Is Steve Reich, the composer, a seminal genius?

For whatever reason I ordered the [full set of his works](Steve Reich 1965-1995) “Steve Reich 1965-1995” about 2 years ago (10 CDs), and have listened to most of it. Some of it is pretty interesting such as "Different Trains ", but there a fair chunk that just sounds like… well, a big, noodling around atonal experiment.

I consider myself to have pretty eclectic muscial tastes, but “It’s gonna rain” (as one example) is so repetitive it goes past interesting to pointlessness IMO. I don’t want to be a tin eared cultural prole. Help me to appreciate Reich!

Here’s the Amazon editorial review said

Reich pioneered the Minimalist Classical style of music, along with Philip Glass, Arvo Part and a number of others. To that end, then, yes, he is considered innovative and influential on much of the music - classical and otherwise - that has come after him.

In terms of all of his work, I cannot comment, for the simple reason that I have not listened to a full spectrum of his work. Having devoted time to two of his most well-known and influential pieces - Drumming and Music for 18 Musicians - I can say that I get it. I can see why others might not, but they work for me. I almost think of them as an integration of classical instrumentation, an acknowledgement of the repititive nature of computer/sequencing based music, and a feel for world-beat, African and Indian-tabla-based polyrhythmic music. In other words, a modern fusion of a variety of sources, resulting in a hypnotic flow of wonderful music.

Really great for a Sunday morning. Allow it time to wash over you - don’t try to pick apart the pieces - allow it to sculpt a sonic landscape for you that you can sail over and through in your mind. I find that the approach to listening to this type of music requires a different type of ear - it isn’t about melody or harmony to me - it is much more about being placed in a rhythmic context. I wish I could explain it better, but the bottom line is that I try to allow it to happen at/with me, rather than to try to actively process it realtime.

Since I can knowingly recommend “18 Musicians” I am comfortable recommending that you start with it. Sip a glass a wine and relax and let it happen. Or - risky, hear, since it borders on music appreciation heresy - wake up on a Sunday morning, get some coffee, get the paper and read it with that piece in the background. Yeah, I know, music should be devoted to, but I find that with this type of music, if I read, I may allow myself to be caught off-guard in a good way and be more open to where the music wants to go. At this point, what’ve you got to lose?

Genius? Who knows. But he is certainly an innovative composer who has managed to maintain his relevance and appeal over several generations’ time. Those two qualities alone are very special. College-age kids still listen to him, as do jazzers and electronica fans. You can’t say that for Terry Riley or La Monte Young (other early “minimalists”), at least in my experience.

Personally, I’m partial to Tehillim and a few of the percussion pieces, and not so fond of a lot of his other works. I often find him too process-oriented, and not effective at making his music comprehensible to me on a non-intellectual level. It’s the same way I feel about a lot of serialism. Who cares HOW your music works…if I can’t make sense of it when I listen, I won’t listen.

Have you heard much John Adams? How about Thomas Adès? Those are two of my favorites out there at the moment.

Heh. “Repetitive” is the whole basis behind minimalist music.

The idea with “It’s Gonna Rain” is to wade into it for a few minutes and listen to the spontaneous “fake melodies” that pop up as the words are played out-of-phase with one another. (The same goes for “Violin Phase” and “Come Out”.) Its one of those things you listen to when you’re mellow and meditating. (And I’d bet that inhaling a little THC helps the esperience tremendously – but then again, everything seems profoundly meaningful on THC.)

I just picked up the reissued version of the original Drumming recording from 1974. Incredible. (It’s been reissued on the Deustche Grammophon subdivision Echo 20/21, if you’re curious.) This is the one that’s intended to run around an hour-and-a-half, so it’s a two-disc set.

The original (1978) short version of Music For 18 Musicians on ECM is great, too; it runs about 56 minutes. I like the mix a little better in it, and it feels a little more…driven than the Nonesuch recording from the late '90s.

A good interview with Steve Reich is here:
It’s a little irritating in the transcribed form, in that anything the transcriber couldn’t understand got replaced with an ellipsis or was miswritten, and some of it’s critical information. (For example, the record label ECM gets turned into ACM here.) There’s a RealAudio version of the entire interview in the “Listening Room” section, so you can hear what I mean.

Still can’t get enough of Electric Counterpoint either. The stereo mix of Metheny’s recording is awe-inspiring.