Archive for August, 2006

STEVE REICH: Early Works. (Part 4)

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

“It’s Gonna Rain” (1965).

Like “Come Out”, this work is derived from a tape loop. It has two parts, each based on a separate speech loop. The first part (which actually contains the “it’s gonna rain” phrase) is okay, but the second part (which talks about flesh melting off of hands and God sealing the door so the sinners can’t enter) is the really good part, and it’s that part that I’ll discuss below.

This is one scary piece. Until I looked at the dates on the CD, I thought this was the latest of Steve Reich’s process music works, because it sounds, to me, like the apotheosis of that style. It not only sounds like the Flood or the Deluge or even the Apocalypse, but like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” burning and gnashing their teeth in the flames of Hades. I’m talking about the latter part of the piece where the original speech has broken up and morphed into something far more frightening than some street preacher who you can shrug off while you continue your shopping in Union Square (where the source tape for this was originally recorded). The truly frightening thing is that all the sounds in this piece are implicit in the original tape of the street preacher.

One night I was listening to this piece and it reminded me of a part in the book The Exorcist. I mean the section where top linguistic scientists at the Vatican analyze the tapes of the possessed girl Regan and determine that she’s actually speaking backwards! (This was much scarier in the book than my description of it.) You get the feeling that if you ran all Steve Reich’s processes in reverse on this piece that you wouldn’t get the original street preacher’s text back, but, perhaps, the voice of Beelzebub speaking and telling us what’s really going on. And that’s probably far, far from the tony stores and tourist trap bars surrounding Union Square.

STEVE REICH: Early Works. (Part 3)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

“Clapping Music” (1972), performed by Russ Hartenberger and Steve Reich.

This is a piece for two people clapping. The clapping goes out of phase, but by discrete time units, rather than gradually, as with “Piano Phase”.

I think this is the weakest of the four Early Works. I’m not exactly sure why—maybe it’s because the timbre of clapping is not that interesting; it doesn’t have the richness of the human voice that makes “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain” so good. Also, it doesn’t have the rich interplay between the parts that arises from gradual phase shifting, such as in “Piano Phase”.

Modern Times is out today

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Pick up your copy of Modern Times today:

Also, click here to get the Cambridge Forum: Bob Dylan interview for free.

STEVE REICH: Early Works. (Part 2)

Monday, August 28th, 2006

“Piano Phase” (1967), performed by Double Edge: Nurit Tilles and Edmund Niemann.

This is a work for two pianos that play the same thing but gradually go out of phase.

This is a really interesting piece to listen to and I’m sure it’s devilishly hard to play. (Although I guess all the first pianist has to do is play everything at the same tempo and try his best to ignore the second pianist—it’s the second pianist, the one that’s going out of phase, who has it tough.) At least, it sounds to me like it would be devilishly hard to play. But, according to Steve Reich’s writings, it isn’t that hard once you get the hang of it. He talks about how you can get absorbed in listening to the sound of it while playing. I would think you would almost have to ignore the overall sound and just concentrate on the technical matter of going slightly out of phase with the other pianist, but I’ve never tried playing it. Maybe I should.

What you hear when you listen to this isn’t two pianos playing the same thing. Sometimes you do hear two pianos playing the same thing, but often you hear two pianos playing two different things, or two pianos playing the same thing and another piano playing something completely different. But, of course, that’s just an illusion, you’re always just hearing two pianos playing the same thing, and the complexity that arises from the phase shifting is what makes the piece. Some parts of it sound like a whirling calliope, and then other parts have a weird syncopation, even though the original phrases are not syncopated.

Sometimes it reminds me of that black and white optical illusion where, if you concentrate on the white part, you see a young woman, but, if you concentrate on the black part, you see an old hag. In “Piano Phase”, if you start concentrating on one part of the sound, it will start sounding different than it did when it was only at the periphery of your hearing.

The greatest music video of all time

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

The greatest music video of all time:

Hey, it’s that guy from Deadwood!

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Eddie Sawyer (a.k.a. Ricky Jay) deals a straight flush to the Jack of Hearts:

STEVE REICH: Early Works. “Come Out” (1966).

