Read CONVERSATIONS – a new book by Steve Reich by Steve ReichSteve Reich

A surprising, enlightening series of conversations that shed new light on the music and career of “our greatest living composer” (New York Times).

Steve Reich is a living legend in the world of contemporary classical music. As a leader of the minimalist movement in the 1960s, his works have become central to the musical landscape worldwide, influencing generations of younger musicians, choreographers and visual artists. He has explored non-Western music and American vernacular music from jazz to rock, as well as groundbreaking music and video pieces. He toured the world with his own ensemble and his compositions are performed internationally by major orchestras and ensembles.

I remember playing Steve Reich’s Different Trains for my Year 11 student’s when studying the Holocaust. I used it as a means of exploring how we represent a topic, such as the past. after reading Conversations, I wonder if I really understood the complexity of the piece at the time, let alone what my students thought.

Through conversations held during the peek of COVID lockdowns, as well as some pieces from the past, Steve Reich speaks with various people who have been a part of his music over time, including:

  • David Lang
  • Brian Eno
  • Richard Serra
  • Michael Gordon
  • Michael Tilson Thomas
  • Russell Hartenberger
  • Robert Hurwitz
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Jonny Greenwood
  • David Harrington
  • Elizabeth Lim-Dutton
  • David Robertson
  • Micaela Haslam
  • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
  • Julia Wolfe
  • Nico Muhly
  • Beryl Korot
  • Colin Currie
  • Brad Lubman

Whether it be a part of creating it, reproducing it or engaging with it, each of the conversations adds a different perspective to Reich’s music.

The book was inspired by Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. Like that book, it provides a means of looking back at a long and distinguished career.

What fascinates me about such a long career is how technology had changed and evolved and the impact that this has had. It is interesting to listen to discussions about phasing associated with It’s Gonna Rain and thinking about someone like Fred Again and his use of everyday samples. I would love to know Reich’s thoughts on this.

I recently read Tony Cohen’s Half Deaf, Completely Mad and was left thinking that there is so much about music that I just overlook. I think books like this, which dive into some more complex and technical topics, are useful in gaining a peek behind the curtain.


Chapter 3. Richard Serra

“Best to do what you have been assigned to do. I have been given my assignment just as everyone has his or her assignment.”

Chapter 4. Michael Gordon

I think of harmony like rocket fuel. It’s such a big event.

I think we all meet who we’re supposed to meet and encounter what we’re supposed to encounter, and how that works, we don’t exactly know.

Chapter 5. Michael Tilson Thomas

MTT: I think a lot of the time what a conductor does is to confirm things that are happening. That’s a very important role.

I was talking with Sondheim, and I asked him, “How do you get this marvelous continuity, it seems to just pour out of you.” He said, “I could ask you the same question. It takes an infinite amount of hard work to make something sound like it’s effortless.” And I totally agree. There is more in my garbage can, whether it’s on the Mac desktop or the one filled with paper, than there is on a printed page. And it’s always been that way. I am my own worst critic. There is no critic who can compare to the criticism that I have inflicted on myself.

Chapter 6. Russell Hartenberger

I’ve often thought, it’s as if some artists of the same generation have receivers built into their brains, so to speak, and if they tune in to the same stations, they bond together. There is something literally in the air. Artists will pick up on that, and for all kinds of reasons, whether they’re listening to non-Western music or early Bob Dylan or Junior Walker with a repeating bass line or the first prelude of the Well-Tempered Clavier with the same rhythmic pattern repeated or Pérotin with those long held tones. All kinds of things seem to lock in.

Chapter 10. David Harrington

If I’m channeling it, I’m just the channel, I just work here!

Chapter 19. Brad Lubman

Well, to tell you the truth, I have always written both in a manuscript book and worked in real sound. Earlier on I had tape recorders. For Piano Phase, I recorded the pattern, made a tape loop of it and then sat down and played against it. In Drumming, say in the marimba section, which phase position works best? One beat ahead, two beats? Try it. Record it. Overdub it. I have always worked in real sound. And during the process, I would play back those prerecorded sections and critique them, as well. When I was writing Tehillim and didn’t play strings or winds, I would play them on a synth. Also, during that period of time I worked with my ensemble, I would compose so much and then we’d get into rehearsal right away. So, my music was rehearsed and corrections made while composing. That way of working continued up through The Desert Music in 1984, where I could only rehearse [a] small group of instruments. I started using computer notation in ’85 with Electric Counterpoint. And I mocked up the guitar using a sampling keyboard with a guitar sample. Then, a couple of years later, I started using Sibelius computer notation software with midi playback. So, in a way, it’s been smoothly continuous, always rooted in sound and always rooted in revision en route.

Listened Episode 229: Steve Reich,Song Exploder – Steve Reich from Song Exploder

Steve Reich is a legendary composer who was one of the pioneers of minimalism. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and the New York Times called him “America’s greatest living composer.” I had the incredible honor of getting to speak to Steve Reich about his piece Different Trains, written for string quartet and pre-recorded performance tape. It was first performed in 1988 by the Kronos Quartet, and they released a recording of it in 1989, which won the Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. Different Trains is a piece about World War II and the Holocaust. It’s made up of three movements: America – Before the War, Europe – During the War, and After the War. For this episode, Steve Reich breaks down the first movement, which was inspired by his own childhood experiences.

I remember playing this track for my Year 11 English class as a different way of representing the past and experiences. Not sure they had much idea what was going on, but it also seems, from Steve Reich’s discussion that in some ways, neither did I. It was fascinating to hear Reich talk about melding together the different tempos and melodies. It was also fascinating the effort that he went through to produce a backing track to tie it all together.