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Famous Like Me > Composer > R > Steve Reich

Profile of Steve Reich on Famous Like Me

Name: Steve Reich  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 3rd October 1936
Place of Birth: New York, New York, USA
Profession: Composer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
This article is about the American composer. For information on the U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan, see Steve Reich (Army).
Steve Reich

Steve Reich (born October 3, 1936; last name pronounced [ɹaɪʃ]) is an American composer.

Life and work

Reich is popularly regarded as repetitive and minimalist, but in some works deviates from a purely minimalist style, which shows some connection to Minimalism and the work of Reich's visual artist friends such as Sol Lewitt and Richard Serra.

Reich's music explores such ideas in contemporary music as using tape loops to create phasing patterns — amongst Reich's first works, It's Gonna Rain, Come Out, Drumming, and others — and using processes to create and explore concepts in music (Pendulum Music, Four Organs).

Reich achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Cornell University in 1957, attended the Juilliard School and, from 1961 to 1963, Mills College in Oakland, California with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud. His works, particularly Drumming (1971), show the influence of African music, Reich being especially influenced by A. M. Jones's Studies in African Music about the music of the Ewe people of Ghana. Eventually he travelled to Ghana to study drumming. He also studied Balinese gamelan in Seattle. Around this time he formed his ensemble, Steve Reich and Musicians, which was to be the sole ensemble to interpret his works for many years; the group remains together today with many of its original members.

After Drumming, Reich moved on from the "phase shifting" technique that he had pioneered, and began writing more elaborate pieces. He investigated other musical processes such as augmentation (the temporal lengthening of phrases and melodic fragments). It was during this period that he wrote works such as Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (1973) and Four Organs.

Four Organs deals specifically with augmentation, and was based on a piece written in 1967, Slow Motion Sound, which was more of a prototype piece. Having never been performed, the idea of slowing down a recorded sound until many times its original length without changing pitch or timbre was applied to Four Organs. The result was a piece with maracas playing a fast quaver pulse, while the four organs stress certain quavers using an 11th chord. This work therefore dealt with rhythmic change and repetition. It is unique in the context of Reich's other pieces in being linear as opposed to cyclic like his earlier works.

In 1974, Reich began writing what would be classed as his seminal work by most, Music for 18 Musicians. This piece involved many new ideas, although it harked back to earlier pieces. The piece is based around a cycle of eleven chords introduced at the beginning, followed by a small piece of music based around each chord, and finally a return to the original cycle. The sections are aptly named "Pulses", Section I-XI, and "Pulses". This was Reich's first attempt at writing for larger ensembles, and the extension of performers resulted in a growth of psycho-acoustic effects, which fascinated Reich, and he noted that he would like to "explore this idea further". Reich remarked that this one work contained more harmonic movement in the first five minutes then any other work he had written.

Later that same year he published a book, Writings About Music, containing essays on his philosophy, aesthetics, and musical projects written between 1963 and 1974. An updated collection, Writings On Music (1965-2000), was published in 2002.

In 1993, Reich collaborated with his wife, the video artist Beryl Korot, on an opera, The Cave, which explores the roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The two collaborated again on the opera Three Tales, which concerns the Hindenburg disaster, the testing of nuclear weapons on Bikini Atoll, and more modern concerns, specifically Dolly the sheep, cloning, and the technological singularity.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has created choreography to Reich's works which he has expressed admiration for.


Reich's style of composition has influenced many other composers and musical groups, including the rock band King Crimson, the group of composers associated with the Bang On A Can festival (including David Lang and Julia Wolfe), and indie rock musician Sufjan Stevens. He has also influenced visual artists such as Bruce Nauman.

His music has also been quite influential to ambient and techno musicians. A melodic line from his 1987 work Electric Counterpoint was used by The Orb in their 1991 hit Little Fluffy Clouds. This connection has been honoured in a 1999 album by DJs and electronic musicians, Reich Remixed, released on Nonesuch Records.


"(...) I drove a cab in San Francisco, and in New York I worked as a part-time social worker. Phil Glass and I had a moving company for a short period of time. I did all kinds of odd jobs (...) I started making a living as a performer in my own ensemble. I would never have thought that it was how I was going to survive financially. It was a complete wonder."

"I had grown up with what I often refer to as the “middle class favorites”: Beethoven’s Fifth [Symphony], Schubert’s Unfinished [Symphony], … Broadway shows. I’d never heard any music composed before 1750 and I’d never heard any music composed after 1900. I’d never heard any jazz. (...) (then) I heard recordings of the “Rite of Spring”, the Fifth Brandenburg [Concerto] , Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and the drummer Kenny Clarke. And it was very much as if you’d lived in a house and someone said, “Well, you’re 14 now and there’s a room in the house you haven’t seen.” They opened the door, I walked in the room, and I never really left."

From an interview with Gabrielle Zuckerman, 2002 (see Links)

"The point is, if you went to Paris and dug up Debussy and said, “Excusez-moi Monsieur…are you an impressionist? ”, he’d probably say “Merde!” and go back to sleep. That is a legitimate concern of musicologists, music historians, and journalists, and it’s a convenient way of referring to me, Riley, Glass, La Monte Young (...) it’s become the dominant style. But, anybody who’s interested in French Impressionism is interested in how different Debussy and Ravel and Satie are - and ditto for what’s called minimalism. (...) Basically, those kind of words are taken from painting and sculpture, and applied to musicians who composed at the same period as that painting and sculpture was made(...)."

From an Interview with Rebecca Y. Kim, 2000,

Notable works

  • It's Gonna Rain, tape (1965)
  • Come Out, tape (1966)
  • Piano Phase for two pianos, or two marimbas (1967)
  • Violin Phase for violin and tape or four violins (1967)
  • Pendulum Music (1968)
  • Four Organs for four electric organs and maracas (1970)
  • Drumming for 4 pairs of tuned bongo drums, 3 marimbas, 3 glockenspiels, 2 female voices, whistling and piccolo (1970/1971)
  • Six Pianos (1973) - Transcribed as Six Marimbas (1986)
  • Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (1973)
  • Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76)
  • Music for a Large Ensemble (1978)
  • Octet (1979) - arranged for ensemble as Eight Lines (1983)
  • Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards for orchestra (1979)
  • Tehillim for voices and ensemble (1981)
  • The Desert Music for chorus and orchestra or voices and ensemble (1984, text by William Carlos Williams)
  • Sextet for percussion and keyboards (1984)
  • New York Counterpoint for amplified clarinet and tape, or 11 clarinets (1985)
  • Electric Counterpoint for electric guitar or amplified acoustic guitar and tape (1987, for Pat Metheny)
  • Different Trains for string quartet and tape (1988)
  • The Cave (1993, with Beryl Korot)
  • City Life for amplified ensemble (1995)
  • Proverb for voices and ensemble (1995, text by Ludwig Wittgenstein)
  • Triple Quartet for amplified string quartet (with pre-recorded tape), or three string quartets, or string orchestra (1998)
  • Three Tales (1998-2002, with Beryl Korot)
  • Dance Patterns for 2 xylophones, 2 vibraphones and 2 pianos (2002)
  • Cello Counterpoint for amplified cello and multichannel tape (2003)
  • You Are (Variations) for voices and chamber orchestra (2004)
  • New piece for three string quartets, four vibraphones, and two pianos (2005)

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Steve Reich