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Reich: Phase Patterns / +

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Album Review

By the '90s, a number of record labels began to re-investigate some of the earlier, pre-fame works of minimalist composers, both established figures (such as Reich, Glass, and Riley), as well as those who were less well-known. This collections gathers together several of Steve Reich's compositions from 1967-1970 (several years before his magnum opus Drumming), including three pieces for keyboards and three brief performances of an unusual work for freely swinging microphones. Phase Patterns and Four Organs had been issued on an obscure Shandar LP, and the latter had also been available on a Columbia recording paired with some John Cage pieces for prepared piano. Here, they are given vibrant new readings by members of the German new music group, Ensemble Avant Garde. The electric organs play short, repeated patterns that gradually go in and out of phase with each other, creating a shimmering matrix of sound that is both hypnotic and fascinating in detail. Piano Phase, for two pianos, uses a similar methodology but comes to quite different ends due to the acoustic nature of the instrument. Once again, brief sequences are played, first in unison then gradually sliding out of phase. Instead of the overlapping sonic aura produced by the organs, however, the unsustained piano notes generate an amazingly complex fabric of flickering patterns. One can clearly hear the seeds being sewn for Reich's later masterworks herein. The three versions of Pendulum Music are intriguing curiosities in which the music is produced by swinging microphones suspended from long chords past loudspeakers, the interference and feedback briefly generated becoming the substance of the piece. Depending on the amplitude of the swing, the rhythms decay and overlap at different rates resulting, as usual with Reich's work, emergent patterns of engaging complexity. Along with the Nonesuch release of his tape pieces, Come Out and It's Gonna Rain, this is a vital document of his earlier work and should be heard by any fan of Reich or minimalism in general. Highly recommended.


Formed: 1989 in Leipzig, Germany

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Ensemble Avantgarde is a chamber group based in Leipzig that consists of members from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Orchestra of Central German Broadcasting (MDR), as well as local soloists and chamber musicians, including the Leipzig String Quartet. Led from its inception in 1989 by pianist Steffen Schleiermacher, who has steadily served as its director, the ensemble's size varies according to the needs of its repertoire, which are core 20th century chamber works. The focus is on the essential...
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Reich: Phase Patterns / +, Ensemble Avantgarde
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