Second Inversion’s Top 5 Moments of 2016

2016 was filled with lots of fun on our 24/7 stream, video production studios, & blog, but this year we really focused on getting out in the community. While these digital offerings reach people world-wide, we are grateful to connect with our Seattle-area fans and like-minded folks! Here are our top 5 moments/events/milestones/projects/good times listed in chronological order.

This is the final post in a series of Top 5 of 2016 lists (check out our Top 5 Videos,Top 5 Albums, and Top 5 Blog Features).

February 1, 2016: Co-presenting Brooklyn Rider and Gabriel Kahane at the Tractor Tavern

2016-02-02-09-03-04

When we had the opportunity to team up with Tractor Tavern to co-present Gabriel Kahane and Brooklyn Rider, we jumped for joy and hopped aboard. The honky-tonkin’ venue was filled with people from all walks of musical life and a great showcase of how to – as we like to say around here – Rethink Classical. Click here for a review of the performance.


April 9, 2016: Second Inversion Presents: Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with Tamara Power-Drutis

Second Inversion moved up and over to the Eastside to close Classical KING FM’s inaugural concert series On Stage with Classical KING FM at Bellevue’s newest concert hall, RESONANCE at SOMA Towers. The Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with the inimitable, versatile vocalist Tamara Power-Drutis, transformed popular song into art song, in a program that re-imagined the work of artists such as Radiohead, Beck, Bjork and others as intimate and emotional chamber works born for the recital hall. 

Best of all? Back by popular demand, they’ll be performing again next year on April 15, 2017! Tickets are on sale now.

All photos by Jason Tang.


May 26, 2016: Second Inversion Showcase at the 2016 Northwest Folklife Festival

This spring, we came together to celebrate the sounds of the Pacific Northwest in our 2nd annual Second Inversion Showcase at the Northwest Folklife Festival, which featured performances by the bi-coastal brass quartet The Westerlies, the innovative and always-interactive Skyros Quartet, and the boundary-bursting Sound of Late.

All photos by Maggie Molloy.


July-November: New Music Happy Hours hosted by Second Inversion and the Live Music Project

Second Inversion and the Live Music Project host monthly(ish) Happy Hours at the Queen Anne Beerhall for anyone and everyone with an open mind and a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue about music and art in Seattle and beyond. Sign up for e-mail alerts to find out when the next one is occurring!

All photos by Maggie Molloy.

October 3, 2016: Steve Reich at 80

reichat80Second Inversion celebrated Steve Reich’s birthday in huge style with a 24 hour marathon of his music on our stream. Our staff and over a dozen community members joined in the fun by contributing recorded introductions to their favorite Reich pieces and by writing mini-reviews. We have more 24 hour marathons planned for 2017, birthday and non-birthday related!

Second Inversion’s Top 5 Videos of 2016

Second Inversion is proud to produce video sessions in our studios and in beautiful venues around Seattle. You can peruse them all on our video page, but here are the top 5 viewed in 2016!

#5: Andy Akiho: in/exchange for string quartet and steel pan (featuring Friction Quartet)

#4: John Cage: Living Room Music (featuring So Percussion)

#3: Steve Reich: Cello Counterpoint (featuring Rose Bellini, cello)

#2: Gabriel Kahane: Bradbury (304 Broadway) from “The Ambassador” (featuring Gabriel Kahane and Brooklyn Rider)

#1: Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint (featuring Rachel Yoder, clarinet)

Stay tuned for more great videos to come in 2017!

2017 New Music Grammy Nominees

Extra! Extra! The 2017 Grammy nominees have been announced and we’re here to celebrate the discs that have been featured as our Album of the Week or in regular rotation on our 24/7 stream. Congratulations to all of the nominees!

2016 Second Inversion Albums of the Week

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Steve Reich — Third Coast Percussion (Cedille)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 15-19

51moxudgtlIn their new album, the quartet surveys the composer’s works for percussion over a four-decade span, beginning with the most recent: his three-movement Mallet Quartet. Composed in 2009, the work is scored for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas. Third Coast Percussion twirls effortlessly through the circling motives and interlocking canons of the two outer movements, transitioning seamlessly both in and out of the central slow movement. A stark musical contrast between the thinly textured, almost transparent middle movement against the persistent pulse of the outer two brings color and narrative to the piece. – Maggie Molloy

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Serious Business — Spektral Quartet (Sono Luminus)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 8-12

dsl-92198-coverSpektral’s new album, titled “Serious Business,” is anything but serious. The album comprises four different perspectives on humor through the lens of classical music, featuring three new works by living composers and one classic from that late, great father of the string quartet, Joseph Haydn.

