Steve Reich Keys, a Mixtape, Vol. 1

The idea for this mixtape came to me about a year ago, after an exchange with an online friend. Steve Reich has often described the role of keys and chord cycles in his compositions. This retrospective treats Reich’s oeuvre as a meta-cycle of chords, by pitch matching one track to another where their endpoints share a common harmony (an application of the DJ technique of harmonic mixing).

Sometimes the shared harmony is present only for a few seconds, long enough to make a link. Sometimes the keys match; sometimes only a subset of pitches does. Occasionally, the voicing matches exactly, or the pairing otherwise exposes the uncanny in Reich’s rigour.

There’s no intentional comment or structure in the selection of pieces, which are usually single movements from a larger work.

No software alteration of the pitch of the original tracks was used. The pitch matching relates to the key signatures as written, performed and recorded.

Tracklist & Artists
(harmonies and/or keys at start & end points)
Timings factor in crossfades where applicable

0:00:00-0:04:37
Mallet Quartet, III. Fast (2009)
So Percussion
(G Lydian or A11/G in D; A11 leading to Dsus2)

0:04:37-0:08:53
Music for 18 Musicians, Section I (1974-76)
Steve Reich and Musicians
(Dsus2 in D)

0:08:53-0:13:02
You Are (Variations), II. Shiviti Hashem L’Negdi (I Place the Eternal Before Me) (2004)
Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon
(A11/G in D)

0:13:02-0:15:17
The Cave, Act 1: West Jerusalem (May-June 1989), III. Genesis XII (1990-93)
The Steve Reich Ensemble, Paul Hillier
(G Mixolydian; A Lydian or B13/A)

0:15:17-0:17:46
The Four Sections, II. Percussion (1987)
The London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas
(A Lydian or B13/A)

0:17:41-0:20:53
2×5, II. Slow (2008)
Bang on a Can
(A Lydian or B11/A; F Phrygian dominant in key of B-flat minor)

0:20:37-0:28:06
Different Trains, II. Europe-During The War (1988)
The London Steve Reich Ensemble, Kevin Griffiths
(F Phrygian; Gmin11/D)

0:27:25-0:29:59
Three Tales: Hindenburg, III. A Very Impressive Thing to See (1998-2002)
The Steve Reich Ensemble, Synergy Vocals, Bradley Lubman
(D dominant in G minor)

0:29:52-0:33:15
Triple Quartet, III. (1999)
Kronos Quartet
(D dominant in G minor; E minor)

0:33:16-0:37:41
Nagoya Marimbas (1994)
Bob Becker, James Preiss
(E minor; Esus7)

0:37:33-0:40:16
New York Counterpoint, II. Slow (1985)
Evan Ziporyn
(B Dorian or E11)

0:40:17-0:45:03
City Life, III. “It’s Been a Honeymoon – Can’t Take No Mo'” (1995)
The Steve Reich Ensemble, Bradley Lubman
(B Dorian or E11; D dominant in G)

0:45:04-0:55:06
Daniel Variations, IV. I sure hope Gabriel likes my music, when the day is done (2006)
Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon
(E minor; D dominant in G)

0:55:04-0:59:34
WTC 9/11, III. WTC (2010)
Kronos Quartet
(Dsus leading to G dominant; D-flat sharp 11 in F minor)

0:59:34-1:06:25
Variations for Vibes, Pianos & Strings, II. Slow (2005)
London Sinfonietta, Alan Pierson
(D-flat sharp 11 or E-flat 11/D-flat in A-flat major; C11/B-flat in F)

1:06:25-1:11:29
Duet (1994)
The Smith Quartet
(C11/B-flat; F major)

1:11:25-1:16:11
The Desert Music, First Movement – Fast (1984)
Steve Reich and Musicians with members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Michael Tilson Thomas
(F Mixolydian; D Dorian minor)

1:16:06-1:24:45
Vermont Counterpoint (1982)
Ransom Wilson
(D minor leading to G Dorian minor; Asus7 in D)

1:24:45-1:31:33
Double Sextet, III. Fast (2007)
eighth blackbird
(A11/E; A11, A-D dyad)

1:31:34-1:44:09
Piano Counterpoint (2011), from Six Pianos (1973)
Vincent Corver
(D major; B minor)

1:43:34-1:56:23
Come Out (1966)
Steve Reich
(B minor, approximately a quarter tone sharp)

1:55:44-1:57:59
Proverb (1995)
Theatre of Voices with members of The Steve Reich Ensemble, Paul Hillier
(B minor)

Compiled and mixed April 2012

Creative Consultant: Ashil Mistry

There is a version of this mix available which includes the complete track of Proverb. Send me a private message.

As part of the ongoing study and critical appreciation of the music of Steve Reich, this post falls under fair use. The copyrights for these recordings are owned by record companies ECM, EMI, Nonesuch, and Signum Classics, and not by me.

If you enjoy this music, please purchase the original recordings.

Madra, for string quartet

This work has had two incarnations. It began as Gram, a modular short score for variable instrumentation. It consisted mostly of single measures with repeat signs and a suggested number of repetitions shown just above. The title page indicated the score could be played by two percussionists and/or piano/synthesizer and/or string quartet. Performers were essentially invited to arrange the music themselves.

When Gram was workshopped by the Madawaska String Quartet, leading to an eventual premiere and recording, I was obliged to create a traditional score and set of parts. I gave the piece a new title, Madra.

It was at that point a fully realized, collaborative work. After several live performances it was recorded for commercial release. Below is an excerpt, followed by my notes from Madawaska’s CD prefab (available from the Canadian Music Centre and on iTunes).

Madra was composed in 1999 and revised in 2002, immediately after I participated in Madawaska’s composer workshop. Its title is also the first name of my maternal grandmother, to whom the work is dedicated. She was a farmer and schoolteacher in the Canadian West. I recall she would play hymns on the piano in Sunday school when I was very young and perhaps there is an echo of that here.

The quartet is in one movement with five sections: slow, fast, slow, fast, very slow. There are a number of audible influences on the piece: the repeating canons and modularity of minimalism; the polyrhythms and hocketing of Central and West African traditional music; and root-chord progressions from popular music. The harmony is diatonic, and there are measured amounts of harmonic stasis as found in some medieval vocal music and modal jazz.

With these influences in mind, all of the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic content is derived from the three-note cell repeated at the beginning. Symmetry is employed in a general way throughout, especially in the vertical construction of intervals.

When I presented the piece to the Madawaska Quartet, it had very few dynamic or expressive indications – in a naive way it was an “Art of the Fugue” approach to scoring. More than merely realizing and interpreting it, Madawaska has infused Madra with tonal colour and kinetic direction beyond what I could have imagined while composing. They have given the music a voice, and a sense of light and weightlessness.

performed by The Madawaska String Quartet
Rebecca van der Post, violin
Sarah Fraser-Raff, violin
Anna Redekop, viola
Amber Ghent, cello

Recorded by Garnet Willis, St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church, Toronto Islands, 2009
Mixed at Noisetree Digital
All rights reserved

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce Russell 2012

Crab Canons (On Six Notes)

I.

‘g/e’      c”/f’      b’/g’      c”/a’      b’/e’      a’/f’
c’/a       b/g        c’/f        g/e        a/f         b/e

II.

d”/b’     c”/f’     b’/g’     a’/f’     d”/g’     c”/a’
a/f         b/g       c’/f      d’/b      c’/a       d’/g

(2001)