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American Composers A Biographical Dictionary David Ewen G.P. Putnam's Sons New York (c) 1982 by David Ewen 495w

= page 526, 527 (Reich) =

Reich, Steve Michael, b. New York City, October 3, 1936

In 1961, Reich left New York for California, enrolling as a graduate student at Mills College in Oakland. During the next two years he continued his study of composition with Darius Milhaud and Luciano Berio. With Berio, Reich studied the twelve-tone and serial techniques, but Reich's concern for tonality and harmonic interest made it impossible for him to subscribe to the strict dictates of the Viennese School. "If you want to write tonal music, why don't you write tonal music?" Berio asked him. This question proved useful in making Reich aware of his own priorities at a time when tonality and steady pulse were not in fashion.

At Mills College, Reich served as graduate assistant in music in 1962-63. Though he heard African music several years earlier, Reich first became interested in the African music system through A.M. Jones's Studies in African Music, which Gunther Schuller had recommended to him.

After receiving his master of arts degree in music at Mills College in 1963, Reich settled in San Francisco. There he wrote music for the San Francisco Mime Troupe and presented concerts at the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Determined to be a performer in his own compositions, he formed a five-man ensemble specializing in free and controlled improvisation. For this unit he wrote Pitch Charts (1963), which gave all the players the same notes to play but with a free rhythm. After less than a year of the ensemble's existence, Reich came to feel that its efforts with improvisation seemed fruitless. He disbanded the group and returned to fully notated scores.

Electronic music now engaged his interest. Music for Piano and Tape (1964) was introduced at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in January 1965 with the composer at the piano with tape. While supporting himself by driving a taxicab, Reich taped over ten hours of the sounds of the streets and the voices of passengers which, in 1965, became Livelihood (San Francisco, January 1965), a three-minute sound collage.

His first major work in which the phase-shifting technique is first discovered, It's Gonna Rain (1965; San Francisco, January 1965), is a taped speech composition using the voice of a black Pentecostal minister preaching about the Flood. Its first movement takes the continually repeated three-word, four-syllable phrase in two voices from unison, gradually moving out of phase with itself, and about seven minutes later back into unison with itself. The second movement takes a much longer speech loop and superimposes it on itself finally in eight voices all out of phase with each other producing a musical sound of cosmic dissolution. It's Gonna Rain was recorded by Columbia Masterworks in 1969...

In 1965, Reich left the Bay Area of San Francisco to return to New York...

Typed by Cheryl Vega 7-31-95


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