But don’t let the lighthearted humor fool you—these guys are no classical music newbies. Comprised of violinists Clara Lyon and Austin Wulliman, violist Doyle Armbrust, and cellist Russell Rolen, the Spektral Quartet performs music from across the classical music spectrum. The group is committed to creating connections across the centuries and providing a discourse between the traditional classical canon and the, well, not-so-traditional contemporary classical canon. – Maggie Molloy

Best Music Film

The Music Of Strangers — Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble (Sony)
Second Inversion Album of the Week July 25-29 (companion album to the film)

Sing Me HomeWe need music now more than ever—not as a distraction or an escape, but as a gateway toward experiencing our shared humanity. We need music to open our hearts, our ears, and our minds. We need music to connect us in ways which transcend language, religion, tradition, and geography.

That’s the idea behind Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a global music collective comprised of performers and composers from over 20 countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. – Maggie Molloy

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Real Enemies — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (New Amsterdam)
Second Inversion’s Album of the Week October 10-14

a2976727568_16Whether you’re a conspiracy theory junkie or a sideline skeptic, even the most patriotic of us loves a good old-fashioned conspiracy. Whether it’s the Watergate scandal or the inner-workings of the Illuminati, alien sightings or the mysterious murder of JonBenét Ramsey, we just can’t help but turn up our ears when we hear a juicy top-secret scheme.

And since we’re already listening, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue decided to take our eavesdropping ears to the next level: his new album Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration into America’s unshakable fascination with conspiracy theories. Performed with his 18-piece big band Secret Society and released on New Amsterdam Records, the album traverses the full range of postwar paranoia, from the Red Scare to the surveillance state, mind control to fake moon landings, COINTELPRO to the CIA-contra cocaine trafficking ring—and everything in between. – Maggie Molloy


2016 albums in rotation on Second Inversion’s 24/7 stream

Best Surround Sound Album & Best Engineered Album, Classical

Dutilleux: Sur La Mêe Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L’Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) (Seattle Symphony Media)

mi0004097456

Best Contemporary Classical Composition

Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky — C. F. Kip Winger, composer (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) (VBI Classic Recordings)

winger-album-cover

New Music Concerts: December 2016 Seattle * Eastside * Tacoma

SI_button2Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and be sure to tag it with “new music.”


Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15
Check website for complete listings

2
Luke Fitzpatrick performs Cage and Partch
John Cage’s Freeman Etudes plus the first-ever performance of Harry Partch’s 17 Lyrics by Li Po in its entirety, scored for the composer’s handmade adapted viola and intoning voice.
Fri, 12/2, 7:30pm, Jones Playhouse | $10-$20

2-4
The Esoterics: TEASDALE: Across the endless spaces
A journey with The Esoterics’ resident composer emeritus, Donald Skirvin, on his choral “love affair” with the rhapsodic American poetess, Sara Teasdale.
Fri, 12/2, 8pm, St Stephen’s Episcopal Church | $15-$25
Sat, 12/3, 8pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church | $15-$25
Sun, 12/4, 7pm, Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma | $15-$25

3
Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night
Experience a beautiful mix of electronica & non-denominational caroling. Download the free mobile device app or free music tracks at unsilentnight.com.
Sat, 12/3, 6pm, On the Boards | FREE

6
Seattle Collaborative Orchestra: Questions & Answers
SCO features a new work by Roosevelt High School and Rice University graduate Brendan McMullen along with works by Ives, Lili Boulanger, and Tchaikovsky.
Tues, 12/6, 7:30pm, Roosevelt HS Auditorium | $10-$20 (18 & under free)

6
Town Music: Blackbird, Fly!
Daniel Bernard Roumain & Marc Bamuthi-Joseph explore their identities, pay tribute to their role models, and inhabit their place in contemporary American society.
Tues, 12/6, 7:30pm, Town Hall | $5-$20

6
UW Modern Ensemble: Steve Reich 80th Birthday Celebration
The UW Modern Music Ensemble presents a program devoted to the music of renowned living composer Steve Reich, celebrating a milestone birthday year.
Tues, 12/6, 7:30pm, Meany Hall | $10

9
STG Presents: Matmos: Ultimate Care II
Matmos celebrates the release of their new album, constructed entirely out of the sounds generated by a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II model washing machine.
Fri, 12/9, 8:30pm, The Vera Project | $15

