Dubbed as our “greatest living composer”, Steve Reich has pioneered contemporary music and minimalism for over half a century, becoming synonymous with his use of repetitive phrases and unorthodox rhythms.
First originating these sounds in the 1960s, alongside contemporaries like Philip Glass and Terry Riley, Reich used innovative methods that were leaps and bounds ahead of their time, thus changing the course of contemporary music composition forever.
It’s his unusual approach to rhythm and scoring that first captivated British producer K-Lone whilst at university. The Wych boss and Wisdom Teeth co-founder, who has just released his debut album Cape Cira on the latter imprint, fed some of this influence into the release through his use of tone and repetitive ideas. Here he unpacks Reich’s impact on him alongside a tribute mix of his favourite compositions.
Cape Cira is out now on Wisdom Teeth.
Why does Steve Reich mean so much to you?
I think I’m drawn to his music particularly having played drums when I was younger and also in orchestras. I think his music and style removes a lot of the rigidity of classical music that I really didn’t enjoy, working with unusual ensembles and interesting ways of scoring, where the music is different each time depending on who plays it. I also love the way he experimented with sampling like in It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out, or picking melodies directly out of spoken voice recordings in his reflective pieces on 9/11 (WTC 9/11) and the Holocaust (Different Trains).
What makes a Steve Reich record so unique?
I think his use of rhythm would be his music’s most identifiable characteristic, he was massively influenced by polyrhythms in Ghanaian drumming and Balinese Gamelan and I think using these rhythmic patterns with western instruments and harmony create his unique sound.
When did you first hear Steve Reich music and what impact did it have on you?
The first time I heard Reich was at University, we listened to “Come Out” – a piece he wrote in commemoration of the Harlem Six – a group of black youths wrongly convicted for the murder of a shop owner in 1964. It’s a very simple piece where Reich essentially DJs a recording of an interview with one of the Harlem Six together with itself. It starts with “I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them”, then it repeats “Come out to show them” but with one of the tapes playing ever so slightly faster which creates a crazy phasing effect where you start to notice strange changes in the rhythm of the voice and the original recording becomes unrecognisable. I think it it’s a great example of minimalism and how you can make something amazing out of a repeated 2 second clip.
What’s your most sacred Steve Reich record and why?
It’s got to be Music for 18 Musicians, the whole thing is a bit of a masterpiece. Firstly because it has loads of xylophones in which you can’t really beat right? But also the use of rhythm and structure – the piece is based on a progression of 11 chords separated into 12 sections that are each about 3 minutes long, bookended by “pulses” at the beginning and end which use the whole progression in one section. It creates this juxtaposition of sounding like it’s staying in the same place because the harmony stays the same while the rhythm creates this persistent movement. Some phrases are to be played as long as one single breath, I think subconsciously this does make the piece almost seem to breath in and out while you’re listening. There also isn’t a conductor so there are signalling tunes which will let the other players know they’re coming onto a new section. He’ll also have repeated melodies which change each time they’re hard, adding or removing a note each time it plays.
How did Steve Reich influence your sound on Cape Cira?
I think his music really inspired Cape Cira in terms of the enjoyment you can still receive from the repetition of the same idea. Also in terms of harmony, Reich’s music its very tonal and so is Cape Cira, I think it can often end up sounding a bit too sickly sweet but I would like to think is balanced out with the odd changing rhythms.
How did you approach this mix? What did you want it to say about Steve Reich and his music?
I definitely wouldn’t consider myself an expert in Steve Reich’s music and used this more as an excuse for me to do my own research into his discography. Many of these pieces are part of a much longer compositions and probably should be enjoyed as such but I’ve just picked out some of my favourite bits. It’s maybe a good starting point for any one who likes Music For 18 Musicians and wants to delve into his other work. I also thought his music would lend well to layering with each other wanted to see if I could try to beat match his pieces together – which might’ve worked better in some places than others.
What would you say is Steve Reich’s biggest legacy on electronic music?
I think a lot of the methods he was incorporating can now be replicated much more easily on a computer, polyrhythms lend themselves very well to generative music, there are Euclidean rhythm generators and programs where you can procedurally change rhythmic patterns. His music focuses on repeating phrases and changing them over long periods of time which I think naturally will always feed back into looped music and live sets.
Steve Reich – Come Out
Steve Reich – Mallet Quartet – III. Fast
Steve Reich – Electric Counterpoint 3 (Fast)
Steve Reich – New York Counterpoint – 2
Steve Reich – Drumming, Part II
Steve Reich – It’s Gonna Rain, Part II
Steve Reich – Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ
Steve Reich – WTC 9/11: III.
Steve Reich – Different Trains (After the War)
Steve Reich – Six Marimbas
Steve Reich – Clapping Music
Steve Reich – Variations For Winds, Strings And Keyboards
Steve Reich – 2×5: II. Slow
Steve Reich – Mallet Quartet: II. Slow 80 bpm
Cape Cira is out now on Wisdom Teeth.