Friday, January 26, 2007

Steve Reich

The other evening coming home from work I was listening to a Steve Reich piece, one of those duets of his where two pianists are playing exactly the same phrase over and over, and then one gets out of synch slightly, and changes the sound of the rhythm, and then gradually they get further apart and slowly come together again. At first I just wanted to switch it off – there’s nothing more annoying than sheer repetition, but the subtle differences gradually got to me, and appealed. And really that’s all there is to this music: it’s like listening to something extremely mechanical that can’t quite stay in sync with itself, such as a large machine. There’s an odd fascination with it, and an irritation. I don’t know that you could call it music, as such, except in the broadest Charles-Ives sense.
At the moment, as I write this, there's something similar on the Concert Program. I don't know what it is, though it must end soon, because the requests section is due to start. It's more orchestral, but still has that awe-ful repetition going on, only here there's a bit more variety because there are more instruments. I'm not sure that I'd want to build my reputation on music that consists of tiny repeated phrases. I've just remembered that I've heard the Clapping Music recently too: that must be exceptionally difficult to do. Two musicians doing nothing but clapping, first in sync and then gradually out of sync. But in the end how is that particularly different from the piece I heard the other night? Or the thing that's on at the moment - which still hasn't come to an end?
Wait, it has come to an end, and it was Reich. But the announcer unhelpfully hasn't told us what it was exactly.

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