A ‘Gateway Drug’ In Contemporary Music
Daniel Stephen Johnson is right when, in his write-up for Q2 Music’s Album of the Week, he refers to Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians as a “gateway drug for a lifelong addiction to Reich’s aesthetic.” I’ve turned people on to this piece more than than to any other, myself, and it never fails to grab them in ways most such work can’t do.
If I had only one chance to try to lure authors to the work of living composers, this is the piece I’d choose. And this is the recording I’d select, newly released by Harmonia Mundi, a glistening new evocation of the work from Brad Lubman’s New York-based Ensemble Signal — which since its inception in 2008 has performed more than 100 concerts and has co-produced at least five recordings.
Music for 18 Musicians holds so much stimulation for a writer because it propels you into your own thoughts. A kind of sonic vehicle for creativity, it sets your concepts spinning, glancing off each other, dashing from room to room in your mind. It can help you delineate strains of story and character and pace because it parses its own elements of tonality and texture so cleanly. If you haven’t heard this Reich, you’re in for a remarkable, mesmerizing journey that plays you as much as its musicians play (and double up to do so) their instruments in order to produce it. The work’s sleek sophistication has held up with striking modernity over the decades. You feel at home in this singular music and you’ll find it flashing through your mind days after the first hearing. Listen for the sopranos’ highest iterations of their seductive, windblown three-tone song. These are the sirens of our era.
Written between 1974 and 1976, the work stands as prehaps the most influential creation of one of music’s most revered modern masters. Now approaching 80, Reich is among a handful of composers whose voice broke through the symphonic explorations of the mid-twentieth century and tossed the idiom forward. The leap is one that Ashley Capps’ fine liner notes rightly compare to a kind of Rite of Spring for recent generations of serious music lovers and artists.
At once stylish and intense, darting and spacious, Music for 18 Musicians opens and closes with a statement of “Pulses” that are developed in a gradual gathering of so-called “psycho-acoustic” effects — percussion (piano, marimba), strings, woodwinds, voice seem to phase alongside each other in such tight, intimate proximity, skin to skin, that your perception of the piece can seem to change with every hearing. Like something a modern Monet might put onto a canvas, there are always ripples, glints of color you can’t recall hearing before. It’s a remarkable achievement.
This sixth recording of the work brings special light to the shifting currents of Reich’s masterwork. Ensemble Signal has been beautifully prepared by its co-founder and music director Lubman. While not conducted as a standard work might be, the musicians here are coached by Lubman to superb effect, and in our interview I started by asking the affable, articulate Lubman about the timing of this album.
Thought Catalog: Why now? What prompts this new recording of Music for 18 Musicians?
Brad Lubman: Ensemble Signal has had an important connection to Steve Reich since it was founded, and he’s been an important composer for me — I met him back in 1995. After he saw me conduct a concert, he engaged me the following year to conduct his ensemble, Steve Reich and Musicians. In 1997, Music for 18 Musicians was being performed by Ensemble Moderne, and I was involved in coaching them for that album release. Even since 2008, we very often do his repertoire…By the time we made this new recording, many members of Ensemble Signal had performed a number of his pieces. It’s in their blood.
There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog
By Porter Anderson
Writing on the Ether: Music For Writers: Brad Lubman — An ‘Explosion Of Compositional Languages’
Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com