At the outset, 11 chords are played through two breath cycles each. Then, each becomes a stage for a study in interlocking pulses that kaleidoscopically glimmer and whirl. The changes are marked by a rare non-repeating metallophone phrase watch the tall man with glasses waiting so patiently in the terrific Eighth Blackbird performance. Reich assigned the task to pianos and mallet instruments, roles that Hall, a pianist and percussionist, was well-prepared to merge.
Discarding the mallet instruments that make 18 Musicians hover, Hall instead makes it zoom. He rivets the core pulse to a muted piano, translates violin to electric guitar, and constructs the bass clarinet on a Moog synthesizer, sometimes swapping these voices around, as Reich does.
It amounts to a series of shrewd tradeoffs: prismatic color for shapely contours, organic breath for mechanical power. Yet the signature details and passages of the piece—which moves similar material through many moods, from sprightly to raucous to mystical—are all in place. After this movement has established fast, interlocking patterns for violin, piano, marimba and xylophone, there is a dramatic addition of slow-moving pairs of notes for the cello.
The constant churn of the work can tempt you to think of its appeal as ethereal, fit for background listening. But then some unexpected change—a complication of the suggested tonal center, or a transmutation of instrumental color—winds up commanding your attention. Where to go next? Reich took some time to figure this out—eventually composing a piece called Music for a Large Ensemble two years later. His settings of biblical psalms are flat-out catchy. Some sections of the piece have a chiastic ABCDCBA structure, and Reich noted that this one work contained more harmonic movement in the first five minutes than any other work he had previously written.
In a review of the release, AllMusic wrote that "when this recording was released in , the impact on the new music scene was immediate and overwhelming. Anyone who saw potential in minimalism and had hoped for a major breakthrough piece found it here. The beauty of its pulsing added-note harmonies and the sustained power and precision of the performance were the music's salient features; and instead of the sterile, electronic sound usually associated with minimalism, the music's warm resonance was a welcome change.
Very mathematical, yet also very, well, organic—the duration of particular note-pulses is determined by the natural breath rhythms of the musicians—this sounds great in the evening near the sea.
In , David Bowie included it in a list of 25 of his favourite albums, "Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie", calling it "Balinese gamelan music cross-dressing as minimalism".
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Steve Reich. ISBN X. Retrieved March 10, — via robertchristgau. Classical Net. Retrieved 12 October The Guardian.