Steve Reich’s music first came to my attention during my university years in the mid ‘70s. I was beginning to find my own way into a life in music and art, and the power and innovation in his early works—the amplified Pendulum Music, tape pieces such as Come Out and It’s Gonna Rain, the encyclopedic Drumming, and the mind-blowing Four Organs—provided huge inspiration. Here were decidedly modernist works, created by someone who obviously lived through the upheavals and innovations—musically and otherwise—of the 1960s; works which drew on a diverse range of elements, from the mid-century modernist traditions of Cage et al. through to rock music and on out to more far-flung world musics, as well as the visual arts—the same influences hovering over the rock avant-garde of the day.
When I moved to New York City in 1979, I went to hear Steve’s ensemble perform Music for 18 Musicians. It hit me with a ferocity equal to that of all the exciting rock-based music being made—from Television to Glenn Branca to DNA. At that time in New York there was a heightened sense of interplay and inspiration, a conspiratorial excitement in the air about the many new directions “modern music” was taking (whether for 18 musicians, sine waves, or electric guitar orchestras). It appeared for a brief time that the worlds of “high” and “low” were not that far apart. An innovative community of individuals broke down those barriers, and synthesized some new and unique things. It was a most exciting time to be in New York. Aspects of Steve’s music encompassed repetition and phasing (much like rock), utilized tape recorders as musical tools (ditto), and pushed the envelope of what audiences expected or would tolerate. The results were often beautiful, expansive, trance-inducing, and unlike anything that came before it. My admiration for and inspiration from his music have not let up ever since. It is some of the most important music made in the 20th century, and I am overjoyed to be around to hear it and fortunate to call Steve a friend.
Singer, guitarist, and poet Lee Ranaldo is a founding member of the rock band Sonic Youth.