I've been listening to the album of two works by Steve Reich: You Are Wherever Your Thoughts Are, and his Cello Counterpoint.
Grant Gershon leads the Los Angeles Master Chorale and musicians. For scoring, Reich has used minimal strings, pianos, marimbas, and of course, voices. The composer says (from the interview, linked above) that he was after some of his earlier works in terms of getting back to the "fun" of composing, citing Desert Music and Tehillim as points of inspiration. The reviews on Amazon are interesting: some are rather ebullient with five stars, other folks don't like this release. It seems hot or cold, not unlike people's reaction to Reich in general. Of all the music I play, my partner can't really stand "Reich." "Oh that stuff, I don't like it... how can you listen to it?" I find Reich's music hypnotic and modern, it's sound in motion. Like Ravel's Bolero, it grows over time, and the music in some ways is less predicable than Bolero, yet, it's far more texturally-interesting. The juxtaposition of the percussive sounds is an intoxicating sound, one that I explored myself in a work scored for ten pianos. Like Reich, I turned to digital technologies to make my piece. In the You Are variations, Reich takes away the use of taped loops or sequencers and makes an "acoustic" piece that is only aided by amplification of the individual voices. I bought the recording for the ultimate work: Cello Counterpoint. I had a hunch, but no real confirmation, that I heard this piece "live." At one of the NECC conferences I attended (Atlanta, perhaps), they opened one general session with a live cellist playing music. She was playing against a moving backdrop, which was apropos for Reich's music. It was wonderful, delicious music. To this day, I can't tell you if this was the piece, but I would wager in favor of it being it. The cellist plays against recorded tracks of him or herself. Like You Are, Reich's music presents performance challenges. While the music may sound mechanical or meditative, there's a skill to playing those patterns. I can't say that I see the textual references realized in Reich's work here... but I found the interview telling in some of his thoughts. For me, the music speaks to me well enough without interpreting the text. It's pure texture to me, in much the same way Tehillim was. Since buying this album as a digital download, I don't even have the liner notes with the texts available to me as I listen. Some folks would call foul here, noting the importance of the text towards understanding a piece of music. While I cannot disagree, I also would posit that a lot can be enjoyed from music without the text. I grew up during the 1980s listening to pop music which I more often than not missed the words completely... they were sounds amid one or two recognizable sounds, here or there. You could say I didn't sing along terribly much. And that's how I hear Reich's music. You Are's biggest asset perhaps is its palatable length. It doesn't go overboard in terms of length. There are four main sections before we get, on the album, the 11-minute cello piece. There's much to like here if you're a fan of Steve Reich. This album might also be a great introduction. For the novice to his music, I might proffer letting the sound wash over you first. Upon repeated listenings, you'll notice the complexity of how the textures and patterns "fit" together (or do not). It's this interweaving detail that reveals Reich's music like a tapestry, one that reveals itself to you over time, with patience and our joy and capacity to hear.