Issue 10: Radio Rewrite Is ‘Everything’ and Then Some

By Bruce Russell

There is something self-similar about the work of Steve Reich. As the structures within his compositions expand, so too has his style over nearly half a century expanded. One can hear his journey as a composer thumbnailed in each new work. Self-similarity is at the core of his output in the ever-present device of the canon. He is nothing if not consistent even when trying out a new concept, and his latest album Radio Rewrite (Nonesuch) feels like a watershed and a continuation at the same time.

It also forms a triumvirate with its immediate predecessors. WTC 9/11 (2011) connected his personal experience to that particular world event, reuniting him once again with the Kronos Quartet and forming a bookend with the Grammy-winning Different Trains. The album was rounded out by the inclusion of two ecstatic percussion pieces. Double Sextet/2×5 (2010) featured a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece and one played on rock instruments, finding the composer at a new peak in his 70s.

Rewrite builds on these by manifesting a long-sought goal of Reich and his generation: to reunite the music of the concert hall with that of the street. That the album arrives in the midst of the so-called indie classical movement evidences the composer’s always keen sense of topicality. While younger, rock-based creators like Jonny Greenwood, Bryce Dessner, Richard Reed Parry and Owen Pallett have made the transition to writing for classical ensembles, the elder has turned his attention to the music of Radiohead for source material, with great success.

[Reich's] compositional voice has broadened in melodic and emotional scope while his technique roots ever deeper.

The title work Radio Rewrite (2012) uses melodic and harmonic content from the songs “Jigsaw Falling into Place” and “Everything in Its Right Place.” Rather than do a remix (surely a culture he helped create), Reich works with the notes themselves. It is his hippest yet most clearly classical piece to date. It revisits ideas as far back as Four Organs, Music for 18 Musicians, Octet and The Cave, and at one point manages to combine a figure from “Jigsaw” with the traditional Ghanaian bell rhythm that has infused his work since at least Clapping Music.

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