10
Inverted Space Ensemble performs La Monte Young
This extended performance of Composition 1960 #7 will feature both the Harry Partch Harmonic Canon and Adapted Viola.
Sat, 12/10, 8pm, Gallery 1412 | $5-$15

10-11
Choral Arts Northwest: Not One Sparrow Is Forgotten
Joined by guitarist Bob McCaffery-Lent, this new-music-focused performance is intended as a respite from this usually harried time of year.
Sat, 12/10, 8pm, St. Joseph Parish | $24-$28
Sun, 12/11, 3pm, Plymouth Congregational Church | $24-28

10 & 17
Seattle Pro Musica: Star of Wonder
Music from around the world that evokes the holiday season from medieval chant to recent works by Judith Weir, John Rutter, & Gabriel Jackson.
Sat, 12/10, 3pm & 7:30pm, Seattle First Baptist | $12-$38
Sat, 12/17, 3pm & 7:30pm, Bastyr Chapel, Kenmore | $12-38

18
Serendipity Quartet: Sunnier, Rainier: A String Quartet for Seattle
A balanced program of Shostakovich, Dvorak, and the world premiere of Adam Stern’s Crossroads which explores the dynamic nature of Seattle.
Sun, 12/18, 7pm, Town Hall | FREE

18-19
NOCCO: Solstice Celebration
Celebrate the return of the light with a sonic respite: music of Stravinsky, Respighi, Bach, and Seattle composer Angelique Poteat.
Sun, 12/18, 7:30pm, Magnolia United Church of Christ | $15-$30 (under 18: FREE)
Mon, 12/19, 7:30pm, University Unitarian Church | $15-$30 (under 18: FREE)

Reich at 80: A Second Inversion Reichathon

We are celebrating Steve Reich’s 80th birthday in great style with a 24/7 streaming marathon of his music. Tune in all day!

We’re also paying tribute with reflections on these three ECM recordings, re-released in honor of the big 8-0.

csllmcxwiaaxh_o r-290971-1325192979-jpeg

Two sonic worlds collide in Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians: the mechanical and the meditative. The piece layers the intimate, organic rhythm of the human breath above the hypnotic rhythmic pulse of pianos and mallet instruments, thus creating two different aural experiences of time—simultaneously.

Composed amidst the social revolution following the Vietnam War, Music for 18 Musicians spoke volumes about that period in American history: its driving rhythms and circling melodies suggested optimism, harmony, and progress. In fact, Reich included more harmonic movement in the first five minutes of this work than in any other composition of his to date.

He based the entire work on a cycle of eleven chords played at the very beginning of the piece, which are then stretched out across the entire 60 minutes to serve as a larger harmonic backdrop—effectively turning that eleven-chord cycle into a pulsing cantus for the entire piece.

Masterfully performed with his Grammy award-winning ensemble Steve Reich and Musicians, Reich arranged for each of these harmonic shifts to be cued audibly by the melodies of the metallophone (a vibraphone with no motor) rather than through a conductor. His reasoning? “Audible cues become part of the music and allow the musicians to keep listening.” – by Maggie Molloy

 

reich-octet

The second disc of the ECM New Series anniversary set of Reich recordings features three works: the Music for a Large Ensemble of 1978, Violin Phase of 1967, and the Octet of 1979. A reissue of the label’s 1980 release, the polished sound of this recording is somewhat astounding. The performances are fantastic and un-conducted, performed by a crack team of chamber musicians that play with excellent pitch and execute the rapid, sparkling eighth note runs that drive this music with flawless technique. The composer himself performs on piano in Music for a Large Ensemble. Though occasionally balance can feel biased toward the endlessly jamming notes in the piano and mallet instruments to the detriment of female voices or long string chords, the sound of this recording is generally well rounded. These performances don’t at all have the feel of a premiere recording of music that is brand-new; instead it seems like we’re hearing accounts of works that have been performed many times and have already entered the canon of late-20th Century music, as Reich’s works now have. It may have been recorded in 1980, but this is an album fit for 2016 and beyond.

This part of ECM’s exploration offers us different perspectives of Reich’s instrumental works, both large and small. Shem Guibbory’s performance of Reich’s Violin Phase is placed between the two ensemble works, standing apart both in character and in compositional process. A recording of the violinist performing one phrase is repeated, with the same recording layered over itself first in perfect unison. The recordings are then shifted gradually so they play in an ever-changing canon, eventually adding a third recording of a countermelody that helps to spin the work into an almost symphonic concert piece. Rhythm alone drives the tension and release of this work, as we are occasionally frustrated by the chaos of the sound of the same phrase being played just slightly out of sync with itself, but find repose when the clatter locks into a cohesive rhythm. I love the way the stereo sound is mixed in this recording, such that we can feel the different Shems standing in a sort of semicircular ensemble in front of us.

