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Monthly Archives: January 2004

Shawnee for ‘Laptop’

When Brad Mitchell isn't homebrewing electronic music as Pocka and studying sound design, he somehow finds time to run the Kikapu netlabel.

Brad Mitchell, like a growing number of electronic musicians these days, distributes some of his crafts for free on the Internet, on so-called “netlabels.” These websites, such as No Type, Monotonik and Stasisfield, offer MP3 downloads of independent music at no cost to the curious listener, sometimes along with virtual cover art and liner notes. Mitchell also runs his own netlabel, Kikapu, which has provided a home for a wide variety of artists, including such midwestern American talents as Matt Borghi, Michael Kirson-Goldapper and Brandon Reid Huey. Mitchell is from Missouri himself, but he recently relocated to Vancouver to study sound design.

What distinguishes Mitchell amid the crowded online-MP3 field is the understated richness of his music and the consistent quality of the releases on his netlabel. His own tunes often mix digital and acoustic elements to melodic effect — sweet maudlin constructions of mis-plunked guitar and videogame riffs, spacious soundworlds scattered with fizzy noises and percussive marginalia. Pocka is the name under which he releases his own music these days, though there’s a track on Kikapu Gold Standard, the 50th Kikapu set (yes, 50th — as of this writing, there have been 57 releases on the label, including four proper CDs for sale), on which he, brazenly for an electronica figure, uses his own name.

During the past two months, two batches of Pocka recordings were singled out in Disquiet.com’s Downstream section, which recommends free music on the web: a pair of tracks at 8bitrecs.com and a five-song EP on the Please Do Something netlabel, titled Chronology Brought. But for all the free music he has out in circulation, there wasn’t much available in the way of biographical information, let alone a discussion about his music, how he constructs it, and where he’s headed artistically.

Shortly after his 23rd birthday in late January 2004, he filled in some of these biographical blanks in an email correspondence for publication on Disquiet.com. He summed up the spirit that lends his work distinction: “a feeling of all of these different sounds and feelings juxtaposed together in an incredibly complex manner, all while being fun and happy and putting a smile on the listener’s face.” He also talked about Kikapu and the growing community of so-called netlabels. “It isn’t competitive like other segments of the music industry,” says Mitchell. “It’s more like one big collective group of like-minded people, and I find that very exciting.” What appears below is a lightly edited version of the email conversation.

Weidenbaum: Songs you’ve released have ranged from what sounds like warped static — “Like Water in Water,” on your Chronology Brought EP — to work that is far melodic and composer-ly, like “Zero Inter Three,” on 8bitrecs. Is either of those tracks closer, generally, to where your head is at musically?

Mitchell: A track like “Zero Inter Three” is definitely the type of sound that I usually lean toward. Since I started recording songs under the Pocka name, in September 2003, the tracks have usually been fairly melodic, with a nice balance of electronic instruments and samples against acoustic elements, like my acoustic guitar, and for instance the bells I play in “Zero Inter Three.”

“Like Water in Water” was an odd track for me. The whole point of it, for me personally, was to create an intro track for the Chronology Brought EP that was wholly unlike the rest of the songs on that EP. I don’t know what the point of that was really, but that’s what I wanted to do: to start off in a completely opposite direction, and slowly fade and meld that song into the next song, which was very mellow and melodic and much more akin to my style.

Weidenbaum: Tracks such as “Zero Inter Three” make me wish they were several times longer. I’d love to hear that sort of work develop over 20 minutes, instead of just three or four. Are you pretty much settled on working in these relatively brief lengths, which are more associated with pop songs, or are you working on longer pieces as well.

Mitchell: As I write more songs, they tend to get a bit longer every time, and my goal is to actually write longer pieces in the future. “Zero Inter Three” is actually meant as an interlude track to a full-length album I’m currently working on; I was extremely happy with it, and thought it was a nice teaser to what my music sounds like, and that was why I decided to release it on 8bitrecs. But currently my songs usually hover around the 4-6 minute range, with occasional exceptions, obviously, but I’m working on stretching things out and incorporating more ideas into songs, and then mixing and melding different pieces into one another; so by the time I write a full album, the entire album will feel like one massive, organic piece of music that is ever-changing but slowly evolving throughout its course.

Weidenbaum: With a track like “Lauren’s Face Pressed Against a Xerox Machine,” off Chronology Brought, which has such a varied array of sounds, how much of that was planned in advance when you set out to record it, and how much came about as a process of experimentation?

Mitchell: The overall structure, feel, and sound of “Lauren’s Face Pressed Against a Xerox Machine” was definitely planned in advance, but a few of the elements within that track came about after a few days of experimentation with the original sounds that I began with. I feel that half of the time I am experimenting, though, because every time I write a new song, I learn something new.

Usually though, I might have a general idea of what kind of a track I’d like to write, and I’ll sit down at my computer, and tracks slowly evolve out of a lot of experimentation; “Lauren’s Face Pressed Against a Xerox Machine” was a definite exception as I pretty much knew exactly what I was going to write and I had envisioned how it would sound before I even recorded anything. The track itself is about my girlfriend Lauren, and I wanted to capture the feelings she invoked in me — a feeling of all of these different sounds and feelings juxtaposed together in an incredibly complex manner, all while being fun and happy and putting a smile on the listener’s face.

Weidenbaum: Who is Dan Weinhaus, who did the guitar on “Daniel Bradley Remixed” — and while we’re at it, who is “Daniel Bradley,” and who played the guitar on “Lauren’s Face”?

Mitchell: Dan is one of my best friends back home in Missouri; we met as roommates in college, and have worked on a few pieces of music together over the years, but not that much. This summer we had a grandiose plan of getting together and starting a new collaborative project between the two of us that would be a fun mix of electronic music — me — and pop-rock — Dan. Well, as things usually go, we ended up being very busy and didn’t have a chance to really work on much material, but we did complete one song. “Daniel Bradley Remixed” is actually a short remix of the track that we completed together; the full track will be on the upcoming album that I’m currently working on.

Anyways, Dan is one of the most amazing musicians I know, so on that song I recorded him playing a number of different sections on my acoustic guitar, and then I sat down and added all the rest of the instruments and actually put the song together. His guitar parts on the remix are in a more cut-up style than what appears on the full song we did. The “Daniel Bradley” in the title just comes from both of our names; I thought it might make a good title.

In “Lauren’s Face Pressed Against a Xerox Machine” I am the one playing guitar. In any track that acoustic guitar is featured in other than “Daniel Bradley Remixed,” I am the one playing guitar.

