Not so Easy as Pie Reich
August 6, 2008 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this question: I have the sheet music to Steve Reich's MUSIC FOR 18 INSTRUMENTS. I bought it to understand the piece better. But, the individual parts played by themselves sound nothing like the actual piece. I am not a good enough pianist to create a full piano transcription of the piece. Does anyone have any advice as to how to play excerpts from this score but still have it sound like Reich? ( Maybe someone who knows the piece better than I do.)
posted by wittgenstein to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
the thing about Steve Reich's music is that it is more concerned with timbre than it is with pitch, so trying to transcribe the piece to piano would be a waste of time anyways. There's a reason Music for 18 Instruments is called "Music for 18 Instruments." To me the most interesting part about the piece is that it brings your attention to the many different sounds of the instruments he uses and shows how they work together to make a new and very unique timbre. He uses many instruments to "amass" sound, which is a technique that is basically impossible to do on one instrument. I don't have any tips for you, but I wish you luck. (this is my first post!)
posted by azarbayejani at 8:33 PM on August 6, 2008

Blind leading the blind so far on this question. The piece is actually called Music for 18 Musicians. It's scored for four pianos, a number of marimbas, xylophone, vibraphone, maracas, clarinets, strings, and singers. It would be pointless to play the piece in piano since the whole idea is that there are all of these rhythms and melodies occurring, but in unison canon with each other. You'd need alien hands to replicate that amount of patterns on one keyboard, and the cumulative effect would be lost. This is because there are multiple layers in the piece. The pianos usually provide the rhythmic underpinning (like in the opening and closing Pulse sections), the strings, winds and singers alternate between the big "wave" patterns of crescendi and decrescendi, and melodic material. The mallet instruments provide both rhythmic drive and melody as well. It would be impossible for one person to emulate all of those layers simultaneously, so perhaps you should be content with just listening and trying to notice all of the layers and how the different sounds of the instruments blend together in interesting ways. And then, move on to more complex music such as Stravsinky's "Les Noces" which also uses four pianos and many percussion instruments.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 9:03 PM on August 6, 2008

The thing is with any Reich music, and minimalism in general is that it works on the basis of rhythmic displacement to create something that is more than the sum of its parts. For example, in the piece "Nagoya Marimbas", which I have performed whilst doing my degree in percussion, the two marimbas play basically the same patterns at the same time, but they are shifted over by a quaver or so from each other.

Minimalism was discovered whilst trying to get a stereo image out of two cassette recorders. Because of the natural discrepancies between the speed of the two recorders, each one drifted slightly out of sync with one another, and minimalism tries to emulate this to a degree.

Therefore, it would be completely unnatural and probably not worthwhile in the slightest attempting to play a piece of minimalism on piano alone, even if that work were for 2 instruments, and not 18!

I hope that helps... If you have any more questions, please let me know!
posted by mdavis1982 at 6:03 AM on August 7, 2008

I think you can recreate this piece, but maybe not how you thought you would. mdavis1982 was right when he/she described how Reich discovered his techniques with out-of-phase tapes. Where Reich moved from recording to live performance, I think you can achieve your goal by going somewhat backwards. In other words, reproduce this piece electronically.

I'll admit that I know little about the technical aspects of the programs you'll use to do this, so instead of a how-to, I'll just outline what you might want to try and other Mefites can help you with the nuts and bolts. Record yourself playing one part at a time (or input the notation of each part if you're able) , and then combine them with a program such as "Garage Band" or "Sibelius." Since the emphasis is on hearing the interplay among the layers I'd recommend recording/inputting only a few seconds at a time per instrument and then record/input the next instrument. Also, you might pick a good, meaty part that interests you instead of just starting at the beginning. You can then experiment by varying the playback speeds of each track to get the "out-of-phase" effect.

(Parenthetically, to mdavis1982, I offer John Adams's pieces "Phrygian Gates" and "China Gates" as examples of minimalism played on a solo piano. They're neat pieces.)
posted by lizjohn at 8:48 AM on August 7, 2008

Thanks to everyone for their thoughts. I marked all four answers as the best becaue I thought everyone had something to say.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2008

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