Steve Reich - Phases (A Retrospective)Many, many years ago, I found a CD in a markdown bin at a music store in the town that I was going to college in. It was a CD by the Orb and it became one of my real jumping off points to electronic music and one of my favorite CDs of that time. On this CD, the group sampled a bit of Steve Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint” (in “Little Fluffy Clouds”), although I wouldn’t know that for some time afterwards.

Several years later, after I was out of college, I was told about a piece of music called “Different Trains,” which was a collaboration between Kronos Quartet (who I really liked at the time, and were the foundation for said conversation) and Steve Reich. I purchased this CD and it blew my mind. It was really unlike anything I had heard at the time (even from Kronos Quartet, whose “Howl U.S.A.” has similar musical touchpoints, yet I hadn’t heard at that point in time), and it subsequently moved me enough to seek out more work by Steve Reich.

The first purchase that I made was Music For 18 Musicians and it quickly became one of my favorite pieces of music in my entire collection (and still is). It’s one of those amazing, timeless pieces of music that seems to encompass everything I love about music. If you listen to it in certain situations, it can sound driving and almost relentless, yet put into another listening context can sound weightless and ethereal. It’s truly one of those rare pieces of music that I can listen to at any point during any given day, whether I’m happy or sad and know that I’ll enjoy it.

Over the years, I’ve picked up several more CDs by Steve Reich and enjoyed almost everything that I’ve heard by him. In sort of a roundabout way, I learned that he was having his 70th birthday this month (it was on October 3rd), and in doing so it re-ignited my fascination with his music. Even though I already had a good portion of the music contained on it, I went ahead and purchased the recently-released 5CD Phases: A Retrospective compilation on Nonesuch Records. Not only is the set a better introduction to his music, but it’s also much cheaper than his super expensive 10CD set on the same label. After listening to the set again straight through several times, I can honestly say that I feel it’s essential. It not only includes the aforementioned “Music For 18 Musicians,” but also his stunning “Drumming” (the shorter version), “Different Trains,” his earliest tape loop piece (“Come Out”), his newest composition (“You Are (Variations”) and even “Electric Counterpoint,” which was the song I mentioned waaaay back at the beginning, which was sampled by The Orb. There’s also a ton of other music, and each disc runs well over seventy minutes, making for a huge batch of listening.

But anyway, enough shilling. In honor of his birthday, NPR re-ran an interview that Reich did with Terry Gross a couple years back, and while it’s several years old, it’s still worth listening to. The interview was done in 1999 when Reich was 63, but it’s still amazing to hear how vibrant and excited about creating art he still is at his age. If you’re someone who likes to listen to someone who is well-spoken talk about their art and the thought processes that go into it, I highly recommend the interview. It’s worth noting that listening to said interview, I learned that his last name is actually pronounced “Reish.” I’d been pronouncing it incorrectly for years and years.

I can honestly say that Steve Reich is one of those composers/musicians who have changed my life for the better, even if it’s just a little bit. For that, I want to wish him a happy birthday and many more productive years doing what he loves.

Oh, and I’m also sorry about the name. I promise to pronounce it correctly from now on.