Steve Reich Drumming might just change your mind about minimalism

by Elizabeth Kerr / 16 July, 2018
Colin Currie: a devotee of composer Steve Reich. Photo/Linda Nylind

Colin Currie: a devotee of composer Steve Reich. Photo/Linda Nylind

The debut release from a new label, Colin Currie Records, is a cracker. Brilliant playing, an iconic composition and excellent engineering combine in Steve Reich Drumming to offer 55 minutes of unfaltering energy and excitement.

Reich, from the first wave of American musical minimalists, is acclaimed as one of Western music’s most influential living composers. According to John Adams, one of his highest-profile inheritors, he “didn’t reinvent the wheel so much as show us a new way to ride”.

Drumming was composed in 1970/71, and in 2006, Scottish percussionist Colin Currie pulled together his virtuosic eponymous group to play the work for a BBC celebration of Reich’s 70th birthday. It’s been a pillar of the group’s repertoire ever since and this studio recording, reportedly from 32 takes, is a fitting launch for the new label.

The piece is classic minimalism; the compositional process is worked out beforehand, the whole developed from a single drum rhythm with Reich’s trademark out-of-step “phasing”. Four players begin on four sets of bongos, the rhythm increasing in complexity; a second section for three marimbas seamlessly overlaps the first, women’s voices reinforcing the timbre. Another overlap shifts us into the music-box world of glockenspiels, with piccolo and whistling, and just when it all seems too high, spare and discordant, Reich puts it all together with the rich texture of the whole 11-musician ensemble.

Time passes quickly, the music pouring forth in both an audible process and what Reich calls “mysteries – the impersonal, unintended, psychoacoustic by-products of the intended process”. These cross-rhythms and apparent new melodies contribute to an edifice of, in Currie’s words, “delicacy, audacity and power”. If minimalism hasn’t rung your bell yet, this release may signal your conversion.

Steve Reich Drumming, Colin Currie Group, Synergy Vocals (Colin Currie Records)

★★★★★

This article was first published in the July 7, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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