Reich City Life; Proverb; Nagoya Marimbas

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REICH City Life; Proverb; Nagoya Marimbas

  • City Life
  • Proverb
  • Nagoya Marimbas

“How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life” (Ludwig Wittgenstein) – an apposite quotation chosen by a man who has spent virtually his whole life filling musical compositions with minimalist ideas. Where Steve Reich scores is in the sheer quality of those ideas; their power, purity and potential for elastic expansion or contraction. It’s gonna rain, Drumming, Music for 18 Musicians, Music for Large Ensemble, Different Trains and now City life all make maximum creative capital out of a few strong ideas. The Wittgenstein quotation (Culture and Value, written in 1946 but published many years later) serves as the basis of Proverb for three sopranos, two tenors, vibraphones and two electric organs, a composition that was premiered as a partial work ‘in progress’ at a 1995 Prom. The complete piece (it plays for some 14 minutes) holds together very well. Three sopranos “sing the original melody of the text in canons that gradually augment, or get longer”, whereas Perotin’s influence can be heard in the tenor parts. Reich’s skill at inverting, augmenting and generally transforming his material has rarely sounded with such immediacy.
After a virtuosic, pleasantly up-beat Nagoya marimbas (four-and-a-half minutes’ worth of hyperactive – and melodically rich – rhythmic patterns), comes City life, in my view Reich’s best piece since Different Trains (1988). The sound-frame includes air brakes, pile drivers, car alarms, boat horns and police sirens, all of which are loaded into a pair of sampling keyboards and played alongside the instrumental parts (two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets and pianos, plus string quartet and bass). The first movement opens with what sounds like a distant relation of Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments then kicks into action on the back of a Manhattan street vendor shouting “Check it out”. The second and fourth movements witness gradual acceleration – the second to a pile driver, the fourth to a heartbeat – and the third has the two sampling keyboards engaging in top-speed crossfire based on speech samples. The last and most dissonant movement utilizes material taped when the World Trade Centre was bombed in 1993. I’d describe City life as a tightly crafted montage, formed like an arch (A-B-C-B-A), lean, clever, catchy and consistently gripping. In fact the whole disc (all 42 minutes of it) should thrill dyed-in-the-wool Reichians and preach convincingly to the as-yet unconverted. The sound is excellent.'

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