Weidenbaum: One of the nice things about this particular interview situation is that anyone reading the article can find most of this music we’re discussing online for free. Since it’s all that easily accessible, I thought I’d ask if you might single out a track or two, and talk about something in it you’re particularly proud of having accomplished — not the track as a whole, but something about the track, something people might listen for.

Mitchell: Of the tracks that I have online available as free downloads, my obvious favorite is still “Lauren’s Face Pressed Against a Xerox Machine,” as it’s still my favorite song that I’ve ever written. I think what I like about it so much, or what I am most proud of, is the huge amount of processing I did to all of the instruments featured in that track, namely the acoustic guitar. I originally recorded maybe one or two bars of notes, and then spent a few days cutting up the recording, rearranging it, adding some effects, and then rearranging it even more.

Overall, I think there are maybe three or four different instruments or samples in the entire song, but when you listen it is pretty complex and there are so many things happening in it that it sounds like there’s more instruments there. Plus I have a fairly basic and “pop”-y melody and bass line, which form a nice contrast to the cut-up guitar and rhythms.

Weidenbaum: What’s your general educational background — traditional, and musical?

Mitchell: I currently live in Vancouver, BC. I just moved here less than a month ago, and I am attending Vancouver Film School, to study Sound D esign. I was born and raised in Missouri, and have been living there most of my life, up until the past few weeks. I just graduated from college in December with a degree in Mass Media Studies, with minors in both Computer Science and Film.

As far as a musical education goes, it’s been a nice balance between what you would consider formal training, to some extent, and at the same time a lot of self-education and experimentation. I started playing the piano when I was around 10 years old, and started playing brass instruments when I was 13. I played the tuba mainly, but also trombone, trumpet, and the baritone very often for about five years, mainly in high school band and orchestra. During all this time, I taught myself — well, somewhat — guitar and bass. In high school I played with a few small local bands, nothing to speak of, really. I then went to college when I was 18, and I met Jason Garrett, who is still one of my closest friends today. He was really the first person to introduce me to electronic music of any sort, and he guided me into different genres and whatnot. Right at this same time, I came across some very primitive, basic loop-based software. So I started playing around with this software constantly, and within about a week I was bored with it and wanted to actually start recording my own sounds and samples, and create my own individual tracks.

So I spent about two years basically tinkering around with as much software as I could get my hands on and basically experiment with different styles and get a general overall grasp of electronic music. During these two years I also DJ’ed pretty extensively as well. The only thing worthwhile that really came out of those two years was a handful of single tracks, that I usually cringe at when I listen to today, and one full-length album. It was a sort of concept album — don’t laugh! — that was mainly ambient/downtempo soundscapes. Pretty weird stuff, but nevertheless enjoyable. And I made it with such awful software that I’m still impressed today with what I did with that software.

During the summer of 2001 I moved to Alaska, and lived there for three months outside of the world of modern communication, the Internet, television, etc. Over the summer I would have all of these musical ideas, and I’d write them down. So when I moved back to Missouri to go back to school in September of 2001, I had a notebook of ideas, but nothing to show for it. So, right when I got home I spent about half of the money I made in Alaska to buy high-end audio software, and spent that fall learning it. So I would say that I’ve actually been “serious” about my music for the past two years or so.

Weidenbaum: I wonder, since you’re involved in sound design now, at a film school, if you could talk a bit about how film sound has influenced your own compositional work. There are a lot of overlaps between ambient-electronic music and film these days, in terms of the increasing prominence of textural music in film.

Mitchell: Sadly enough I wouldn’t say that film sound and music has really influenced my music a great deal, though it is one aspect of audio that will definitely be more influential as I become more involved with my sound design studies. My interest in film is fairly new and hasn’t been as prominent in my life as music has, but over the past few years I have been studying film production and theory at the university level, and now that I am attending Vancouver Film School, I see that my interests in both music and film are finally meeting together into an overall direction with where I want to take my studies in the future.

Weidenbaum: Talk about about the Kikapu netlabel — how many people are responsible for it, what’s the response been like? It’s already got some 57 releases. Which are the most popular, and which do you direct newcomers to?

Mitchell: Well, a few years back I wanted to start a label, but being a poor college student at the time, I knew there was no way I would be able to start a label and get CDs and vinyl printed off on any kind of a consistent basis. At this time I was hosting a radio show on my college’s radio station, and as I was looking for music to feature on the show, I started coming across different netlabels. Then one day I found Monotonik, and that was the end for me — I fell in love with the label and it has been a huge influence on Kikapu and what I’ve been attempting to achieve with it for the past couple of years.

So anyways, I guess the point of it was to have a place to feature some of my own music and my friends’ music. This accounted for about the first six releases or so, but once it got rolling I started meeting lots of new artists, and over time more and more people became interested in the project, and sent music to me to release on the website. Generally speaking I am the only person responsible for the label, but I’ve had a lot of help from some friends, namely Brandon Reid Huey at Pleasedosomething.com, for server space and technical help; James Reeves of Red Antenna for graphic and design help; and then of course Scene.org and Archive.org for hosting all of our MP3 files themselves.

All of our releases garner their fair share of downloads; I think on average a release will get somewhere between 400-600 downloads in its first month. I think some of the most popular releases we’ve had so far were KOSIK’s Removable Pieces EP; both of the Dub Jay EPs; all of Brandon’s releases — as Crashed by Car, Red Lines and Jenglander, which was a collaboration between him and Stud; algorhythm’s the contingency EP was also a large release, as it was a split release between Kikapu and algorhythm’s own no logo records; and our 50th release CD compilation, Kikapu Gold Standard, has also been really popular and successful. These are also usually some of the first releases that I point newcomers to as well.

Weidenbaum: So, you work on Kikapu yourself, but your music has shown up on other netlabel websites, like 8bitrecs and Please Do Something. There’s that one piece, under your own name, not Pocka, on the 50th Kikapu compilation release, Gold Standard, but I think that’s it. Are you hesitant to put your own music on your own label?

Mitchell: Well, I actually started putting some of my own material on Kikapu under the Jizzello name when the label first started, and as the name suggests, it’s pretty odd, goofy music for the most part, mainly me just having fun and sampling as much material as I can into one song. I did one of the first Kikapu releases under that name, and put out a 3″ mini-CD release, and have had quite a few appearances on other netlabels and CD compilations over the past couple of years under that name. But after the 3″ CD I decided to not release any more of my own music on Kikapu, and I also retired that name, for the most part, after that CD; I think I was just too self-conscious about it. I really see Kikapu as a place to feature other people’s music, not really my own. It’s easy to start your own label and release your own music on it, but it’s more of a challenge to send your music to other people and have them put the time and effort into getting it released. I know it sounds silly, but it’s more of an ego boost to know that someone else enjoys your music and likes it enough to release it.

