Saturday, July 7, 2018

Cross-Dressing as Minimalism

Steve Reich : Pulses

In 1978 ECM released Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. Reich may be known as a minimal music composer but this work is far more sophisticated and layered than one's first listen may reveal. The composition begins with "Pulses" which introduces a hypnotic cycle of eleven chords. Each chord gets its own section. The "pulses" are now joined by marimbas and xylophones, then female voices. The entire effort is summed up with a return to "Pulses".

David Bowie listed the album among his 25 favorite of all time in an article for Vanity Fair, writing:

Bought in New York. Balinese gamelan music cross-dressing as Minimalism. Saw this performed live in downtown New York in the late 70s. All white shirts and black trousers. Having just finished a tour in white shirt and black trousers, I immediately recognized Reich’s huge talent and great taste. The music (and the gymnastics involved in executing Reich’s tag-team approach to shift work) floored me. Astonishing.

The Village Voice critic Robert Christgau graded the album an A- writing:

In which pulsing modules of high-register acoustic sound--the ensemble comprises violin, cello, clarinet, piano, marimbas, xylophone, metallophone, and women's voices--evolve harmonically toward themselves. Very mathematical, yet also very, well, organic--the duration of particular note-pulses is determined by the natural breath rhythms of the musicians--this sounds great in the evening near the sea. I find it uplifting at best, calming at normal, and Muzaky at worst, but as a rock and roller I often get off on repetitions that drive other people crazy. Usually, I should add, these people tend to be nervous anyway.

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