The addition of voices to the mix of a wind and percussion instruments, as Reich does in Music for a Large Ensemble, is an interesting choice on multiple levels. First, it most explicitly characterizes this genre of Reich’s music as a result of the singing of the human voice, when in other Reich works, the constant bouncing of the eighth note runs can make it feel mechanical and, well, un-singable. This quick figuration often disguises the more vocal qualities of his instrumental works like the Octet, which features long lines in the string instruments, and in some works Reich makes a point to use brass and woodwinds to play a recurring chordal figure that can only be played in one breath. The human breath is then more of a measure of time in Reich’s music than the bar, that tyrannical measure of music that organizes everything into groups of four beats (or less often in Reich’s music, three, five, six, etc.). Thus, the use of voices and trumpets in Music for a Large Ensemble not only adds interesting timbres of sound, it changes our perception of units of time. The juxtaposition of these fast and slow elements happening simultaneously (and often in canon within themselves), shows Reich firing on all cylinders.

These effects that work so well in Music for a Large Ensemble are accomplished on a slightly more intimate level in the Octet “Eight Lines,” where two pianos are the only instruments of percussion used, joined by two flutes, two clarinets, and four strings. Like an intricate painting that reveals stunning detail when viewed very close but grandiose images when viewed from far away, Steve Reich’s music offers different levels of experience when listened to in different ways. A gradual zooming-out seems to take place over the course of the Octet, with the long line in the strings that starts with a single chord transforming into a long, flowing melody by the end, threatening to overwhelm the eighth note motor of the pianos and woodwinds.

All three performances have a sparkling joy to them which, beyond showing a technical mastery of the many elements of these works that are difficult to accomplish in precisely the same way throughout, show off groups of musicians that act as fantastic advocates for Reich’s music. In a way, the fact that so much of this music could be performed well by computers in all their unfailing precision is dangerous, because it is this element of joy that is the crucial end goal of all those notes and repeating figures, an element of distinctly human touch. It makes the artistry of these Reich recordings all the more valuable. – Geoffrey Larson

 

tehillim1In celebration of Steve Reich’s 80th birthday, I am delighted to be writing about the re-release of the fantastic 1981 ECM recording of Tehillim. This is a superb recording of a fascinating piece. This performance (which includes the composer as a player) is practically perfect, showcasing the beautifully clean, warm, and streamlined sound of Reich’s music. Furthermore, the intricately economical construction of this piece, which reveals more layers of internal connection the more deeply one delves into it, makes these two tracks an excellent way to spend 30 minutes.

In Reich’s own words, Tehillim can be seen as both “traditional and new at the same time.” This pleasing dichotomy, referring to both Reich’s own traditions and those of Western Art Music as a whole, runs throughout the piece. Tehillim is Steve Reich’s first explicit musical foray into his Jewish heritage. Reich began studying Jewish cantillation in 1976, and traveled to Israel the following year; these experiences would contribute to the eventual composition of Tehillim in 1981. In total, even though this piece diverges from many of Reich’s typical practices, Tehillim still has the balance of energetic and meditative elements that makes all of Reich’s music so appealing. Additionally, Tehillim is remarkable in the tightness and efficiency of its construction; many elements of this piece interlock and relate to one another in a manner that is extremely pleasing in its economical nature.

The balance between old and new in Tehillim is in large part connected to Reich’s choice of source text. The word “Tehillim” is the Hebrew word for Psalms; it from that book of the bible that the text for this piece comes. In making this choice, Reich gave himself space in which to create; in almost all modern versions of Judaism, the traditional of singing the Psalms has been lost. This allowed Reich to select source text that was not loaded with accompanying musical baggage.

Getting into the actual music of Tehillim, many elements of Tehillim center on the source text. The instrumentation, musical patterns, and harmonic movements all have roots in the Psalms. Psalm 150, an excerpt of which forms the text for the final part of Tehillim, even provides basic instructions for instrumentation! It mentions drums, strings, winds, and multiple types of cymbals as instruments with which to execute praise, and all of those instruments are represented in the piece. Reich’s inclusion of clapping and maracas also have roots in the music of the Biblical period.

