KS3: Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians (excerpt)
- Born: 1936
- Nationality: American
Why is he a Trailblazer?
Smashing musical boundaries, trailblazer Steve Reich mixed together his classical training with his love of African drumming, jazz and pop music, and helped to invent a whole new form of music: minimalism.
His innovations have created the rich, diverse musical world we live in today.
In the 1960s Reich experimented with sampling and looping tapes, after noticing an exciting effect when two tape recordings of the same phrase ‘It’s gonna rain’ gradually ‘phased’ in and out of sync with each other. Reich then applied ‘phasing’ to musical instruments, such as two pianos, and with clapping hands.
Curious about many different types of music, in the 1970s Reich travelled to Seattle to study the Balinese gamelan and to Ghana, to study West African drumming – and his own piece, Drumming, was inspired by his time there.
Reich’s music has inspired people like Brian Eno and David Bowie and reflects the development of musical styles like hip hop and dance music. He has been called America’s greatest living composer.
Music for 18 Musicians
Steve Reich’s music strips away long, unfolding melodies and complex harmonies and focuses instead on a very few, or minimal, parts: beats, rhythms and pulses, and slowly changing and repeating patterns.
Reich had already explored musical patterns by clapping hands, striking bits of wood and playing two pianos – but, in 1970, Music for 18 Musicians was his biggest experiment so far.
The result is a shimmering, rippling musical tapestry, with instruments, including voices, keyboards, tuned percussion instruments and maracas, creating layers of sound.
Different instruments and rhythms rise to the surface as the musical landscape gradually shifts.
Listening to Steve Reich’s work can be an intense and hypnotic experience!
Why not explore (and learn) the repeating musical patterns in Kerry Andrew’s No Place Like?
Or you could see how John Adams uses the ideas of minimalism in his Short Ride in a Fast Machine.
Explore our other Figurenotes arrangements and discover more about Inclusive music-making with Ten Pieces.
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