Steve Reich – Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase (1980)


“Have you ever repeated a word over and over again until it loses meaning? Cognitive science calls this ‘semantic satiation.’ Now imagine that someone could do the same thing for instruments and you’ll have a clear idea of the power of a Steve Reich composition. In this selection of three longer examples, we get exactly that: an unraveling of music’s genetic code, transformed from within. It is for this more than any other reason that I’ve always been wary to use the word “minimal” in reference to Reich’s music, which is endlessly complex and never fails to engender new discoveries with every listen. The instruments in Music For A Large Ensemble fit perfectly in a vast sequence of aural DNA, as logical as it is mystifying. Every voice is given ample breathing room in a piece that, while densely layered, is as airy and ordered as a puff of windblown dandelion. Strings waver with the unrelenting heat of a desert sun, horns ebb and flow in a brassy wash of equilibrium, and a vibraphone rings out like magic over all. Although the music moves mechanically, its feel is decidedly organic. This earthiness is maintained in the Violin Phase, which consists of a repeated motif that, as with all of Reich’s “phase” pieces, is knocked just slightly out of alignment by the doubling voice, like two turn signals rhythmically staggering and realigning. This is the most localized of Reich’s phases, clearly rooted as it is in the bluegrass fiddling tradition. The violin grinds like dirt or sand, small particles swirling and separating yet holding fast to some invisible predictability. After two such strikingly different pieces, the Octet somehow comes across as the most intimate. The inclusion of wind instruments, and in particular the clarinet and flute, adds a crystalline contrast in texture and melodic shifts, bringing us to a glorious and sudden silence. …”
ECM Reviews
W – Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase
allmusic
Discogs (Video)
YouTube: Octet / Music for a Large Ensemble / Violin Phase 3 videos

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