The rhythmic patterns in Tehillim are significantly different from minimalism for which Reich is best known. Instead of the short repeating patterns seen in piece like Music for 18 Musicians, the rhythms in in Tehillim stem from the rhythms of the text itself; Reich would later use this technique in pieces including The Cave (1993) and Different Trains (1998). So, instead of the “traditional” repeated short rhythms expected in Reich’s music, he achieves continuity with four-part canons, “functional” harmony, and imitative counterpoint, techniques which are more closely associated with more traditional Western Art Music than with Reich’s music.

Although those traditional techniques come from the Common Practice period of Western Art Music, there are other influences here, too, that contribute to the juxtaposition of old and new in Tehillim. In addition to the biblically-inspired instrumentation, the vocal parts are sung without vibrato, harkening back to ancient singing styles. Additionally, the rhythmic action that underpins most of the work has the complex interlocking structures that, while common in much of Reich’s music, do not come from any Western tradition.

Despite all of the intricately crafted and tightly interrelated elements of this piece that apparently diverge from Reich’s standard techniques, Tehillim still sounds like Steve Reich. While not repetitive, the rhythms here still have an energetic constancy that recalls Reich’s other work. The non-vibrato vocal parts also sound like Reich; the same technique is present in Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ and Music for 18 Musicians. Also, in Tehillim, as in Music for 18 Musicians, the voices are used as instrumental colors, although since there is text Tehillim, the voices do more than just add color. However, Reich does not seem to draw a distinct line between these two functions of the voice in Tehillim; the voices enunciate the text in repeating phrases, then extend the final sounds of those segments to blend back into the ensemble color, returning to more purely instrumental vocal sounds of Music for 18 Musicians. So, while the four-part canons and (gasp!) functional harmony may not be expected, Tehillim is clearly still classic Reich.

Overall, the effect of this piece is one of meditation followed by joy. The instrumentation, although strongly tied to the Psalm 150 text, provides a comforting sense of intimacy when combined with Reich’s supremely effective orchestration. This is perhaps a reflection of the meditative and self-searching origins of the piece.

Like many larger-scale works of minimalism, the feeling at the end of this piece is one of a coming ecstasy. It is the building knowledge that a tremendously positive event is imminent, and that the event will be overwhelming but also at least partially unknowable. In the case of a work focused on exploration of religion, this feeling might be better described as the sense of approaching a great mystery: one which will be joyful and significant, even though it remains eternally enigmatic. – by Seth Tompkins


And for some more memories down Steve Reich lane, here are some of our past features on his music:

Third Coast Percussion Album Review

51moxudgtl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Music Apps, including Steve Reich’s Clapping Music

steve-reich-clapping-music-1

Videos produced by Second Inversion:

And a bonus tribute from community member Michael Schell:

Steve Reich at 80

A triumvirate of composers — Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass — has come to epitomize minimalism as it coalesced in New York in the 1960s. Of the three, Riley can claim precedence (his In C got the ball rolling in 1964), and Glass can claim the most commercial success. But I think it’s Reich who earns the most admiration from other composers, perhaps by a wide margin. It’s not just because his music is sophisticated and groundbreaking, but also because it has a kind of integrity that reflects the rigor and commitment to exploration that Reich has always brought to his creative process (and indeed to his life). Consider the range of Reich’s early experiments:

  • Tape pieces where he layers short loops of recorded speech until they become melodic (Come Out)
  • Live electronic music (Pendulum Music)
  • “Phase” pieces for a solo instrument playing in and out of sync with its prerecorded copy
  • The piece Four Organs, unique even in Reich’s output, basically a 20-minute rhythmic elaboration of a single E11 chord

It wasn’t until after he went to Ghana in 1970 to study Ewe drumming that Reich’s most recognizable style took shape: percussion-centric ensembles playing highly contrapuntal music built from short, repeated, syncopated phrases. This is the sound world of his most famous works (like Music for 18 Musicians) and there was every opportunity to cash in and churn out piece after piece using the same formula. But instead Reich kept moving forward, trying out atonal harmonies in The Desert Music, digital sampling in Different Trains and intermedia in The Cave, always meticulously crafting the finished product to his highly self-critical standards.

At 80, Reich has seen his compositions recorded, discussed and analyzed many times over (well, except for Come Out, which lacks a conventional score, though I have a go at transcribing one here). And nowadays it’s easy for composers to write music that sounds like Reich. But it’s the integrity behind Reich’s work that I think will most powerfully define his legacy and keep it relevant for generations to come. – Michael Schell

 

NEW VIDEO: Steve Reich’s Violin Phase

by Maggie Stapleton

Violin Phase is the final installment in our Steve Reich Counterpoint/Phase video trio, joining New York Counterpoint and Cello Counterpoint, available on our video page. All three pieces, plus Reich’s Nagoya Marimbas, were presented on a concert at On the Boards on February 2, 2016 organized by James Holt and Erin Jorgensen.

