Music

Steve Reich: Triple Quartet

Matt Eberhart

Steve Reich

Triple Quartet

Label: Nonesuch
US Release Date: 2001-10-16
Amazon
iTunes

Steve Reich's compositional genius and influence over contemporary music -- especially over recent developments in electronic music -- have established him as a living legend. Perfecting the sound of minimalism since the 1960s, the composer's work has played such a substantial role in music that attempts at equating and mimicking his trademark melodies can now be heard everywhere, from television to radio advertisements to clubs. No one, though, has mastered the art as definitively as Reich.

Triple Quartet is the composer's first release to include new music since his 1996 album, City Life (Nonesuch), but it also contains new recordings of the classic Reich compositions, "Music for Large Ensemble" and "Electric Guitar Phase", the latter being a reworking of the 1967 piece, "Violin Phase". Also included on the record is a version of "Vermont Counterpoint", called "Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint".

The title track, "Triple Quartet" (1999), was commissioned by and dedicated to the Kronos Quartet. Divided into three movements, "Quartet" immediately brings to mind the string quartets of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. And there is a reason for this. Reich found inspiration to compose his "Quartet" in the last movement of Bartók's "String Quartet No. 4", as well as in the music of Alfred Schnittke.

With an oppressed and often overwhelmingly dissonant sound, Reich's quartet, which is to be performed either by an orchestral string section of 36 players, three string quartets (12 players), or one string quartet and pre-recorded tape -- Kronos performs it employing the latter method -- is one of his more haunting compositions. Following the three movements' unyielding progression, Kronos attacks the intricate piece with an energy that does not cease until sometime after the final notes are played.

Immediately following "Triple Quartet", Dominic Frasca performs "Electric Guitar Phase", and surprisingly alters the mood of the original, "Violin Phase". Frasca's four slightly distorted guitar parts, which vary in speed and have been overdubbed, add a sharpness to the notes which violin simply cannot achieve. The gritty sound of the guitar causes the differentiation between notes in each of the layers to stand as a more 'geometric' structure than in the original. And from this, the melodic changes are further accentuated as volume levels increase and decrease almost organically.

The record closes with "Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint", which acquired its name from the homeland of the performer, Mika Yoshida. Originally for a wind ensemble, Yoshida performs the piece on MIDI marimbas. Attempted by others on marimbas and xylophones, the results have always been muddied because of the lengthy note duration of the marimba. However, Yoshida's use of electronic marimba gives her the opportunity to shorten the duration of each note, by actually triggering samples rather than the acoustic and untouched note. Thus, each note is allowed to sound more clearly and not muffle the rest. A side effect, though, is that the piece adopts a humorous edge, as each note feels bubbly, as if bouncing or popping from one to the next.

Over the span of Steve Reich's career, he has explored many incarnations of music. African drumming, Hebrew chanting, and Gamelan, just comprise a few of his successful studies. Throughout all of these experiences, his passion for music has remained the steady force behind his explorations.

With Triple Quartet, Nonesuch Records offers a brief glimpse at the composer's career at it's beginning, middle, and present -- which is far from its conclusion -- as reinterpreted by a contemporary assemblage of performers. While certain performers maintain the instruments traditionally intended for the pieces' performances, others prove the precise versatility and timelessness of Reich's compositions by performing them with modern electronic counterparts.

This crisp recording offers some of the best of Reich's work to introduce a first time listener, but it also accentuates undertones and thoughts perhaps not realized before for veteran enthusiasts.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image