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Reich program entrances audience with hypnotic repitition

An Evening with Steve Reich

William L. Abramowitz Lecture Series.

Featuring such works by Steve Reich as Different Trains, Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ.

Kresge Auditorium.

March 22, 8 p.m.

By Craig K. Chang
Staff Reporter

If an audience responds with greatest applause to a piece assembled from the austere sounds of beating wood claves, repetition in itself is not what turns listeners off to much minimal music today. In a performance of Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood on Wednesday night, a limited number of bare rhythms permuted the hypnotic landscapes of repetition, and proved that good minimal music fits together as does a tessellation, smearing time with its lovely intricacies.

The all-Reich program in Kresge Auditorium evolved from simple seeds and ended up with something new and unexpected. These musical kernels, sprouting and folding back upon themselves, were the substance of a musical process that always resulted in wonderful, seemingly unintentional by-products.

One such discovery was the absolute sensuality in Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ. Ethereal voices and a haunting organ gently bellowed couples of chords like wooing sirens. All along, the timbre of the mallet instruments shifted centers, expanding into a canon with mere subtleties in shading and rhythm. Occasionally, and most favorably, snippets of tonal music fell out from the apparently droning landscape with the excitement of a secret.

The same describes New York Counterpoint, whose mixture of 11 clarinet and bass clarinet players personified Reich's inventive play with the linear individuality of each instrument. The piece expanded upon traditional counterpoint by discriminating gentle changes. And the breakout of jazz-like riffs in the latter half of the piece illustrated Reich's skill with building his music up from scratch.

At times mystical, or even magical, Reich's music always requires complete control. Professor of Music and Theater Arts Evan Ziporyn, students, and even Reich himself, supplied precision with just the right amount of incisiveness for all of the pieces - especially for the final piece of the evening, Different Trains. Using tape looping technology, performing Different Trains took one step beyond the serendipitous evocations of the previous works.

Employing pitched samples of old trains, human voices, and three taped quartets, Different Trains was rich multimedia, even without a visual aspect. Its freezing repetitions and speech echoes spliced Reich's childhood train rides and the similar train rides taken by Holocaust victims in Europe. As the speech fragments and four quartets took us through "Before the War," "During the War," and "After the War," voices and images throughout history multiplied. As soon as the strings mimicked the train whistles, screaming death, the piece no longer relied on the listener to assign private significance to the composition. Different Trains invited history to join its musical center.

This final piece seemed to shed light on the surprising popularity of Reich's music, which kills the notion that the new must be reserved for militantly modernist circles. Even with spare brush strokes of sounds allying with historical references, Different Trains entranced listeners mostly with their own inner selves. Likewise, the success of Wednesday night's all-Reich program drew from the music's faith in the audience's capacity for self-revelation.