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Steve Reich

American composer Steve Reich has been a prominent force in American composition since the 1960s. Forming his compositions out of cyclic and harmonically static structures, Reich has worked extensively with a self-described "phase shifting" technique whereby two or more identical lines gradually move apart when one is lengthened or shortened in gradual increments while the other remains stationary. Reich came to this in the 1960s by experimenting with tape-loops played-back at slightly different speeds. This technique has roots in the canonic contrapuntal techniques of earlier masters such as J.S. Bach. Reich's music portrays a particular interest in non-European, non-discursive music such as African drumming, Indonesian gamelan, and Hebrew cantillation, all of which grow out of a natural propensity for reptition, and subtle but clear transformations. Reich's early music was also a return to tonal harmonic resources, while eschewing tonal harmonic motion. Born in New York in 1936, Reich went on to Cornell University from 1953 - 57, where he studied philosophy. He studied composition with Hall Overton there for two years, and from 1958 - 1961 studied composition with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti at the Julliard School. Reich earned his M.A. in music from Mills College in 1963, where he studied with Darius Milhaud and Luciano Berio. Reich spent the summer of 1970 studying African drumming at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. During the summer of 1973 he studied Balinese Semar Pegulingan and Gamelan Gambang at the American Society for Eastern Arts. Reich is also a keyboardist and percussionist, and in 1966 founded the group Steve Reich and Musicians, an ensemble of electronic keyboardists, percussionists, and vocalistss which has since grown to include up to twenty performers. Since 1971, the group has frequently toured the world, and have the distinction of performing at venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall and the Bottom Line cabaret. Reich's earliest works such as "It's Gonna Rain" and "Come Out" invoked his first use of the phasing techinique, and were composed entirely in the electronic studio. Shortly thereafter he moved to live instrumental works such as "Piano Phase" and "Violin Phase." HIs works eventually grew in size and formal complexity, best exemplified by "Drumming" (1971), a ninety minute elaboration of a single rhythmic cell, and "Music for Eighteen Musicians." At this time Reich's music also began to utilize a more rapid rate of harmonic change. In 1981 his "Tehehillim" uses more chromatic harmonies, ornate cantillation singing to texts from the Book of Psalms sung in Hebrew, and a less repetitive, more polyrhyhmic technique. He has also worked with larger orchestral and choral forces in (The Desert Music, (1983), which molds electronic synthesizers into the orchestration. "Different Trains" from 1988 finds Reich embracing digital samplers with a live string quartet. The samplers "play back" autobiographical fragments of spoken text that depict Reich's childhood memories of train trips between New York and Los Angeles, which are contrasted with the experiences of European Jewish children taking trains to concentration camps. The spoken samples, along with train whistles and additional string parts, are synchronized with the live string quartet. "Different Trains" was commissioned, premiered, and recorded by the Kronos Quartet and received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition in 1990. From 1996, "The Cave," a collaboration with Beryl Korot's explores the Biblical story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac, and has been acclaimed as a view into opera of the 21st century. Epic in proportion, the original five-screen, eighteen-musician production consists of edited documentary video footage timed with live and sampled music. Stephen Kingsbury

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