Weidenbaum: I did a little looking around, in regard to “Kikapu,” and came up with this reference to a native language of American Indians, Kickapoo, which apparently is thought to be “a corruption of a Shawnee word for ‘wanderers.'” Apparently Kikapu is an alternate spelling. Is this the source of the word you chose for the name of your record label?

Mitchell: It’s a long line of coincidences that the label is named Kikapu, actually. The name started as just a sort of online nickname I used; the title actually came from a mountain bike I drooled over for a couple of years during high school. Then a few years later, once I was in college, I lived on the corner of Kickapoo Street in Springfield, Missouri. Since I had been using the name before that point, and I now lived on that street, I decided to give that title to my netlabel as well. In Springfield there are many things named Kickapoo — the street, one of the high schools, and lots of other buildings. I believe the Kickapoo tribe inhabited the area that is now Springfield a long time ago. So overall, it was just a series of odd coincidences that the label came to be that name.

Weidenbaum: Do you feel the term “netlabel” does a good job describing what labels such as yours and 8bitrecs and others are up to?

Mitchell: I suppose it is, that being that we exclusively release our music on the Internet as free MP3 downloads. It’s a nice delineation between what we do and what a more “traditional” label does. What I love about the whole netlabel movement is that it’s really one big community of artists, designers and label owners. It isn’t competitive like other segments of the music industry. It’s more like one big collective group of like-minded people, and I find that very exciting. I also love the fact that it is such an even playing field, in that popular, well-known artists will have a release sitting right next to another artist’s first MP3s they’ve ever had released anywhere.

Weidenbaum: Have you encountered musicians who can’t comprehend that you put your music up online for free?

Mitchell: To be honest, not that often anymore. If you had asked that question a few years ago, I would say yes, definitely, but the netlabel community has just exploded recently, over the past year or so. There’s always been a good number of quality netlabels out there for years, for a much longer time than Kikapu has been online, but lately it seems that every day you see another netlabel site opening up. I think that over the past few years artists are finally realizing what a great purpose netlabels and free MP3 downloads can serve — as a great way to get your name out there and distribute your music to a great many people at one time. And even other artists who mainly release CDs and vinyl on other labels are popping up on various netlabels more often, since they see it as a way to release special singles, remixes, or whatever they feel should be released but doesn’t end up on their albums for one reason or another. But as far as artists involved with electronic music go, I think for the most part they see the advantages to MP3s and netlabels.

Related links: Disquiet Downstream entry on two Pocka tracks at 8bitrecs.com: disquiet.com. Disquiet Downstream entry on Pocka's Chronology Brought EP: disquiet.com. The Kikapu label's website, kikapu.com. Pocka's website, pockamusik.com. The Monotonik label's website, mono211.com. (As of December 9, 2007, the Please Do Something label's website is no longer functioning and the Red Antenna label's website is just a website for the related graphic-design group.)

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Art Music for Effete Canines

It’s hard to know what some deep-pocketed audiophiles might make of freq_out, a compilation on Ash International Records of art music seemingly crafted for effete dogs — high-pitched experimental music that was commissioned for, in the immortal phrase of songwriter Gus Kahn, high-tone places. The set’s 12 original tracks feature upper-register sound sculptures by a broad range of contributors (there’s also a 13th ensemble track), including J.G. Thirwell (aka Foetus), taking a break from the more pedestrian sounds of industrial rock, and Brandon LaBelle, among others. The album is an artifact of an installation at a gallery in Copenhagen from June of last year, in which artists were given frequency ranges in which to play around. The results are much more varying than one might imagine, though judging from the cacophony of Jana Winderen‘s track, it seems like someone didn’t read the instructions carefully. PerMagnus Lindborg turns in bent tones like thick wind, while LaBelle makes fun, stereophonic, pixilated funk, bouncing little beats back and forth. Thirwell, like Winderen, doesn’t seem to adhere to a particularly narrow frequency range, but the his multi-faceted track, highlighted by chugging ritual music on a miniscule scale, is worth the price of admission on its own. The remainders range from Star Trek special effects to pure immersive sound design. As for those audiophiles in question? Faced with sounds more likely dismissed as errors than readily identified as music, they’d probably freak out.

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Two Causes for Francophilia

The compilation Active Suspension vs. Clapping Music, featuring acts from both those two Parisian record labels, is an album to get lost in repeatedly. From futuristic campfire music to robotic hip-hop, from sad and damaged pop songs to self-described “interstellar folk,” its two CDs are just packed with epiphanies, piled high with them, like so many angels doing mass tai chi on the head of a pin. For fans of ambient/electronic music, a wealth of soprano drones are among the richest surprises. My Jazzy Child‘s “Barcelona, Something in Mind” is like the lightest, most enchanting Low song recorded, endlessly chanty, with a running hum of tight harmony — like something the Roaches, that wonderful minimalist folk trio, might have recorded had they been mentored by Aphex Twin rather than Robert Fripp. Noak Katoi‘s “Aérienne des rêve infinis” likewise takes its steps daintily and solemnly at the same time. It seems impossible to overstate the beauty of those two tracks.

In addition to this music for music’s sake are things more readily identifiable as songs that, nonetheless, fit in well with the refined surroundings — such as the Konki Duet‘s “In the Trees,” which has My Jazzy Child’s Roaches feel, with those tangy close harmonies and Renaissance Faire aura; but for all its coy verve, it has this sense of stasis that remains with you long after the track ends. Colleen‘s “Good Morning Sunshine” inserts jumbled, reverberating riffs, and its format tantalizes as it veers repeatedly away from song-ness. Domotic‘s “Pimmi” goes wide and deep, with a stunningly vibrant field of long tones, unidentifiable sound fragment stretched until they’re translucent. Still, it’s the songless tracks that make the strongest impression, like Shinsei‘s “Store bonheur, nue,” which plays light and slow with glitchy elegance, a swath of scintillates like light refracting in mist. Sogar‘s “Shinsei amateur remix” puts Shinsei through a blender, revving it up, but never tarnishing its grace. “Pour une flaque” by Davide Balula seems to start where Shinsei ends, making the segue to whispers, backward masking and a simple guitar figure. There’s more here than space allows for praise, but suffice to say that though the album is over a year old at this point, it deserves to be discovered anew.

