That’s right! There is only one rhythm in Steve Reich’s Drumming. It’s so important and epic that it made it on this year’s SoSI t-shirt (see picture). But, I know what you’re thinking. How can an hour of music function with just one rhythm!? The answer lies in the process.
Let’s consult Steve Reich’s first paragraph of his article “Music as a Gradual Process”:
- I do not mean the process of composition, but rather pieces of music that are, literally, processes. The distinctive thing about musical processes is that they determine all the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the over all form simultaneously. (Think of a round or infinite canon.) I am interested in perceptible processes. I want to be able to hear the process happening throughout the sounding music. To facilitate closely detailed listening a musical process should happen extremely gradually. Performing and listening to a gradual musical process resembles:
- pulling back a swing, releasing it, and observing it gradually come to rest; turning over an hour glass and watching the sand slowly run through the bottom; placing your feet in the sand by the ocean’s edge and watching, feeling, and listening to the waves gradually bury them.
Reich got this idea of gradual process from his tape music experiments. Two of his most well-known tape pieces are “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain.” I dare you to listen to one of these all the way through. It starts with the original spoken material (a prisoner’s interview for “Come Out” and a Pentacostal preacher for “It’s Gonna Rain”). Stick with it after two minutes, and you’ll start to hear the sounds swirl around in your stereo headphones.
The first time I listened to “It’s Gonna Rain,” I believe I was studying at 2am for Armando Bayolo’s Minimalism course. While sitting in my dark dorm room at Peabody, I started listening to the tape and slowly heard one tape move ahead of the other. I thought my mind was being ripped apart when the phasing started. It kept going until the faster tape was an eighth note off from the other. It was perhaps the spookiest and coolest thing I had ever heard.
Reich applied this phasing to human players, instead of tapes. It’s one thing to hear the tapes, but to hear musicians play Violin Phase or Piano Phase is another story. For most musicians, our instincts almost prevent us from phasing. If any of you have ever been the Rock, or the stationary rhythm, in a phase piece, you know how difficult it is to stay in time against the Phase. It’s unnatural, but it’s so cool. However, you MUST have a good time to be able to do this.
Drumming takes this phasing process to a whole new level. There are more players and more phases. And what makes Drumming much more massive is that this rhythm is attached to different tones to create harmonic development.
I’ll have more on this, later. Gotta get back to rehearsing Part 4!