Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians
Jul 27, 2020
CFCE 87.8 FM Weekly Genre : Minimalism

Drawing its origins from the experimental and avant-garde scene of the 50/60s, Minimalism is a very artistic musical style that is relatively difficult to understand and describe. However, unlike many similar styles that are more obscure and isolated, Minimalism is much more widespread and recognized, enjoying a reputation that is often highly revered by specialists, professionals and music lovers alike. For good reason, many compositions and masterpieces are labeled as such, which has allowed the music to explore previously unknown terrain, thus allowing many more or less remote musical genres/styles to introduce the basics. This is how we had the chance to discover, thanks to the influences of minimalism, styles such as the Drone (which later gave notably Ambient), Totalism or even find elements or fusions in Rock in all what we classify as "noise", "post-rock", "progressive" and more broadly the experimental rock scene.

If we really want to go back to the roots, a handful of European and American artists/intellectuals/theorists/inventors have blossomed since the beginning of the 20th century to experiment a musical approach (but not only) really different from the traditional genres/styles, being often very close (or even related) to Classical music. Unofficially Minimalism is a derivative of Avant-Garde music that appeared around this time, long before its official and real recognition in the 60/70s. Before and even today we speak rather of Experimental music which is articulated on several derivatives and forms, such as for example the " Musique Concrete " with Pierre Schaeffer, the Free Improvisation with John Cage, or the first traces of Minimalism with Moondog. All his previous styles and actors have helped, with the help of folk culture and music, to define the true foundations of Minimalism. Officially the term Minimalism has been recognized since the early 60's, even if it was not until the second half of the 60's that the first releases with the main pioneers Steve Reich, Terry Riley, La Monte Young or Philip Glass were released.

Thanks to the experimental influences of the previous decades, the pioneers of Minimalism were able to build rules that are still the main foundations today, although they have evolved over the years as for all musical genres/styles with a more contemporary approach. How to describe Minimalism in a simple and clear way? I would say that as its name indicates, Minimalism is a form based on a process rather than on structures. The goal is not just to do as little as possible but by doing it well, it's obviously much more complex than that, it has nothing to do with that, we're talking about a set of repeated musical phases of common chords. There are some variations, different opinions and techniques depending on the artists, but overall minimalism is very often composed of a mechanical sequence even if paradoxically there is not necessarily a precise direction. We might as well tell you that we're a long way from the last very generic single we broadcast on our dear and tender radio station. By studying this style during this week with the team of CFCE 87.8 fm, we can see to our greatest joy, the impressive number of albums, projects and compositions extraordinary and of a really high level and that whatever the decade from 1960 to today.

Minimalism quickly had an impact on other musical genres/styles, especially on the innovators and most creative. In fact, it is especially in the 70's that Minimalism metamorphosed the most. Not only did it become democratized, but it also benefited from the important emergence of the Electronic (Kraftwerk etc..), Art Pop and rockers who were inspired by it to transcribe it in their music, to gain weight. It was almost criminal that we didn't talk about Steve Reich and his masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians, that's why we analyze it together. Considered one of the greatest composers of all time, New Yorker Steve Reich created his legend through brilliant works and also because he was able to influence so many artists from all eras and all musical genres/styles from 1960 to today. This is far from being a minor influence, on the contrary, Steve Reich has an extraordinary notoriety. Inspired by Jazz, the music of the Baroque period and the various Avant-Garde experimental currents, he has left his mark on a large number of essential and existential works, notably by introducing new techniques and innovations through them.

When he began in the 1960s, Steve Reich began by composing film music, mainly using Collage technique/style. From work to work, he developed and expanded his techniques to offer increasingly sophisticated and innovative content. In the second half of the sixties, Steve Reich mainly devoted himself to developing his compositions with processes, articulated around phasing and cycle repetition. This became not only his DNA, but more globally that of Minimalism. While he had already contributed so much during the 1960s, the following decade is without too much dispute considered his most innovative period. Steve Reich turned a corner during this period, taking his music and compositions to the next level. Surrounding himself with an "orchestra" of more than a dozen musicians, he released four magnificent albums in a row: Drumming (1974), Six Pianos (1974), Music For 18 Musicians (1978) and Octet (1980).

The addition of musicians supporting him is one of the factors that allowed him to pass this significant milestone, allowing him to push the limits, offering new possibilities to innovations and their implementation. When he began work on Music For 18 Musicians in 1974, he had never played and conducted so many musicians before. If you're not familiar with Minimalism, Music For 18 Musicians remains the pinnacle of the genre. This extraordinary work is the reference that we can rely on 300%. In my opinion, it's also the apogee of Steve Reich's genius, who managed to refine and perfect his previous works, adding of course new innovations, thus building the exemplary Minimalism album. Steve Reich took almost 2 years to build and finalize this work. That's what's great, although Music For 18 Musicians is very sophisticated, its listening remains particularly easy to understand and appreciate. In a grandiose way, Music For 18 Musicians is rhythmed mainly by string, wind and percussion instruments, with a few vocal touches. The angelic and luminous atmosphere, combined with a very warm melody, which is meant to be reassuring, will make you live one of the most beautiful instrumental experiences that exists on earth. It is a sumptuous journey that is both hypnotic and very invigorating, like a good dose of endorphin injected into you.

While the experience lasts more than 56 minutes, when it was originally compressed on vinyl and released in 1978 for the first time, the work was logically cut into 1 track per side, limited by the technical means offered by the formats. In reality Music For 18 Musicians has 3 distinct parts: Pulse > Sections > Pulse. As he was used to, Steve Reich is based on the repetition of cycles, which evolve and metamorphose over time. He sought to multiply the psycho-acoustic effects and also the numbers of melodies and harmonies. It is important to take into consideration all the complexity of this work, as well as all the things that Steve Reich was trying to put in place. From the simple note to the smallest detail. As if pushed by a gentle breath that brushes the body, Music For 18 Musicians is a composition that transcends you without ever getting bored. The impact of the innovations and the beauty of the musical rendering proposed by Steve Reich places this album among the best of all time

Find another review on the subject:
By WhatTheFunk:
Doublez's Tags
No replies yet
Liked By
Rate and review albums along with your friends. Create an account.
Become a Donor
Donor badge, no ads + more benefits.
Also Reviewed By
Popular Albums
Fontaines D.C. - A Hero's Death
Fontaines D.C.
A Hero's Death
Taylor Swift - folklore
Taylor Swift
Dominic Fike - What Could Possibly Go Wrong
Dominic Fike
What Could Possibly Go Wrong
Billie Eilish - my future
Billie Eilish
my future
Logic - No Pressure
No Pressure
Creeper - Sex, Death & the Infinite Void
Sex, Death & the Infinite Void

July Playlist