Friday, August 25th, 2006

This work is process music where the process acts on a short phrase. The phrase is run on two loops that slowly go out of synch and this causes phasing. One loop is in the left field and the other is in the right field of the stereo spectrum. Because of this, it’s easy to hear the loops go out of synch, at least initially. But it sounds like there is more going on than just the initial phase shifting. After awhile the verbal phrase (if you can call still call it that, at this point) starts to reverberate or echo, and then it sounds like maybe this process is fed into itself. After a while, the sound (it’s definitely no longer a verbal phrase (well, of course, it is, but you can’t tell that anymore)) starts to break up. Near the end of the piece it sounds like a combination of maybe a swarm of angry insects and the chanting, “Got one, got one, everybody’s got one” part of “I Am the Walrus”. But it doesn’t really sound quite like that. It just sounds like what it is, which you have to hear.

People have commented on this being a political work because the initial recording is of an African-American teenager describing being brutalized by the police, but I don’t really hear that. I wouldn’t have been able to guess that was what the phrase was about, if I hadn’t read it. I think it turns out to be a good piece, because the person’s voice has a nice, interesting timbre and the phrase is interesting (it’s sort of surreal, in a way) regardless of its political or historical context. Like Bob Dylan’s early songs, it’s more artistic than it is topical.

Open Letter to Columbia Records

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Dear Columbia Records:

Please release Renaldo and Clara on DVD now! Both versions, the long one and the short one. I don’t want a copy of Masked and Anonymous, I don’t want a DVD of Unplugged, and I don’t want a copy of that video of Bob with Tom Petty’s band playing in Australia or wherever. I want to see the charismatic Bob of 1975–76. I was just watching the video for “Series of Dreams”:

Half of the film footage seems to come from Renaldo and Clara (while the other half seems to come from Don’t Look Back). And it looks great. From looking at those clips, Bob Dylan, when he was in his prime (the mid 60s and the mid 70s), would have made a great silent film star, another Valentino. You can’t keep your eyes off of him.

(And, while you’re at it, please also release Eat the Document and Something Is Happening on DVD.)

Paul Reiners

John Cage: 4’33” (1952), performed by Frank Zappa

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

As heard on my back porch in Rochester, Minnesota one cold Sunday November evening at around 5 o’clock.

I can hear the cars going by on Highway 52 to the West. But I can also hear cars to the South and I don’t know what road they’re on. My kitten’s ID tags are jingling as she walks around. They make a different sound when they hit the tiles. At first I thought I was hearing the wind, but I think it’s just the cars and the fact that it’s so cold out here that makes me think part of the cars’ sound is the wind. The phone’s ringing but I won’t answer it. Cat’s tags jingling as she runs to the phone. I hear my voice (on the message on the answering machine). I hear my sister’s voice (through the answering machine).

[I jumped up and got it. I thought it might be an emergency or something, but it wasn’t. So, I talked to her for a while and now I’m going to start 4’33” again.]

Anyway, like I was saying, it’s weird how you can think something like the sound of cars is the sound of the wind until you listen closer. (I guess the wind doesn’t really have a sound of its own, now that I think about it.) I think Zappa just closed and opened the piano lid or something. My neighbor called his dog in. I can hear my tinnitus. It sounds like you can distinguish between cars and trucks and even which way they’re going, but that might be an illusion because the highway is not that close. I hear my neighbor’s wind chimes. So now I am hearing the wind! No one’s honking. No, I take that back. Someone is uptight and just honked their horn—maybe they just want to get home, but still. I can hear a car right on my street now. I heard myself cough. Damn, it’s cold out. I heard Zappa close the piano lid again. I hear a garage door opening or closing. The piece just ended and a John Cale recording came on. One thing you can’t hear out here is the cold.

Terry Riley: “A Rainbow In Curved Air” (1969)

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

This work consists mainly of many multitracked keyboard (electric organ, electric harpsichord, and ‘rocksichord’) parts played by Riley. Although the keyboards differ in timbre, the piece has a sort of homogenous sound. But it’s a nice homogenous sound, a sort of nice, warm bath of ostinati, whirligig keyboard sounds taking off into outer space or wherever, and brilliant solos, which appear to be improvised.

It has a certain formal overall structure I’m sure, but it’s hard, at least for me, to discern it. For example, there’s a lovely part in the middle where everything goes quiet and then something sounding like a beautiful Bach line is played on the electric organ (which sounds more like a beautiful cathedral pipe organ than a B-3). This piece sounds as much like fusion jazz as it does classical music (and it sounds as much like classical music as it does fusion jazz). It’s sort of halfway between Joe Zawinul and Switched-On Bach.