30/11/2018: “Electric Counterpoint” by Steve Reich

Minimalist music was a polarising movement at the time of its creation, but has since gained a measure of acceptance in the classical music world. The central credo is essentially to use less of everything. Less notes, less ideas, more experimentation.

This doesn’t mean that the style has nothing going on; it’s not about creating 10 minute songs consisting primarily of silence (although this has been done). It’s just about viewing music in a way that repeats certain themes, much in the manner of Indian classical music (from which a lot of minimalist music takes its inspiration).

For it’s critics, it’s a musical form that has boredom and repetitiveness written into its DNA.

But for all that much of it does indeed sound very similar, there are more than a few pieces created by its luminaries that slot comfortably into place alongside the traditional classical canon.

Steve Reich is probably my favourite out of the main composers associated with the movement such as Terry Riley and Philip Glass. He tends to favour percussion and heavily rhythmic styles.

“Electric Counterpoint” is a song written for guitar. Or more accurately, guitars. Lots and lots of guitars. A full ensemble for this has 11 guitars and two basses!

The first recording, by experimental jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, was made by him overdubbing himself many times, creating a thick mist of sound drifting and swirling, with an airy, diaphanous sheen.

The piece is divided into three parts, called Fast I, Slow II and Fast III. The parts do what they say on the tin…

The song was released first on the album Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint in 1989, with the Kronos Quartet’s rendering of the composition “Different Trains”.

Timeless quality.

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