Steve Reich is a composer of music that gets loosely lumped into the classical genre. But make no mistake-his music will never be mistaken for Mozart, Beethoven or Bach. At age 62, Steve Reich's music is contemporary enough that he's been sampled by the Orb and has been honored by a remix CD from the likes of DJ Spooky, Howie B and a lot of other DJ types. He first made a name for himself in the mid 60's as part of a group of musicians that were later labeled 'Minimalists.' His early pieces like It's Gonna Rain and Come Out used two tape recorders to play back two identical tape loops that slowly went out of phase or re-generated into new sounds. This may sound kind of gimmicky or simple, but you really have to hear it to experience the depth and complexity within the minimalism (pun intended). This begins to explain why DJs and current artists experimenting with electronics are inspired by his music. He went on to further explore these ideas with live musicians and by the mid 70's he had already moved beyond the strict confines of minimalism and has since explored many tonal and instrumental palettes including opera and compositions for full orchestra. Last year saw the release of the 10 CD boxed set, Works 1965-1995, of all his music up to that point.
John: So, what are your thoughts on recording. I know the early tape pieces, you must've been pretty much on your own...
Steve: Did it at home. I had very minimal equipment. In those days when I did "It's Gonna Rain," I had a Viking stereo deck and two Wollennsack monodiscs, which are like the first tape recorders that became commercially available in the '50s. It was pretty poor equipment from our standards. But the lesson is, if you do a good job, if you maximize your signal to noise ratios and take the best care as you can, then the grittiness and the graininess of those pieces are a plus not a minus. In the 70s and the 80s I worked a lot with the multitrack machines on half-inch tape. I had a Teac 8-track machine which I did Music for 18 Musicians on. I've been using that equipment and then more recently of course, everybody's gotten into computers and I'm no exception. I use a Macintosh and I use Finale and I've also used Digital Performer and been able to integrate digital recording into that. When we go into the recording studios, we've gone into large studios and we've gone into small studios, basically recording live with, usually, almost no over-dubbing, unless you're talking about a piece like Electric Counterpoint where it is an overdub piece. But, Music for 18 Musicians was recorded in a pop studio in Paris for ECM. We had a little separation between the players. The room was basically dead and the reverb was added later. More recently, City Life was recorded at the Hit Factory in New York, which is a very big studio, but pretty much the same way. I think the idea of doing it yourself, which has been around the recording world for awhile now, is a very healthy one and a very, very good one. The good news is phenomenal equipment is increasingly available at a relatively modest price, and that keeps on improving. So there's gotta be reason to believe that people can produce albums of rather excellent quality in their homes.
It seems that the bigger studios are becoming less the norm. Most music that people hear, except for the huge pop hits with tons of money thrown at them; a lot of it is done in smaller project studios.
Exactly. You master onto a DAT, which is a small item and anybody can cut CDs now. The whole thing is just getting easier and easier to accomplish.
How did the remix CD come about?
Well, what happened was this guy in Japan by the name of Shiro Nakishima who works for Nonesuch in Japan and knows some of the Japanese remix- ers Kanishi and Nakamura. I guess it was about '96 and he said to me y'know these people are really interested in your music. You oughta do a remix album. And I said, 'That's an interesting idea. Why don't you see if it can work.' It turned out that there was a lot of interest amongst the DJs in doing something like this and they began sending stuff in and we all began listening to it and here it is. I'm very pleased with it. You know it's not really my music. In a sense, I've done nothing. I just said yes as opposed to saying no. But what's nice to see is what I've called poetic justice. I mean, when I was a 14 years old I used to go to Birdland which was a big jazz club in those days and hear Miles Davis and the drummer Kenny Clark and later on I used to go to hear John Coltrane innumerable times when he was doing what was called Bolo jazz. A lot of music, very few chords. This had a huge affect on me. This is like 1950s, 1960s. Then, in the 1970s in London we gave a concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall and at the end of the concert, a guy came up with long hair and lipstick and said, "Hi. How are you doing? I'm Brian Eno." Shortly after that David Bowie came to the performance for Music for 18...
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