Balula’s Pellicule is among Active Suspension’s most recent releases, and it is almost as varied as the label’s compilation, Active Suspension vs. Clapping Music, despite being the work of one man and a small handful of friends. Balula’s record has the sound of a folk singer camped out in a bomb shelter, strumming his guitar while the world gently weeps and the computer equipment around him fritzes in and out of working order — his Active Suspension vs. Clapping Music track “Pour une flaque” is heard here, followed by “Lorsqu’il n’est plus,” a track of unspeakable tentativeness, false start after false start; there’s even a montage of lightly treated field recordings, “Viens va-t-en.” The acts of outright Francophone pop, like “Eburn (9V),” the opening track, and “Iris em arco,” start plainly enough, only to have the electonica folded in as time passes, both prime evidence of the artful potential at that intersection of singer-songwriter indie rock and gadgety electronica.

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Ambient Pop MP3 Mega Mix

What do electronica maven Aphex Twin, rap trio De La Soul, and Roedelius, of the ambient-prog band Cluster, have in common? They all fit into the latest free mix tape (well, lengthy MP3 file) from the Corewatch netlabel, at corewatch.net/corewatch. The mix is titled Autopilot, and it is credited to Amok, whose previous Corewatch mix found common ground between Autechre, Cocteau Twins (also heard here) and Nurse with Wound. But whereas that early mix spread its 18 tracks out leisurely, for a CD-filling nearly 74 minutes, Autopilot (here) packs its 33 tracks in under an hour.

Whether or not you choose to do that math assignment, the result is a collision of impulses. On the one hand, the music is easy like a Sunday morning spent listening to a college radio show (at 120kbps, this is not CD-quality sound) of several generations of spacey pop musics; on the other hand, it shifts gears at a good clip. Sometimes, despite the intently lackadaisical sound palette, the individual tracks rub up against each other in vaguely unsettling ways: slurry phone chatter goofiness leads into Elizabeth Fraser’s elfin glossolalia into Plaid’s blippy computer pop into a bit of Moebius-strip plunderphonics courtesy of the Tape Beatles.

The artful hodgepodge of a set list notwithstanding, the most peculiar thing about this mix is that its DJ, this Amok, has decided to divide each segment from the next with a second or so of silence, which in the end makes this less of a mix tape and more of a charm bracelet of audio curios. It might have been more interesting to provide the 33 tracks as individual MP3 files, allowing the listener to drop them into a player with shuffle control and a two-second crossfade, and put Autopilot‘s contents on actual autopilot.

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The Public Record

An archival interview from back in 1999, when composer Steve Reich talked about Reich Remixed, an album on which electronica acts rework his formidable, minimalist contributions to classical music

Steve Reich is on the phone from his studio in downtown Manhattan. He’s taken some time to talk about Reich Remixed, a compilation album on Nonesuch Records. Nonesuch celebrated Reich’s tenure with the label in 1997 with a boxed set, Works (1965 – 1995), but this 1999 celebration of his extensive oeuvre has a very different intended audience. Names like Coldcut and Howie B, among the nine remix contributors, certainly might attract pop-music aficionados to unfamiliar territory.

The question that remains: Just how unfamiliar? Reich’s twin themes of percussive propulsion and sampling-based composition are tailor-made for adoption by electronic musicians. His brand of minimalism, along with that of composers Philip Glass and Terry Riley, is a key precursor to ambient music. In fact, many of the names assembled by Nonesuch (Andrea Parker, Tranquility Bass and Ken Ishii among them) routinely list him as a major influence. And, as he is the first to point out, Reich Remixed isn’t the first time his music has graced the dance floor.

Steve Reich: This all began about two years ago, when I was in Japan. A man named Hiro Nakashima, who is one of the people who works for Nonesuch in Japan, said that he thought there should be a remix album, of my music, and I said, Why do you say that? He said he knew a lot of these DJs and they would really like to do it. So I said, It’s fine with me. I wasn’t going to say no, and took a “wait and see” attitude. So he then contacted David Bither, here in New York, who runs Nonesuch International here, and David started contacting a woman by the name of Amy Coffee, who works in the UK with a lot of this kind of music and who was interested in my music as well, and between [the three of them] the people who you see on the CD, and other people who … didn’t get onto the CD, got interested in making remixes of various pieces. Slowly the whole thing built, and here it is.

I must admit, before we go too much further, I basically knew very little about this. I knew very little about remix[ing] in general. I had heard the word — I had heard a few things. What happened, I guess, five or six or seven years ago in London, somebody was interviewing me for a pop magazine, and said, “You know the Orb,” and I said, “No, what’s the Orb?” and he said, “You know ‘Fluffy Little Clouds,'” and I said, “No, I don’t know ‘Fluffy Clouds,'” and so he said he had to get me the CD. So he got me the CD and I thought, Oh, so this is what’s going on.

Marc Weidenbaum: That was the song on which the Orb sampled your work.

Reich: That was the Orb track that put them on the map, and it had a 30-second chunk of [my composition] “Electric Counterpoint” in it.

Weidenbaum: Have you seen the commercials?

Reich: No.

Weidenbaum: It’s the background music for a Volkswagen Beetle commercial

Reich: Well, I’ll inform Nonesuch of that. In any case, I became aware of both the phenomena and the interest in my music from people who probably weren’t born when I did “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out” [early sample-based music recorded in the mid-1960s]. And, you know, it was kind of nice. There’s a kind of poetic justice there. By which I mean this: when I was 14 I used to go down to Birdland, which was the reigning jazz club of the 1950s and early ’60s, and see Miles Davis and drummer Kenny Clarke, who really turned me on, and later I went to hear John Coltrane, both here in New York and when I was a student out in San Francisco, as often as I possibly could. Cut to 1973 and I’m in London and my ensemble is giving a concert there, and at the end of the concert a man comes up and says, “Hello, I’m Brian Eno.”

Weidenbaum: And he was wearing white face makeup —

Reich: Well, he had just long hair and lipstick. It was [the] Roxy Music [era]. And later, in 1976, David Bowie was in Berlin when we did the German premiere of “Music for 18 [Musicians],” and he came again to the Bottom Line [in Manhattan] when we played a music promotional concert for that record in ’78. And so that was the first movement — return from the pop side toward me, after I had done what I’d done when I was a student. And the years pass, and now here’s another generation, completely different and younger from Bowie and Eno, who are coming at it from an entirely different way. And, you know, it’s very nice to see that my music is of interest to those people and it can be useful. Because it’s very nice to be liked by the public in general, but it’s even nicer to find admirers in the music community, on either side of the tracks.

Weidenbaum: The association is such a natural, you do ask yourself why wasn’t it done a few years ago?

Reich: It was, in fact, brewing. There were other signs as well. This is a way of organizing something that was happening quite spontaneously.

Weidenbaum: Do you see yourself as a part of this kind of music? How aware are you of current pop music, or what’s going on in classical music in general — to what extent do you keep yourself cloistered and working?

