Notes and Editorial Reviews
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A drummer-turned-composer, Steve Reich has produced some of the most vibrant, original and interesting music of our time, with influences as varied as Bach, Stravinsky, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Balinese and Ghanaian percussion. His technique of ‘phasing’ (short, repeating patterns moving in and out of phase with each other), used first in It’s Gonna Rain of 1965, formed the springboard for his complex and colourful style, with its intoxicating melodic lines and rhythmic patterns. In Phase to Face, we follow Steve Reich as he travels from the Autumn in Normandy festival to Rome (with the Italian musicians of Ars Ludi, the Ready-Made
Ensemble, Coro Ha-Kol and Quartetto Prometeo), to Tokyo, to New York, and to Manchester – for the world premiere of 2X5.
REPERTOIRE: With excerpts from: It’s Gonna Rain (1965), Piano Phase (1967), Pendulum (1968), Clapping Music (1972), Music for Pieces of Wood (1973), Music for 18 Musici ans (1976), Tehillim (1981), Sextet (1985), Different Trains (1988), The Cave (1993), Proverb (1995), 2 x 5 (2009)
BONUS: "Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich" (18 min.) & "A brief History of Music by Steve Reich" (9 min.)
Region: 0 (all)
PICTURE FORMAT: NTSC 16:9
SOUND FORMAT: PCM-STEREO
SUBTITLES: English, German, French, Japanese
RUN TIME: 52 mins (Doc) + 28 mins
STEVE REICH: PHASE TO FACE
Steve Reich, dir.
IDÉALE AUDIENCE 3058128 (DVD: 52:00)
Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich; A Brief History of Music by Steve Reich (28:00)
Early in 1987,
on PBS aired a documentary on Steve Reich titled
Steve Reich: A New Musical Language
. It was made around the time of the composer’s 50th birthday and served as biography and extended interview, with clips of Reich’s ensemble in performance. Nonesuch Records had also recently released a recording containing his Sextet and
. This new film, released in the composer’s 75th year, comes in the wake of the Pulitzer Prize awarded for his Double Sextet.
The two films are very similar. Each looks at the composer’s work to date and traces the development of Reich’s technique, from the earliest tape pieces to the most recent compositions—in this case, the rock-band piece
2x5. Phase to Face
opens (in 2009) with Reich taking a phone call from NPR reporter Tom Cole, who informs him that he has just won the Pulitzer—surely a serendipitous way to open a film. Interspersed throughout the interview, which provides the film’s main focus, are glimpses of various ensembles in performance. In fact, that is one of the more obvious developments documented in this video: Whereas 25 years ago, Reich’s music was presented to the public primarily through performances by Steve Reich and Musicians, now the music is truly international, performed by new ensembles throughout the world.
All aspects of Reich’s career are touched upon, from the earliest tape and electronic works to the various phase pieces; the watershed of
Music for 18 Musicians
leads to the expanding horizons of the orchestral and vocal works, which in turn brings the viewer up to date with the synthesis and concentration of Reich’s various styles into such works as
You Are (Variations)
Reich is an eloquent speaker and quite insightful concerning his own music and its place in the larger context of music history. Video montages that add another dimension to the film occasionally accompany the interview and performance clips. The only drawback in this otherwise excellent video is the sound: Billed as PCM stereo, the audio focus is extremely narrow, and even the musical segments sound like a sort of super-mono. Only in the bonus segment titled
Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich
is true stereo heard when a generous excerpt of
You Are (Variations)
is played for the audience.
These bonus segments allow Reich to expand on some of the ideas presented in the main program. In Tokyo, Reich provides answers to (unheard) questions concerning computers (Reich uses them for composition and rehearsals, but also feels that “the computer killed the record business”), the connection between tape pieces such as
and new computer music (he hopes the human voice is still used), how the orchestra of the 21st century will use amplification to replace the sheer number of instruments, and how his
album brought his music to a new audience.
Brief History of Music
is a short course on how music develops in cycles from complicated to simpler forms, citing (for instance) Wagnerian harmonic development leading to the dead end of Schoenberg’s elimination of tonality; this in turn stimulated Debussy, Ravel, Satie, and Stravinsky to react by taking harmony in new directions, which eventually led to the development of the American populist school via Copland and eventually to Glass, Reich, and the other Minimalists (though of course, Reich never uses that term).
This video should appeal to anyone curious about recent American art music; for those interested in the music of Steve Reich, this is the primer.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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