Music

Ensemble Signal: Steve Reich - Double Sextet / Radio Rewrite

Photo: Ryan Jenkins



Ensemble Signal makes a strong case for Reich’s continued relevance as well as the strength of his work in this masterful recording of two late-period Reich compositions.


Ensemble Signal

Steve Reich: Double Sextet / Radio Rewrite

Label: harmonia mundi
US Release Date: 2016-07-08
UK Release Date: 2016-07-08
Amazon
iTunes

A canon traps an art form in amber, preserving it for future generations to discover. The downside is it imparts a sterility to the art form. The art forms become the province of only a select few individuals and stepping foot in that world is intimidating. Classical music faces this reality, as certain composers are left by the way side in programming in favor of higher profile, more popular works, which makes it a challenge for new works by composers to heard. 

Most classical programming, the sort that fills up concert halls, tends to focus on the work of Romantic composers with a dash of Modernist, Classical, and Baroque pieces thrown in for good measure. Modern works are a hard-sell at times because they lack the emotional connection of more familiar material. 


Ensemble Signal and conductor Brad Lubman embodies the best of aspects of Downtown music, a style not beholden to the strictness of traditional classical nor the monetary drive that pushes the pop music engine. Downtown musicians are comfortable playing in any style or genre imaginable, an invigorating trait that imbues anything the group plays with a jolt of lightning such as this recording of two recent works by composer Steve Reich. Double Sextet hales from 2007 and Radio Rewrite dates back to 2012. Ensemble Signal previously recorded Reich’s 1976 piece, Music for 18 Musicians and it was released to enthusiastic reviews.



The legendary American composer turns 80 on October 3 of this year and this recording by Ensemble Signal is just one release to commemorate the composer and his work. Reich is probably best known for his work in the 1960s at The San Francisco Tape Music center along with colleagues and fellow travelers Morton Subtonick, Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, and Ramon Sender.

Double Sextet originally featured instrumentalists playing against recordings of themselves, but in the case of the Ensemble Signal recording, there are twelve instrumentalists. Reich won a Pulitzer Prize for this composition back in 2009 and wrote this about it, “By doubling an entire chamber ensemble, one creates the possibility for multiple simultaneous contrapuntal webs of identical instruments.” This gives the piece an added burst of energy, an aspect further enhanced by constant stream of 8th notes created by the two pianos. 



The second piece is Radio Rewrite was inspired by two Radiohead songs: “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Everything in Its Right Place". The group came on Reich’s radar after seeing Johnny Greenwood perform Electric Counterpoint at the Sacrum Profanum festival in Poland. “The piece is a mixture of moments where you will hear Radiohead, but most moments where you won’t,” said Reich in a press release for the recording. 

Radiohead and Reich seems like a natural pairing, especially in consideration of Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack work with his minimalist approach. In particular, his work for There Will Be Blood comes to mind. Ensemble Signal is an excellent fit because the musicians are capable of blurring the lines of genre and style, so the blend of Reich and Radiohead feels like the most natural thing in the word.

Classical composer differ from popular musicians in that some of their work from later in life also happens to be some of their best work. That’s less likely with popular musicians in genres that place a strong emphasis on youth and vitality. When an artist reaches a certain age, fans can expect to look forward to an album on which they grasp with more mature themes like mortality, parenting, and marriage. It’s hard to maintain an image of rebelling against the establishment when you in fact are the establishment.



Ensemble Signal makes a strong case for Reich’s continued relevance as well as the strength of his work in this masterful recording of two late-period Reich compositions. 

Even at nearly 80, the work of Steve Reich, aided by deft, energetic performances by Ensemble Signal, is still a consequential part of the American musical landscape and vocabulary.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image