Reich: Well, a little bit of both. I am aware of what is going on in what I would call new music, partly because I go to concerts in New York, not that frequently but fairly frequently, but also people send me things, and also because I travel around and people say, “Have you heard so and so?” I’ll play with Ensemble Moderne in Germany, and there’s a pianist there who every few months will send me something and say, “You’ve got to hear this.” I am very interested in Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, the Bang on a Can Group, Mikel Rouse, who did this incredible piece, “Dennis Cleveland,” which we’re going to hear a lot more about I am sure. I was interested in Glen Branca a few years back and I still am. That’s my backyard, so to speak, and there are people who probably would say they have gotten something from my music in this normal type of influence within your own field. It was more surprising to find it had such an influence — to answer the other question, what I know about the remix world is really very little.

Weidenbaum: You’ve checked out some things?

Reich: I suspect that in the course of probably meeting some of these people, and journalists — if you have the ability to do it, send me some CDs, get me educated here, after the fact.

Weidenbaum: Do you have children?

Reich: Yeah, I do, but my son, Ezra, is 20 years old and he was first — basically, he got into the Grateful Dead; he’s a guitar player. Then he got into bluegrass and turned me on to Bill Monroe. I never even knew that [music]. So, he went a very different direction.

Weidenbaum: It was recently reported that David Mamet had turned down a women’s theater group that wanted to perform his monologues. He said that they can do whatever they want with the setting of the plays, but the men’s parts are for men and the women’s are for women —

Reich: First of all, a lot of things happened before I was even aware of it, so consequently, no one sent me a copy of “Little Fluffy Clouds” and said, “Is this alright with you.” Because at the time they were relatively unknown, we didn’t take any legal steps either, when we had that option. This is a field of musical appropriation that depends on the quantity of the music that is used. The little I have heard of the use of my music, I think it’s just fine. And I’m interested to see how people will take off on it. There’s a tradition in music of people stealing from other composers, quoting and otherwise. I don’t know if you saw “Hindenburg,” the piece that’s the first act of three tales we presented at BAM in the fall. The third scene is called “Nibelungen Zeppelin,” which is a stealing of the [he sings the “Ride of the Valkyries” theme] thing in Wagner and putting it into the [mix]. The video artist uses actual shots of the construction of the Hindenburg and incredible cut outs of that while I’m literally taking the Wagner and turning it into a Steve Reich repetition-and-phase piece. It will probably come out with a new piece I am writing for Kronos right now in the not too distant future, and I hope it will be all in DVD so you can see. I live in a world where — and the whole quote postmodern [un-quote] thing. I’m not a part of that but it’s something I am very aware of, taking very literal quotes of all types of music and doing whatever they’re doing to do with it. I think it’s more a question of “It ain’t that you’re doing it, it’s what you’re doing.” If you do it with any kind of interest, that’s interesting, and if you don’t it’s a big bore.

Weidenbaum: I suppose there’s a difference between what’s in the public domain, and what isn’t — this record is obviously done with everyone’s blessing. And I wonder if there’s a difference between orchestrating someone else’s composition, and taking an original recording and working it into your own.

Reich: For many of these people, they don’t see a difference between the written and recorded. I don’t think they have anything to do with notation. I think Howie B’s “Eight Lines” is a very sophisticated job. I wrote the whole piece in 5/8, and he kept it that way. Rare to find DJs or anyone else in the pop world who works in a meter like 5. I know he got hold of the 24 track. And I mentioned to David Bither that if people wanted to really isolate — we don’t record rock and roll style, with every instrument separated from every other instrument in a sound proof booth. We record in a room, so if you listen to a single track of a 24 track you’ll hear the other instruments in the background. So I told David Bither, look, if anyone wants to get into this and really just get one part, they can go to the score, copy it out in a notation program, and pour it into a sequencer and assign any MIDI sound they want to it. I have a feeling he particularly might have gotten into that.

Weidenbaum: How do you yourself compose?

Reich: I used to compose on the piano and with multi-tracked tape recorders, multi-track tape recorders. To hear the relationship between the lines I would simply overdub them. And between playing them at the piano and overdubbing them at the tape recorder, that’s how it was done. That’s up to 1986, at which point I got a Macintosh, which was an interim period, and then by now I’m working between the piano for certain things and the computer for everything else.

Weidenbaum: I wonder about composers coming to further blur the line between the tools they write on and the instruments they see as performance-ready, along the lines of what John Adams did on Hoodoo Zephyr.

Reich: Um, I’ve heard a couple tracks on John’s record, and I don’t think it’s the best thing he’s ever done.

[We both laugh.]

Reich: I basically work in Finale, a notation program which is sitting on the screen right now. I have inside the computer a card, called Samplecell, whereby you can store whatever samples you want, and when the notation plays back instead of triggering an outside sample it triggers the ones inside, which is filled with basically musical-instrument samples. And then when I’m doing a piece like “The Cave,” or “Three Tales,” it’s filled with voices or whatever else, in addition to the musical instruments. It’s a mark-up, like an architect’s manqué of a building. For instance, when Kronos is going to learn this piece, I will send them the notation and a MIDI version of the piece, which is useful for them to get the overall feeling of the thing, the exact tempo and so forth.

Weidenbaum: I’m calling from Northern California, and I understood you have a history out here.

Reich: First I studied at Cornell, where mostly I studied philosophy, playing drums and sung music with William Austin, then went to Juilliard from 1959 through ’61, then I went to Mills College and was a graduate student when [Luciano] Berio was out there, ’63 to ’65, and actually my best friend, who was also studying out there at the time, was Phil Lesh, the bass player with the Grateful Dead — of course, at that time, was still Phil Lesh the composer who plays the trumpet. Things change.

Weidenbaum: This is before Pauline Oliveros’ time out there?

Reich: Pauline was out there, but before the Tape Music Center came to Mills, when it was in San Francisco and run by Ramon Sender and Mort Subotnick.

Weidenbaum: You’ve used samples in your own work, as in “Different Trains.”

Reich: The basic idea behind “Different Trains” is that the music would come out of the voice melody of the speakers, and there isn’t any fiddling [with those voices], nor in “The Cave,” any fiddling with the actual pitch or speed of the speakers. That changes in “Three Tales,” in “Hindenburg.” And there’s a tremendous — I mean, I have some slow-motion sound of the famous announcer who announces the crash of the Hindenburg, where I stretch his voice out to 12 times its original length. It really gets to what he’s talking about. In those pieces, in “Different Trains” and “The Cave,” the basic attitude is: what they speak is how I write. Every time a woman speaks, a viola will literally play what she says, and every time a man speaks, a cello will literally play what he plays — er, says. And all of the music will arise out of that melodic material. and it does. And that is quite a different way from the pop people.

