Friday 7 June 2019. 1:45-3pm (Room 339)
Chair: William Richards, MacEwan University
Electrifying the Compositional Process: Steve Reich, The Four Sections, Electric Counterpoint, and a Macintosh Computer
Twila Bakker, Independent Scholar
Steve Reich’s style in the 1980s moved from strict pattern-based compositions towards more loosely associated melodic patterns. His work, during this period, was not a strict teleological development and he returned to and adapted earlier patterns in new ways. Amidst this re-imagining of his overall style Reich also went digital. The Four Sections (1987) and Electric Counterpoint (1987) were the first works Reich wrote with a computer as part of his compositional toolkit. It follows that an audible stylistic change might be expected with his digital shift. This paper explores Reich’s early digital adjustments by comparing The Four Sections and Electric Counterpoint’s extant sketch materials, housed at the Paul Sacher Stiftung (Basel, Switzerland). From the evidence provided in these sketches, it is possible to partially reconstruct his compositional process at the time which leads us to begin answering, what—if any—audible change electrifying this process had on his work.
Steve Reich’s The Desert Music employs Reich’s well-known compositional technique of melodic phasing, which places the theme against itself at various levels of metric displacement (Cohn 1992), creating multilinear melodic regions that challenge listeners to understand melody differently. Ian Quinn’s (1997) analysis of fuzzy contour relations in the piece provides quantitative evidence regarding the contour similarity of Reich’s melodies, but does not address complexities of Reich’s phased music. This paper uses fuzzy contour membership to analyze multilinear melodies resulting from Reich’s phasing technique. I model experiential possibilities within phased passages by mapping each melody’s contour onto a grid framed on the total attack points in the passage. This composite representation captures experiences of divergent contours throughout the passage, allowing for exploration of experiential possibilities afforded by the musical fabric. In doing so, I offer a more sensitive account of musical contour relations, providing a better understanding of Reich’s minimalist process.