PREVIOUS UP TOP
Talking Music by William Duckworth (c) 1995 by Schirmer Books ISBN 0-02-870823-7 excerpts 1676w

- pg 293 thru 297 -

DUCKWORTH: The first piece of yours I remember hearing was the early tape piece It's Gonna Rain. Do you remember what was going on in early tape piece It's Gonna Rain. Do you remember what was going on in your mind as you were writing it?

REICH: There were a number of things. I became aware of African music via a composers' conference that was held in 1962 in Ojai, California, when I was still a student of [Luciano] Berio's at Mills College. The class went down to Ojai, and among the various dignitaries was Gunther Schuller, who was writing his history of early jazz. In talking to us, he mentioned that he had wanted to find out what black Americans had done musically before they came to America, and in doing so he had discovered a book. The book was Studies in African Music by A. M. Jones. I went back to the Berkeley Library and got it out. And although I had heard African music before -- I'd heard records, I knew that it swung, I knew you made it with drums, I knew it was very rhythmic -- I handn't the faintest idea of how it was made; how it was put together. Seeing this book was quite a revelation for me in terms of seeing a brand new musical technique laid out on paper.

DUCKWORTH: What did you see?

REICH: It can be summarized as repeating patterns, more or less in what we would call 12/8 time, superimposed to that their downbeats don't come together.

DUCKWORTH: Were you also interested in jazz at this point?

REICH: I had a lot of interest in John Coltrane's music, because he was alive and playing in San Francisco. When I wasn't at Mills College during the day, I was going to the Jazz Workshop at night listening to him. I had been interested in jazz since I was fourteen, but Coltrane's music was particularly interesting, because he was working with one or two chords. That was the modal period, when there was a lot of music happening based on very little harmony. It became clear to me that what Coltrane was showing was, that against a drone or a held tonality, you could play basically any note, and noises as well.

DUCKWORTH: Didn't you also conclude your formal education about this same time?

REICH: I got my M.A. in 1963. And instead of applying for jobs teaching harmony and theory, I decided that I really was not cut out for academic life. I opted to take a job driving a cab in San Francisco, which I proceeded to bug with a microphone. I surreptitiously recorded conversations and noises and made them into a tape collage called Livelihood. (I later bulk erased it, which is another story.)

DUCKWORTH: Why didn't you want to go the teaching route?

REICH: I became convinced that I didn't want to get involved with teaching music, because the energies that I needed to compose were the very energies that were depleted by teaching. This is something that I had observed in teachers of mine. And that led to forming an ensemble.

DUCKWORTH: Had you had any previous experience with ensembles?

REICH: I actually had, believe it or not, an improvising group in 1963 in San Francisco. Members of that group included Jon Gibson, the reed player now with Phil Glass; Tom Constanten, who played with the Grateful Dead; and Phil Lesh, who plays bass with the Grateful Dead, but was occasionally a trumpet player in my group. What this group did, basically, was play what I called pitch charts, which were pieces influenced by Berio.

DUCKWORTH: What were these pieces like?

REICH: Everybody played the same note -- free timbre, free attack, free rhythm. Then everybody played two or three notes, basically building up to the full twelve notes. The way we moved from one group to the other was that one player would play a kind of audible cue. That idea was taken from African music. The effect of these pieces was to hear the same chord atomized an revoiced in an improvisational way. Ultimately, I felt it was kind of vapid and didn't really have enough musical content.

DUCKWORTH: What were some of your other early pieces like?

REICH: I did a piece which was influenced, I would say, on the one hand by Bill Evans and on the other hand by Morton Feldman ... and on another hand by Stockhausen's rip-off of Feldman called Refrain, which is long, very beautiful chords hit on mallet instruments or struck on the keyboard. I made a multiple piano piece performed at the San Francisco Tape Music Center, called Music for Three or More Pianos or Piano and Tape. Basically, it was a series of chords which formed an harmonic progression. It could have been chords for a jazz tune in a sense ... a little darker, a little bit more a la Schoenberg of Opus 11 or Opus 19. The rule was you could play the chord for any duration, you could arpeggiate the chord, you could play parts of the chord, you could make little submelodies out of the chord, but when one of the voices, live or on tape, moved on to the next chord, you moved with it. So you always played over the same notes. I didn't know Morty Feldman's Pieces for Four Pianos, which is a kind of phase piece, but later I saw the resemblance.

DUCKWORTH: Did you have any composer friends at this point?

REICH: I became friendly with Terry Riley in 1964 and helped him prepare the first performance of In C. I gave him a lot of my players to play in the first performance; I played in it; and I also suggested to him in the course of rehearsals that he put a pulse in to keep everybody together: a drummer, basically, who ended up playing high Cs on the piano. While that was important, perhaps, I certainly learned a tremendous amount from putting the piece together, and I think it had a very strong influence on me.

DUCKWORTH: Didn't you start experimenting with tape loops about this same period?

REICH: Tape loops were something I was fooling around with since about 1963. I was interested in real sounds, what was called musique concrete in those days, but I wasn't really interested in the pieces that had been done. I thought that they were boring, partly because the composers had tried to mask the real sounds. I was interested in using understandable sounds, so that the documentary aspect would be a part of the piece. And I think that It's Gonna Rain is an example of that, as is Come Out. It's Gonna Rain is a setting of a text about the end of the world. I recorded this incredible black preacher, whose name was Brother Walter. And I must say, I think It's Gonna Rain is a good setting of the Flood, though not a setting in any conventional way. I would describe It's Gonna Rain as a piece of vocal music, albeit obviously from an experimental standpoint and very much from the sixties.

DUCKWORTH: How did you get the initial idea for It's Gonna Rain?

REICH: It was when I was fooling around with tape loops of the preacher's voice, and still under the influence of In C. I was trying to make a certain relationship: I wanted to get "rain" on top of "it's," so that the net effect would be "rain, rain, rain, rain" coming out of one contrapuntal voice, while the other voice would be going "it's gonna, it's gonna, it's gonna." In the process of this, I put headphones on and noticed that the two tape recorders were almost exactly in sync. The effect of this aurally was that I heard the sound jockeying back and forth in my head between my left and right ear, as one machine or the other drifted ahead. Instead of immediately correcting that, I let it go ... took my hands off of it for a bit. What happened was that one of the machines was going slightly faster, and the sounds went over to the left side of my head, crawled down my leg, went across the floor, and then started to reverberate, because the left channel was moving ahead of the right channel. I let it go further, and it finally got to precisely the relationship I wanted to get to. But what I realized was that instead of making a particular canonic relationship, which was a momentary part of an overall composition, I had discovered a process which was a series of rhythmically flexible canons at the unison ... beginning and ending in rhythmic unison. This immediately struck me. It was an accidental discovery, but a lot of people could have heard that same phenomenon and said, "Line the machines up." It impressed me that I'd hit something that was more significant than what I was trying to do in the first place. Suddenly, I got the idea for making a tape piece that would be much more of a process.

DUCKWORTH: How was the first performance received?

REICH: I didn't play the second half of it, so it wasn't perceived, obviously, for what it really was. I was feeling very disturbed at that stage in my life. The latter part of It's Gonna Rain seemed so paranoid and depressing that I suppressed it. But it's the second half which really sticks it to you technically and musically. After coming back to New York, and feeling somewhat less pressured, I listened to the second half and realized it was obviously part of the piece. Curiously enough, whenever I find people who like the piece, they have a similar attitude: it's very disturbing, but they really like it. You know, it's a heavy trip -- bad vibes -- but there's substance in there that gets to you.


TOP OF DOCUMENT