Weidenbaum: It’s more along the lines of what Scott Johnson has been doing, with “John Somebody” and the more recent I.F. Stone recordings.

Reich: Scott has been doing that. “Different Trains” seems to have had some effect — I mean, Kronos is now an amplified band. And, I think this is a very fertile field. I think sampling in general — you know my piece “City Life”?

Weidenbaum: Yes, certainly.

Reich: I’m not quite clear how the Orb does perform. I’ve never seen these guys in person, so I’m not really sure how they — what, for example, goes on when you’re doing “Fluffy Clouds” [in front of a live audience].

Weidenbaum: Frighteningly little potentially, aside from mixing elements, and mixing in other records, though it can be a lot of fun. Coldcut, for example, might breaks its music into segments, and then have the samples trigger a video segment to complement it.

Reich: Sampling an audio and video sample at the same time? I saw that one coming.

Weidenbaum: “Different Trains” is one of the few major works of yours that isn’t treated on the remix album.

Reich: I specifically told them to keep that out of it. And “The Cave” as well

Weidenbaum: Why?

Reich: Just the subject matter. Some things are appropriate. Some things aren’t. [“Different Trains” includes numerous samples of voices of Holocaust survivors.]

Weidenbaum: There is an electronic musician named Chessie who does a lot of great work with train sounds, and he would no doubt do it tastefully.

Reich: I think trains are, as the history of jazz proves, a very musical machine. So, working with the trains alone … that isn’t the part of the piece I felt was inappropriate — it was the other things.

Weidenbaum: “Tehilim” was another favorite missing from the record. Did people steer away from your vocal pieces?

Reich: There was a mix of “The Desert Music,” though I think it’s going to appear in the U.K. [A remix of “The Desert Music” credited to freQ Nasty & B.L.I.M. appears as a bonus track on initial pressings of the Reich Remixed CD.] Now, “Tehilim,” was that on the block or not? I have a feeling it may not have been open for use.

Weidenbaum: The very first track on Reich Remixed, that opening sound, is going to be familiar to rock fans because it’s the sort of sound the Who borrowed from Terry Riley for some extent.

Reich: Justice here and justice there. The opening basically is imitating the pulsing section in “Music for 18 Musicians.” That’s what they’re doing. But the actual way they’re doing it is not having a bunch of people playing, so the effect of it is like it was in the original.

Weidenbaum: You mentioned Miles Davis — are you aware of this Miles Davis remix record, Panthalassa, by Bill Laswell?

Reich: You mean someone who remixed Miles? Because Miles is no longer with us.

Weidenbaum: Yeah, mixed up a lot of his early electric work, and then had DJs remix the remixes.

Reich: I think Miles would have loved that. He was always trying to keep up with whatever was going on. I haven’t heard it, but if you have an extra copy …

Weidenbaum: You had the box set come out — it is one way to announce your music to a new audience. A box sits on a shelf and says, it’s time to pay attention if you haven’t already.

Reich: The box is a wonderful thing, but you’ve got to bear in mind that the amount of boxes sold, compared to normal CDs, is a fraction, because it’s such an expensive item. It’s more for people who have been very into my music and want to have everything there is.

Weidenbaum: It’s well-priced, at less than 10 dollars per record.

Reich: Oh, yes it’s done very well, but compared with CDs, it’s a matter of fractions.

Weidenbaum: Can you explain more about your interest in DVD?

Reich: What I’m talking about is — did you see “The Cave”? What we’re doing now — “Three Tales” is now on one screen. “The Cave” was on five screens and to reduce it to a video is unintelligible gobbly gook, because each screen is postage-stamp size, and when there’s words on many of the screens you can’t read them and so forth. “Three Tales” is on one huge screen — or if it’s broadcast on TV, then on one small screen. And it is a video opera, and it is digital, and it is something to be seen and heard at the same time. Even more so than a conventional opera. I always felt that the shame that “The Cave” had to go out by itself — that is, without video — and it suffered for that. “Hindenburg” is just the first act of “Three Tales,” but it happened to be performed early so it will probably be recorded and go out with “Triple Quartet,” the piece for Kronos; then the normal way to record it was see the video and hear the music — because they’re absolutely glued together. DVD is a marvelously convenient phenomena that I think is bound for success here. At last something that everyone will have. Laser disc just never happened.

Weidenbaum: And VHS?

Reich: The VHS market is really a movie market, and even music videos didn’t do very well. Bob Hurwitz [executive at Nonesuch] was never very interested in doing this. It wouldn’t have mattered what it was because since “The Cave” isn’t viewable on one screen, unless Beryl Korot does a new version of the piece, which she might some time in the next millenium. But this piece is on a single screen and therefore is immediately capable of being broadcast, and that’s being discussed in Europe, and it’s immediately capable of being placed on whatever medium — VHS or DVD, or … and DVD is so much better, and it’s a product where you can play it just to hear the music. It could certainly go on VHS, but …

Weidenbaum: The DVD offers you more freedom.

Reich: I think this is more likely to get in the hands of the people who we want it to.

Weidenbaum: Another question about “Different Trains.” Could you talk about the process of hearing the human voice speak and your then writing music that comes out of its inherent rhythm and melody?

Reich: Well, what happened was, I had an idea — cut to 1987 and I had a commission from Betty Freeman to write a piece for the Kronos Quartet. The video artist Beryl Korot actually suggested to me: why don’t you use this sampling keyboard you’ve been talking about. And I said, “A ha,” and the light went on. So the first idea was, I’m going to use speaking voice and the instruments, instead of going back to “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out,” which were basically speech pieces which, because the voice was very pitched, if you repeated it over and over again and played it against itself it was almost as if it were music. Well, this time, let’s make it part of the musical ensemble, and let the music extend those vocal melodies, so that you really imbed a piece of speech in the musical background. But I didn’t know what the speech was, I had no idea what it was going to be. At first I thought it was going to be Béla Bartók, because he’s a great favorite of mine and probably wrote the greatest string quartets since Beethoven. But for various reasons that didn’t work out. So, then I thought I was going to use the voice of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and there were no recordings of him, and I thought, This is ridiculous, let’s think of something closer to home here. And for whatever reason these early train trips that happened to me as a kid popped into my head, and when I started thinking about them — I said, when was that; that was 1938, ’39, ’40, ’41. And I thought, what was going on then — well, what’s going on then is the beginning of World War II and the beginning of taking Jews to concentration camps. And I began thinking, if I had been in Brussels or in Dusseldorf instead of New York, I would have been going to Poland and I wouldn’t be writing any music now. That was basically the genesis of the piece. Then I had to get the recordings. The recordings of the first movement [in “Different Trains”] I made myself, of Virginia, my nurse, my governess when I was a child, who was with me on these trips going back and forth between my mother and my father, and I just recorded her on my Sony Walkman Pro, and the same thing with Lawrence Davis, who was a retired Pullman porter down in Washington, D.C., who I got to know. Then I had to go to Yale, there’s an archive of Holocaust survivors, and I listened to lots and lots of stuff, and copied some of it, which was — out of all of these amazing stories, some were told with a very musical voice. And then I brought this stuff home and every time I caught a sentence or a phrase that caught my ear because of what was said and the way it was said [he half sings the phrase “From Chicago”], I immediately recorded it into a sampling keyboard I was working with in those days. So, after, I dunno, a couple of weeks of doing this I had, like, a stack of floppy discs, and each time I had one of these phrases I would go to my music notebook and play it over and over again on the sampling keyboard, and play the piano against the sampler until I could ascertain what the notes were in the speaker.

