INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Guardian SEPTEMBER 11, 2014 - by Geeta Dayal
STEVE REICH: 'RADIOHEAD IS MY KIND OF MUSIC'
Composer Steve Reich talks about the inspiration behind his new album Radio Rewrite and how everyone needs to get over his 'feud' with Philip Glass
Over the past fifty years, composer Steve Reich's music has had a powerful impact - not only on the contemporary classical world, but also on legions of rock, pop, hip-hop, jazz, and electronic musicians. Though often tagged as a 'minimalist' composer, alongside fellow composers such as Philip Glass and Terry Riley, his varied output over the past five decades defies easy categorisation.
Reich's new album Radio Rewrite, out September 30, is partly inspired by Radiohead. The album includes a recording of Reich's 1987 guitar and tape work Electric Counterpoint performed by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, and a set of Reich's own reworkings and reimaginings of the Radiohead songs Everything In Its Right Place and Jigsaw Falling Into Place.
This week, Reich and his musicians performed three nights of concerts with the Philip Glass Ensemble at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, at a festival in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Nonesuch Records. The concerts marked Reich's first time sharing the stage with Glass in thirty years - the resolution of a longstanding feud between two giants of contemporary music?
So much has been made over the years of a supposed rivalry between you and Philip Glass. It seems like you two get along fine now.
I think that if anybody carries around anything negative, it's absurd at a certain point, and if you don't have anything good to say, keep your mouth shut... Right now, everything is working out well.
Talk about your new album. What inspired you to make Radio Rewrite?
I was invited to go to this festival [Sacrum Profanum] in Krakow, Poland in 2010, and at that festival there was Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, and he was going to do Electric Counterpoint, a piece that I wrote originally for Pat Metheny.
We were rehearsing and we were hanging out together, and I enjoyed him and enjoyed the piece. When I got back home, I thought, I've never heard a note of Radiohead's music; I'm way late. I went to their website, and listened to some videos, listened to some audio. The videos struck me, because these guys were just in T-shirts, in obviously some kind of rehearsal space. There were no computer graphics, no ridiculous beach scenes. No MTV at all. Just guys seriously rehearsing with their headphones on. The body language and the expressions on their faces were just people that were totally involved in playing - really, really involved. That's my kind of music.
For so many people, Electric Counterpoint was first introduced to them via it being sampled on The Orb's Little Fluffy Clouds.
I was in London in 1992. I was doing an interview for one of those pop keyboard magazines, and the guy said to me 'What do you think of The Orb?' And I said 'What's The Orb?' And he said 'You don't know?' And I said 'No I don't know,' and he said 'You should know,' and he handed me the CD and I took it home and there was Electric Counterpoint.
Earlier on, in 1973 or 1974, my ensemble was playing at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. At the end of the concert, this guy comes over with long hair and lipstick and he says 'Hi how are you doing, I'm Brian Eno.' I thought wow this is poetic justice... here's Brian Eno listening to me, that's great. A couple years later, we played the European premiere of Music For 18 Musicians at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin and David Bowie was there. And I think Weeping Wall on Low is somewhat indebted to that. So that's the beginning of my contact with popular music.
It's Gonna Rain is a very heavy piece written in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the voice is a spectacularly moving, intense voice about the end of the world. And frankly, if you've been reading the papers or watching television, we are living in very very dangerous times, so I think there is a lot of resonance for those pieces today. But I couldn't do them today; I wouldn't ever think of doing a tape piece today.
What would you do differently now?
I don't do tape pieces at all. First of all there's no tape, and second of all when I use pre-recorded material, I integrate it with real instruments. I started doing that with Different Trains back in 1988; it won a Grammy. It's one of the best pieces I ever did.
When you start writing a new composition, how do you start thinking about a new piece of music? How do you begin?
I start at the piano with my music notebook. I also work with a computer extensively. I start working out the harmonic structure of the piece, or at least the initial thrust of it, and I get those chords and a sequence written out in my music notebook in pencil. Then I take it over to the computer. And then the other crucial thing is to make sure what is the instrumentation. I don't write for the typical predetermined classical combination. I've never written a piece for string quartet... Every piece that I write, I have to kind of invent the ensemble, and that's part of the inspiration.
Do the terms 'avant-garde' or 'experimental' music have any relevance to you?
I call it music.