If you want to understand the grandness of Steve Reich (rye-sh) and his compositions and why motherfuckers ’round the world consider him the greatest living composer, you’ve first got to understand “Row, Row, Row, your boat”. So if you grew up with a fucked up family and never learned those nursery rhymes, first off, I’m really fucking sorry; secondly, shit works as thus (I ripped this bitch off another site. I’m not remaking the wheel.):
Soprano Alto Tenor Bass Row, row, row your boat, Gently down the stream. Row, row, row your boat, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Gently down the stream. Row, row, row your boat, Life is but a dream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Gently down the stream. Row, row, row your boat, Life is but a dream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Gently down the stream. Life is but a dream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.
This is the basic concept behind Reich’s biggest jams, but times a thousand. I know you didn’t want to learn anything, but stop whining and stay with me for a fucking second. I promise you that in this paragraph you’ll learn enough theory to, not only appreciate, but also perform Reich-style pieces (if you practice like a motherfucker that is). Okay? Fucking rights. The first track off this album, “Clapping music” which Reich threw down back in ’72, illustrates his technique perfectly. True to its name, the song is made up of two people clapping. They don’t sing, they just clap shit. That’s it. That’s all. Doesn’t sound too fucked up now, does it? Clapper one has a very specific rhythm. They stick to that shit throughout the entire song. It’s just like if you clapped out the soprano line in, “Row, Row, Row, your Boat”. Feel me? Alright. Clapper 2 enters the song and claps out the tenor line. This is really simple shit. Kids do this around the camp fire all the fucking time. Now, Reich adds one more tiny, but essential, step into the mix. After clapper two finishes their line, they skip a beat. Huh? Don’t worry, I’m right here. I’m not leaving you. After clapper two finishes clapping out that tenor line, they jump over to the alto line. Once they finish that alto line, they jump over to the soprano line, then to the bass line, then back to the tenor line and so on. That’s, it folks. You now know enough theory to understand the works of, arguably, one of the greatest living composers. How cool is that? Told you it was fucking worth it.
This album goes from some of Reich’s earliest work to some of his most modern (’72-’15). It’s like a Reich overview. The second clapper on that first song, that’s Reich joining in on this rhythmic party. However, the problem with laying down the math of Reich, like I just did, is now this shit might feel hella theoretical, mechanical, and rigid. This is exactly what Reich naysayers said about his music back in the ’70s. But they were fucking morons. I dare you to listen to “Music for 18 Musicians” and not groove the fuck out. It’s trippy. It’s fun. It’s relatable. It’s, somehow, easy to explain. It’s spacey as all hell. Just cause you know how something is made, doesn’t make it less beautiful. In fact, I’d argue that it adds a new perspective in which to appreciate it.
Colin Currie met Reich back in ’11 when Colin was playing Reich’s piece “Drumming”. Before that, Reich had his own ensemble that played his pieces. Nobody else really touched that shit. Pieces like “Music for 18 Musicians” was difficult to write down. It took a fuckton of practice to play. So when Reich saw someone like Colin just owning this shit straight boss, he was impressed. Now they play together.
Reich changed the game on what “classical music” meant. Like I’ve brought up before on this weirdo site, the classical music community sometimes gets off on dressing up like a fancy bitch. Rhythm isn’t supposed to be elegant, melody is. Reich turned this shit on its head. He created a simple concept that could be appreciated and explained to anyone. It doesn’t require 1000’s of hours of smarts and study in order to understand. It’s sophisticated, beautiful, and relatable music that a human with no theoretical training can understand. It’s a childhood sing-song game turned way the fuck up. And it still brightens and brings joy the same way it did the first time you heard it around a campfire.