Weidenbaum: And then you’d do variations on a given melodic fragment?

Reich: That’s putting it simply. Yes, basically. By the end of that time, I had all these fragments, I had to arrange them in an order that told a story or made sense, and also allowed me to make musical moves between keys and tempos. In addition, I also had recordings of actual train sounds — American trains sounds and European train sounds, which are quite different, especially when it comes to the whistles. And they again became part of the music — while the violas and cellos are doing the voices, the violins are actually doubling the sounds of the train whistles. So, it was a process of listening to the voices, writing down what they said, seeing what key that was in, seeing what harmonies would work with that, seeing what melodic material would work best against itself, and then seeing how each little voice could be turned into canons of itself and so on, as purely musical texture. And that’s how the piece grew.

Weidenbaum: Did you find that people tend to speak in a particular key?

Reich: No, they don’t. Sometimes, if they’re very glued into a subject matter, they stay put in something — like, when Mr. Davis was talking about “1939, 1940 and 1941” it was in the exact same tempo, I mean as measured by a computer — it was uncanny. Not the other things that he had to say. He was going down these dates and his remembrance of these periods, and he was worked up about it, and he was in kind of a bodily state, and that state was absolutely metronomically together. But that’s the exception, rather than the rule.

Weidenbaum: I was co-editing a magazine called Classical Pulse! at the time and K. Robert Schwarz did a story for us about that. But I have spoken with Scott Johnson about his I.F. Stone stuff, which really affected the way I heard voices. Did your work similarly affect you the way you yourself heard people speak?

Reich: Sometimes yes, but basically there are languages in the world, that we don’t speak, you and I, but in Africa for instance, where — they’re called tonal languages — if you don’t have the melody right, then you don’t have the meaning right. But even in English, American English, if someone was “no,” “No!,” or, “erm, no,” those are three different statements. We are used to living with what I would call “speech melody” hovering over everything we say — it’s happening right now, and it’s the emotional water [starts to laugh] in which our words swim.

Weidenbaum: According to his biographer, Samuel Johnson would always have these conversations in which he would discuss with people which word in a written sentence you should accent, or emphasize.

Reich: That’s very real, and contributes heavily, and always has, and in all periods of time and in all languages. The reason Dr. Johnson was doing that, Samuel Johnson was doing that, is because that’s lost on the printed page. The great writers supply it so you hear it in your mind’s ear, through the context or the accent of the character that they’ve established. There’s a lot of really great stuff like that in James Joyce, who does establish that.

Weidenbaum: Similarly, what’s cool about the contemporary realm of the electronic stuff is hearing the fax machine, the phone and everything sampled and recycled as music.

Reich: All this stuff is grist for the mill. The 20th century is loaded with people who wanted to bring in machine sounds, propellers, [Edgar] Varèse’s sirens, [John] Cage’s radio, and Pink Floyd’s the telephone and the cash register. That’s definitely, always been — Rossini has to conjure up storm music in “William Tell.” The glockenspiel was a big hit early on because composers always wanted to write for bells, and there was no practical way to do that. There’s been a desire to bring the world into the music, and we now have the sampling keyboard — a huge portal, it’s all there.

A much shorter version of the above conversation, about a quarter of the text, originally appeared in the March 5, 1999, issue of epulse, an online zine. The following feature article, derived from the interview, was originally published in Pulse! magazine, April 1999. 
Howie B, Coldcut, Andrea Parker and six other studio wizards make a formal case for electronic music’s debt to classical composer Steve Reich.

The British DJ duo Coldcut folds a lot of history into the opening seconds of Reich Remixed, the new compilation album for which Nonesuch Records commissioned nine highly established electronic acts to play “cut and paste” with the work of composer Steve Reich, a mainstay of the label. Coldcut’s track, which reworks Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” launches with a pulsing, flanging, wah-wah cascade of repetitive notes that, even in this rarefied context, immediately brings to mind nothing other than the Who’s classic-rock staple, “Baba O’Riley.”

Well, not nothing other than — see, the “Riley” in Who leader Pete Townshend’s song title was a tip of the hat, in its day, to composer Terry Riley, one of the originators of the classical school of contemporary composition familiarly known as minimalism. Minimalism, as in Philip Glass, John Adams, Riley and … Steve Reich, whose aficionados will recognize the Coldcut salvo as a cybernetic tweak on his familiar percussive motifs. Those hallucinogenic, waxing and waning cycles that Coldcut delights in revisiting were directly derived by Townshend from Riley’s scintillating late-’60s counterpoint, which was itself indebted to ritual Balinese music.

And Coldcut’s plain-stated gist makes an apt epigram for the entire Reich Remixed project: Pop and classical music have a long, intertwined history, from the fence-sitting Gershwins, to conductor Leonard Bernstein’s championing of the Beatles, to the rock operas of the Who and Ray Davies’ Kinks, to Brian Eno’s early work recording the compositions of Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman (Britain’s two foremost minimalists), to Philip Glass’ recent orchestrations of David Bowie’s classic ’70s albums Lodger and Low.

Asked for comment on the musicological interplay, Steve Reich says, simply, “Justice here and justice there,” before launching into an autobiographical sketch delineating his own place in a continuum that, upon reflection, appears to render the term “crossover” redundant.

“There’s a kind of poetic justice there,” he says, on the phone from his studio in Manhattan. “When I was 14, I used to go down to Birdland, the reigning jazz club of the 1950s and early ’60s, and see Miles Davis and drummer Kenny Clarke, who really turned me on. And later I went to hear John Coltrane as often as I possibly could, both here in New York and when I was a student in San Francisco. Cut to 1973 and I’m in London with my ensemble, and at the end of the concert a man comes up and says, ‘Hello, I’m Brian Eno.’ And later, in 1976, David Bowie was in Berlin when we did the German premiere of ‘Music for 18,’ and he came again to the Bottom Line [in New York] and we played a music promotional concert for that record in 1978. That was the first return from the pop side toward me, after I had done what I’d done when I was a student.

