Steve Reich Biography

Stephen Michael Reich, 3 October 1936, New York City, USA. Reich studied philosophy at Cornell University and composition at Juilliard School of Music and, moving to California, at Mills College with avant garde composers Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud. He supported himself while at college by working as a drummer, but declined to follow an academic career and became a taxi-driver in 1963. In 1966 he formed a group, Steve Reich And Musicians, to play his compositions. In the 70s he studied African drumming in Ghana and gamelan music and Hebrew cantillation in the USA. One of the founders of the Minimalist/Systems/Process/Repetitive (choose your own label) school, his music is deeply rooted in African, Balinese and Baroque music, having less overt connections with (and less influence on) rock and new age than, say, Terry Riley, Louis Andriessen or Philip Glass.

However, his astonishing early tape works, My Name Is, Come Out and It’s Gonna Rain, anticipated by a good 15 years techniques now in common use in scratch and hip-hop, as well as using them in ways with which rock has never caught up. His work has ranged from the most minimalist (Clapping Music, which is just that, two people clapping, working through a pre-determined rhythmic process, and Pendulum Music, for microphones that are set swinging over amplifiers until the feedback pulses resolve into a continuous tone) to The Four Sections, a concerto for orchestra, and The Desert Music for orchestra and choir, which examines the premise that humankind has only survived because it has been unable to realize its ambitions: now that it is able to do so it must change its ambitions or perish.

Desert Music characterized Reich’s move towards a fuller, more conventional orchestration, a development that meant that performances of his music would have to involve resources beyond those of his own ensemble. (In fact, Reich had never restricted the use of his scores in the way that Philip Glass had done.) However, he still composed for small forces as well, and in 1988 he wrote Electric Counterpoint for guitarist Pat Metheny. This was coupled on record with Different Trains, a remarkable work reflecting on the Holocaust and devised for live string quartet, pre-recorded string quartet and sampled voices. He recently completed a music theatre piece about the prophet Abraham, important to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, called The Cave, which incorporated a video film by his wife, Beryl Corot.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.