This version of Violin Phase is performed by Luke Fitzpatrick (violin solo) using a custom live electronics looping system developed by Marcin Pączkowski. The traditional performance of this piece involves either four violin players, or one player who prepares a pre-recorded tape loop in the studio. In this version, the tape loop is substituted with the live electronics system, which uses no pre-recorded material. The sound of the violin is captured and “looped” in real time, during the performance of the piece. The looping process involves a precise time-stretching algorithm used to align not only whole loops, but also each beat within each loop. Multiple measures are subject to looping, increasing the diversity of the repeating sound. In order to ensure rhythmic precision, live electronics performer is supervising the semi-automated beat-detection mechanism, making adjustments on-the-fly if necessary. He is also responsible for triggering recording and playback in the appropriate sections of the piece.

Pretty awesome, don’t you think?

ALBUM REVIEW: Third Coast Percussion | Steve Reich

by Maggie Molloy

51moxU+dgtL

Minimalist composer Steve Reich is best known for his experiments into “phase music”—that is, music which features two (or more) musicians playing identical lines of music, synchronously at first, but gradually shifting out of unison with one another. As the cycle slowly unfolds, new melodies are created by the ever-changing aural interactions of the two identical lines of music.

But just like his phase music, Reich never repeated the same thing exactly twice—in fact, over the past five decades he has built an extraordinary compositional career by maximizing very minimal melodic content. That’s because his compositions are music of process, and his melodies are created through use of repetitive figures, slow harmonic rhythm and canons, perpetual cycles, and, of course, unwavering originality.

With his explorations into rhythm and articulation, Reich redefined the melodic possibilities of percussion instruments in particular—which is why Third Coast Percussion decided to pay tribute to the minimalist mastermind in their latest album, titled “Steve Reich.”

Third Coast Percussion

Comprised of percussionists David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and Sean Connors, Third Coast Percussion is committed to exploring and expanding the vast sonic possibilities of the percussion repertoire—and there is plenty to explore in Reich’s work alone.

In their new album, the quartet surveys the composer’s works for percussion over a four-decade span, beginning with the most recent: his three-movement Mallet Quartet. Composed in 2009, the work is scored for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas. Third Coast Percussion twirls effortlessly through the circling motives and interlocking canons of the two outer movements, transitioning seamlessly both in and out of the central slow movement. A stark musical contrast between the thinly textured, almost transparent middle movement against the persistent pulse of the outer two brings color and narrative to the piece.

What follows is a performance of Reich’s 1985 Sextet featuring pianists David Friend and Oliver Hagen. Scored for three marimbas, two vibraphones, two bass drums, crotales, sticks, tam-tam, two pianos, and two synthesizers, it’s safe to say it’s not your average percussion lineup. And yet, Third Coast and company succeed in creating a sonically cohesive narrative, each instrument carefully balanced against the rest of the group. Over the course the piece’s five continuous movements, repeating melodic motives and chord cycles form expansive, gradually evolving musical textures—and the musicians glide through these timbral changes with the utmost sensitivity and precision.

Peter Martin and Sean Connors perform the next duet on the album: the virtuosic “Nagoya Marimbas.”  Composed in 1994, the piece harkens back to some of Reich’s earlier explorations into phase music, though in this work the repeating patterns are more melodically developed and change more frequently. Martin and Connors delicately shape and shade each pattern with artistry and finesse—making this deceptively buoyant piece sound deceptively easy.

The album comes to a close with a performance of Reich’s 1973 composition “Music for Pieces of Wood” featuring percussionist Matthew Duvall. Scored for just five pieces of wood tuned to specific pitches, the work reminds us of the primeval nature of percussion—and the vast possibilities for music with even the simplest of instruments. Of course, it also allows Third Coast an opportunity to showcase their incredible rhythmic precision and skill without timbral or textural distractions. The piece is an entire kaleidoscope of sound, a pointillist painting of constantly shifting musical patterns.

Because if there’s one thing Reich has taught us, it’s that a little musical material can take you a very, very long way. And if there’s one thing Third Coast Percussion has taught us with this album, it’s that Reich’s music is so much more than just a phase.

Steve_Reich_photo_credit_Jeffrey_Herman