“And the years pass,” he says, “and now here’s another generation, completely different and younger than Bowie and Eno, who are coming at it from an entirely different way. And, you know, it’s very nice to see that my music is of interest to those people and it can be useful. Because it’s very nice to be liked by the public in general, but it’s even nicer to find admirers in the music community, on either side of the tracks.”

If Works (1965 – 1995), the 10-CD commemorative boxed set that Nonesuch produced for Steve Reich in 1997, was the composer’s coming-out festivity, formally announcing his pre-eminence in 20th century music and displaying his collected oeuvre for consumption and discussion, then the Reich Remixed CD is the after-party. It gathers together nine of what Reich — who is a big self-conscious about not being entirely up to date on the trends in popular music since, say, John Coltrane — correctly describes as “another generation, completely different” of young music makers.

The collection ranges from the respectful (Howie B’s “Eight Lines” maintains the original’s off-kilter meter, to Reich’s pleasant surprise) through the thoroughly disassembled (DJ Spooky’s “City Life” seems to unfold the original and focus on its disparate elements one at a time; by far, it is the album’s least “danceable” cut, unless you happen to be choreographer Merce Cunningham).

“I don’t think they have anything to do with notation,” says Reich, attempting to extrapolate the working habits of his admirers, whose primary instruments are samplers and sequencers. “I think Howie B’s ‘Eight Lines’ is a very sophisticated job. I wrote the whole piece in 5/8, and he kept it that way. Rare to find DJs or anyone else in the pop world who works in a meter like 5.”

“It took me a long time to do it,” says Howie B, on the phone from Paris, where he is producing the next album by Les Negresses Vertes. “I concentrated totally on the arrangement, building up the different sections that he had originally recorded, and just using them in a different way — turn him on to different aspects. Most of my focus was on the arrangement, ’cause the beat doesn’t really change; the groove is the same; the only thing that changes is the actual musicality of it. I had to make that right, and it was a big challenge to me.”

Howie’s aspirations for his contribution may have been higher than the record company’s. He waited a long time for a copy of the original multitrack tapes to “Music for 18 Musicians.”

“They turned around and said, ‘Can’t you sample off the CD?’ and I went, ‘No, that’s not why I’m doing it. I want to touch on the sounds that were there.’ It’s not like doing a normal remix.”

Six more contributions are also adaptations of specific works: Coldcut’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” Andrea Parker’s “The Four Sections,” Mantronik’s “Drumming,” DJ Takemura’s “Proverb,” D-Note’s “Piano Phase” and Ken Ishii’s “Come Out.” And Tranquility Bass contributed a wide-ranging sample feast under the title “Megamix.”

Not all of Reich’s work was up for grabs. “Different Trains,” his lengthy, and technically accomplished, meditation on the Holocaust was off-limits, even though formally it is one of the most obvious points of intersection between his work and that of his young admirers. “Different Trains” is built to a great extent from samples of voices — his own governess, from childhood, as well as tapes of concentration-camp survivors — and of train sounds. “I think trains are, as the history of jazz proves,” says Reich, “a very musical machine. So, working with the trains alone … that isn’t the part of the piece I felt was inappropriate. It was the other things.”

Andrea Parker, who remixed “The Four Sections,” says she used to play “Different Trains” in her DJ sets. “Between Reload and Black Dog,” she says, on the phone from her studio in London, naming two musical acts. “I always will pick stuff with strings and piano,” she says of her attraction to “The Four Sections.” “I don’t write in 4/4, so it’s great for me. My song ‘Rocking Chair’ — people had trouble with it. Several made a remix, but it’s tough to get the gist, because it’s 3/4.”

This collection is far from a surprise; like many watershed musical events, it has its precedents and its own internal cultural logic. The recent context includes Aphex Twin’s remix of Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic and Philip Glass’ string arrangement for Aphex Twin’s song “Icct Hedral,” but the real source of inspiration is simply Reich’s own work. His m.o. was tailor-made for tribute by today’s electronic-pop musicians. His twin motivations have been regimented rhythmic percussion and the invocation of sampled material; if that isn’t a recipe for a techno hit, what is? His early compositions “It’s Gonna Rain” (1965) and “Come Out” (1966) are truly seminal works in sample-based composition, both building music from taped snippets of the human voice. One of the cornerstones of his lengthy “City Life” (1994) is a sample of a car screeching to a halt.

If anything, Reich Remixed is the culmination of electronica’s debt to his genius — again, to draw comparison with the Works box, very much a look back. His name has long been a common center-post to any highfalutin conversation among electronic musicians. Mention Reich to Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto and he immediately begins singing the vocal motif from “Come Out.” Mention Reich to DJ David Holmes and his response is “Avant fuckin’ garde music,” meant entirely as a compliment.

And technically, Reich has already been prominently (if anonymously, and without his foreknowledge) tributed by electronica; several musicians have “quoted” his work in the recent past, most noticeably the Orb, whose 1990 single “Little Fluffy Clouds” sampled a lengthy swath of Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint.” Today that song is featured prominently in a TV ad for the new Volkswagen Beetle. (Reich was unaware of the ad. “Well, I’ll inform Nonesuch of that,” he half-jokes.)

Clearly, Reich embraces sampling and musical appropriation. This is him describing a scene from Hindenburg, a “documentary video opera” collaboration with artist Beryl Korot that premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year: “The third scene is called ‘Nibelungen Zeppelin,’ which is a stealing of the” — he sings the “Ride of the Valkyries” theme — “thing in Wagner. I’m literally taking the Wagner and turning it into a Steve Reich repetition-and-phase piece.” Elsewhere in the work, he says, “I have some slow-motion sound of the famous announcer who announces the crash of the Hindenburg, where I stretch his voice out to 12 times its original length; it really gets to what he’s talking about.”

Reich is hungry for more information on this new world of electronic pop music into which Remixed has opened a window, but he is also reflective of the electronic scene’s place in the music continuum. “The 20th century is loaded with people who wanted to bring in machine sounds,” he says. “Varèse’s sirens, Cage’s radio, and for Pink Floyd the telephone and the cash register; Rossini has to conjure up storm music in William Tell. The glockenspiel was a bit hit early on because composers always wanted to write for bells, and there was no practical way to do that. There’s been a desire to bring the world into the music, and we now have the sampling keyboard — a huge portal, it’s all there.”

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