Tag Archives: Steve Reich

The Lammermuir Festival 2010

Yesterday was an interesting and unusual one. NBHS Activities Week had conferred upon my Tuesday a blank canvas which would normally be spent on a variety of tasks: reports; admin; writing ensemble arrangements for next session – or for primary/secondary liaison events towards the end of this term.

However, this day was a little different. It kicked off with a meeting to talk through the logistics (transport, amplification, etc.) of a group of NBHS pupils who are to appear at the opening ceremony of the 18th Commonwealth Forestry Conference in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. This is a real coup for the pupils to represent their school, county and country at this prestigious event. The opening ceremony is on Monday 28 June and I hope to post any ensuing audio or video footage here.

Following this I went with Julia Wilson (PT Music) to the National Museum of Flight (East Fortune)

for the launch of The Lammermuir Festival 2010. From 10-19 Sept, this new festival will feature a variety of concerts in some of East Lothian’s most attractive and unusual venues. James Waters of Festival & Events International talked us through the genesis and gestation of the idea and Hugh McDonald (director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra from 1991 to 2006) talked us through some of the events, featuring artists such as: Scottish Chamber Orchestra; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Dunedin ConsortPhilip Higham; Navarra String Quartet; National Youth Choir of Scotland & Mahan Esfahani featured here in Bach’s English Suite No. 5:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/dkDOYCjJI08?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

On Saturday 18th September, my East Lothian colleague and friend, Chris Day (on the right of the picture),

will give performance (or rather three performances at 1:00, 2:00 and 3.00) of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. This work features one live electric guitar in conjunction with eleven pre-recorded guitars (there go his summer holidays) – in surround sound. In the hangar which houses Concorde, this should be an audio treat. This clip will give you some idea of the work:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/dwxKtr5nF7Y?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Later in the day, the team were to discuss ways in which pupils in East Lothian school pupils can  become involved. When I find out more, I’ll post details here.

Piano Phase

While looking into YouTube for illustrative material, I came across an accidental learning network which took me from vague understanding of a piece to one sufficient to recreate the piece from its DNA. Let me explain.

The piece concerned is Steve Reich‘s Piano Phase. (Part 1 on YouTube here – Part 2 here).

Reich, probably the best known minimalist composer, stumbled upon phasing technique by accident. He explains in this clip (at 2:30) from a South Bank Show special. The same recorded musical fragment was copied onto two separate tape loops (it was the 60s after all). Both machines were started simultaneously but, because few such machines run at exactly the same speed, one began to edge in front of the other – creating (the impression of) new rhythms and melodies emerging. Eventually they would end up back in sync.

Piano Phase, the first live phasing piece, begins with a 12-note fragment which you can see at 5:46 in the clip. This was a real find – the DNA of the piece. I decided to construct a version of the piece from that. The musical motif is to be played simultaneously by two pianists. Then one will edge ahead of the other. A live human performance would allow one person to make tiny, almost unnoticeable adjustments. Using score writing software – I had to choose specific durations and decided that the size of step I would take would be half the length of the notes themselves. This means that, following the initial exposition of the theme, the music would move through 24 noticeable changes before returning to synchrony. In the following midi file (which really represents a portrait of the piece, as opposed to the piece itself) the piano on the right edges forward while the one on the left holds to the original pulse. Each edging forward takes place after 4 repetitions.

Piano Phase 

Having seen the outcome of this, I realised that the apparent simplicity of this music belies the incredible difficulty in performing it. Reich himself in the South Bank Show interviews, stressed how this requires listening at an intense level. Various phasing pieces ensued over Reich’s career. Some are played by two or more people and some by one person against a recording. This amazing and beautifully shot film of (parts of) Piano Phase features Peter Aidu playing solo, on two pianos:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/qKXy1FPTdvg" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I was pleased at having learned so much about the piece and the compositional techniques but ended up being more interested in the following question: if you were taking part in such a piece would you prefer to play with/against:

  • another live musician?

  • a recording?

  • yourself?

Here are some other versions of Piano Phase on YouTube:

video phase      with dancers      DJ remix

Steve Reich also has a MySpace, which includes the entire South Bank Show documentary as well as extracts from My Name is Daniel Pearl; Fast; Music for 18 Musicians; Different Trains; & Electric Counterpoint.


Of paperless-chases and half-lives

One of the joys of reading and writing blogs is the feeling of things linking together. The apparent link between ideas, topics, resources etc. may be ephemeral or even illusory, but who cares? If it sparks some vaguely creative thinking then its half-life has not been in vain. The following paperless-chase occurred within the space of a few hours:

Alex Ross, award winning author of The Rest Is Noise, flagged up two interesting videos on minimalist composer Steve Reich. These were housed courtesy of Pitchfork who also have an archive of music videos, including this creative piece entitled Furr by Blitzen Trapper. The video style reminded me somewhat of Terry Gilliam and The Mighty Boosh – but also of the excellent explanatory videos offered up by Common Craft. What I feel these three sources of video have in common (no pun intended) has to do with the following phrase:

“you make it look so easy!”

This phrase, depending on inflection, can point in two opposing directions:

  • you have made this look so easy that I feel inspired to have a go

  • it’s easy for you – there’s no way I’ll ever be able to do that

Now, it’s difficult to say how much of this is in the mindset of the beholder as opposed to the intention of the practitioner, but the collage-based, low-budget (in the most positive sense of the word) work of the above people seems, to me at any rate, to embody the spirit of the former interpretation.

That’s why, a few hours later, I was inspired to see this post on the blog of David Gilmour – the technical brains* behind eduBuzz. What struck me particularly were the plans to use Flip video in primary schools. It’s clear that the aforementioned, collage-based videos are the fruit of skillful, painstaking and artistic editing as opposed merely to point-and-shoot but, nevertheless, I feel that the mood and spirit of them is what is being hoped for. It’s certainly what I imagine in my hope that primary school instrumentalists (and those responsible for them) can be convinced to film their definitions of musical concepts for wordia.

Those who have winced at the awful and forced puns I’ve contrived to use as blog post titles over the last couple of years will hopefully share my admiration for the titular imagination of this fantastic film, directed by Erik Werner. The song, by Christian Kiefer, comes from the album Of Great and Mortal Men – 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidents and the song is called Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus.

* it is possible that being known as “the technical brains” can suggest that the bearer is at one remove from the inspiration, ideology and artistry of a project – in the case of David Gilmour and eduBuzz, nothing could be further from the truth.