September 25, 2015

Steve Reich - Music For 18 Musicians, 1978

To celebrate our having posted 100 albums, I wanted to share a record that's so canonical that it would feel silly to post any other day. Steve Reich needs no introduction, and the influence of Music For 18 Musicians can't be condensed. Instead, here are Reich's liner notes that explain a bit about how the piece "works," including an interesting mention of borrowing the Balinese gamelan technique of using a distinct audio cue to call for a change in pattern. Here's a nice overview of the "building blocks" of the piece.

To keep it brief, I'll add that as a vocalist, the most exciting part about Music For 18 Musicians for me is its treatment of human breath and mechanization. The limits of human lungs (both for wind instruments and vocals) structure the pulse of the piece, and the other instruments are written to mimic the natural arc and fall of breathing patterns. Despite being built around such an organic phenomenon, the music is highly mechanized, a musical hybrid of human and machine. I'm always surprised that this is considered "minimalism," when in truth it's dizzyingly complex sonic embroidery. Sublime and light-dappled. Try it in headphones if you haven't before. Wild that this only took Reich three years to compose. Cheers!

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