Steve Reich and Rhythm in Chaos

I was talking to a friend of mine, who is also a musician, about our class on music, the refrain, minimalism and repetition and he introduced me to the work of Steve Reich, a minimalist composer of contemporary classical. (His name sounds familiar, I’m not sure if it came up in our class discussion or reading?) Anyway, I think some of you might find these pieces interesting so I’m posting.

I have no musical background so rather than try to introduce this piece myself I’m going to be completely informal and just cut and paste my friend’s response from gchat.

“any of Steve Reich’s phase music is amazing because there’s a pattern, two instruments, playing the same thing over and over, and one slightly moves faster (chaos) and it sounds sloppy, but he’s moving to the next 16th note, and then the music all of a sudden sounds different, when they’re still playing the same 5 notes over and over again, but now one guy sped up a lil so he’s a 16th note ahead, and then chaos again, now he’s 2 16th notes ahead, it’s magical”

I think this piece is an interesting example of how music can be very structured and still chaotic at the same time. Perhaps the chaos is rhythmical because of the repetition? Deleuze says there is always rhythm in chaos but I wonder if there would be rhythm if there were no repetition? Perhaps the refrain is repetition stripped of chaos?

I also think of the background sound of the city as an example of rhythm though chaos. On good days it almost sounds like music.

For me, good electronic or instrumental music are the ones that prompt my brain to take part in composing the music in much the same way as it does with the sounds of the city, for example.

These are just some thoughts. I’m also including a link to another one or Steve Reich’s pieces, which is amazing.


2 Responses to “Steve Reich and Rhythm in Chaos”

  1. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    “Perhaps the refrain is repetition stripped of chaos”

    Or, the refrain is the attempt to deny chaos in the name of repetition as return of the same. In DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION, Deleuze proposes two kinds of repetition: static and dynamic. The former attempts to deny difference in the name of sameness (in the name of identity). The latter affirms that repetition never repeats the same but always introduces difference, however infinitesimal or imperceptible to human perception or audition. What fascinated Deleuze in the 1960s (when D&R was published) were developments in serial and minimalist composition, as well as in other domains (such as Warhol’s silkscreens or his films where we are asked to watch minimal activity over a maximal duration), which seemed themselves to be exploring these dynamic repetitions and precisely by paying attention to the minute differences that adhere in supposedly identical things. What is affirmed is the difference – however small, however infinitesimal – that distinguishes this from that, which makes everything qualitatively distinct. Music is a particularly good example because it can be said to affirm the identity of difference, i.e., the ability of dynamic difference to itself form a provisional, ever-changing identity; an identity that we experience not in terms of sameness but in terms of difference.


    p.s. And thanks for the Reich. It adds a nice soundtrack to the page.

  2. Leif HUron Says:

    Also of interest to the conversation of sameness and repetition via the variable syntax in compositional placement are Reich contemporaries, Terry Riley [check out his early minimalist composition, In C ], the Dutch, Simeon ten Holt and his most wonderful, “Canto Ostinato for 4 pianos” [to be played to the point of physical exhaustion, inviting compositional alteration through a piece’s own unraveling] and LaMonte Young’s seasonally permanent, Dream House installation in Tribeca!!! Leif Huron

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