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Curious Intersections, Uncommon Magic: Steve Reich's It's Gonna Rain

Scherzinger, Martin

1965 was a watershed year in the life of Steve Reich. Following numerous
experiments with magnetic tape, he had, while creating his tape piece It's
Gonna Rain, identified a fascinating process that would serve as the basic
compositional tool of his output until about 1971, and as a foundational
component of his output thereafter. Reich's preoccupation with process-oriented
music in turn helped define a musical trend that shifted the standard
historical narrative of twentieth -century concert music away from the
reigning high modernist serialism of the 1950s toward minimalism.
Defenders of the new style emphasize the cultural triumph of minimalism.
For Susan McClary, minimalism is "perhaps the single most viable
extant strand of the Western art-music tradition;" for K. Robert Schwarz,
a specialist in this style, minimalism is "a potent force ... its influence is
pervasive and enduring;" and for the composer John Adams, minimalism
is "the only really interesting, important stylistic development in the past
30 years" (McClary 2004:289-98; Schwarz 1997:1-17; Adams quoted in
Schwarz 1996a:177). These writers often attend to minimalism's programmatic
reaction to the perceived structural complexities of high modernism
with its ametric rhythms and pervasive intervallic dissonances. In contrast
to high modernism, minimalism offered musical structures dearly audible
to the listener; its rhythms were pulse-based, often elaborated in the context
of extended repetition of short musical figures, and its pitch structures were
simple, usually associated with, though not identical to, traditional diatonic
constellations. Commentators may differ on the relationship minimalism
takes to modernism-McClary argues in terms of a qualified Oedipal
"reaction formation" to modernism; Wim Mertens argues in terms of a negative
dialectical "final stage" of high modernism-but few commentators fail
to situate high modernism as the central referent in describing the emergence
of minimalism in music (McClary 2004:292; Mertens 2004:308). Whether
the argument hinges on a theory of history beholden to Freud or one beholden
to Hegel, modernism under these readings remains minimalism's
basic condition of possibility.



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Columbia University
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October 29, 2014