty special. Along with many others I would have been quite happy to hear the whole 56 minutes of the piece.

His love of John Coltrane is discussed (Reich apparently saw Coltrane over 50 times), with his favourite Coltrane album being ‘Africa/Brass’. Reich describes this as a piece of ‘incredible melodic invention’ with Coltrane ‘screaming noise’ in the piece. He described the clear influences on his work as being its, ‘rhythmic complexity, timbral variety and harmonic invention’. In the same breath he also mentions Jr Walkers ‘Shotgun’ which was released at the same time, and the fact that there was clearly something in the air.

Reich goes on to explain canons, a form of music that repeats and moves, that can be used as a framework for whatever form you like, or in Reich’s words, ‘Coke or Red Bull – it’s your choice’. Forthcoming work from Reich will be a piece based around 9/11 which I am sure will replicate the power of his award winning ‘Different Trains’.

So to round off here are the top three points we took from the talk…

1) It’s your job as a musician not to put yourself in a box. Its your job to make the piece.

2) If it’s burning a hole in you, go and do it.

3) The big thing to do is decide do I need to go through this before you embark on the something very time consuming, and if you do, more power to you.

In just under two hours we got a clear understanding of why Reich’s music sounds the way it does. Check the interview at the RBMA website when you get a chance.

Thanks to the Red Bull Music Academy.

[Apiento]

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