Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Music For Pieces Of Wood" by Steve Reich.

I recently found out about Steve Reich’s music and I’m mightily pleased that I have uncovered it. In my experience of him so far, I’ve found that he deals with unusual rhythms and the overlapping of them, where the instruments and sounds shift in and out of time to create novel and immersive landscapes which are quite unlike anything I’ve heard before. I could perhaps liken how unusual it is by referencing William Basinski’s “Disintegration Loops”, which, just as Reich has, presented me with a new idea of what music is, or can be, that was different to what I’ve been used to in my experience of the harmonic auditory realm thus far. Another departure which I think exists in a similar area outside of the worn structures of modern music is Brian Eno’s ambient work, which presents various forms of sonic mood and atmospheres rather than chords, lyrics and familiar beat patterns.

Basinski, Eno and Reich’s work are all tremendously absorbing. They act in a subtle way, choosing to not walk the already trodden paths which contain the peaks and troughs of excitement and intensity of verse/chorus/bridge structure that we might find in most contemporary music - instead drawing you in and creating a trance-like state as the music rises and falls with gradual intensity, creating moods and space which allows your attention to drift in and out, taking you along with the music and giving you time to breathe, relax and interpret what you’re listening to.

Perhaps the way that certain pieces of music produced by these three are instrumental pieces, free from the meaning attached to lyrics, also allows us to drift away from our mindspace that is dominated by and constructed from the linear and definite architecture that words create, giving rise to a more “otherworldly” feeling as we lack (apart from a knowledge of what the instruments are and perhaps the intent of the artist) anything to attach our focus to, which is often a seemingly necessary grounding element in so much of our lives; this example being in music.

So, to return to the piece of music in question here, I can liken the feeling I get when listening to it, when taking into consideration the subconsciously predictable rhythms of 4/4 time that most modern music adheres to, to stretching some part of my brain that I don’t usually use when listening to music, which feels extremely pleasurable. The familiarity of the pleasantly warm and sharp tones of percussion is present, but the multiple layers and unexpected turns and combinations that we hear in this piece give rise to a profoundly different feeling where I’m actually focusing on the sounds in a new way, giving (at least to me) a new perspective on what musics arrangement, intent and position and then its meaning and effect on the listener, can be.


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