DATE October 6, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Composer Steve Reich talks about his minimalist music
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music as Bianculli speaks)
BIANCULLI: One of the fathers of minimalist music, composer Steve Reich
created a vocabulary that has influenced nearly every form of music:
classical, electronic, jazz and pop. Last week Reich turned 70. To mark his
birthday, performances of Reich's work will be held in New York City, where he
was born, in a monthlong festival. Three performance spaces will highlight
different aspects of Reich's compositions. Carnegie Hall will feature his
instrumental music, Lincoln Center will present his vocal work, and the
Brooklyn Academy of Music will spotlight choreographed pieces. And Nonesuch
Records has released a new retrospective box set of Reich's work called
"Phases," which includes "Music for 18 Musicians," "Different Trains" and
"Tehillim." We're listening to "New York Counterpoint," which also is on the
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Today on FRESH AIR, to celebrate Steve Reich's birthday, we'd like
to bring you our own retrospective of his career. In 1999, Terry asked him
about one of his early compositions called "It's Gonna Rain," recorded in
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is a tape manipulation piece. What principle were you working with in
Mr. STEVE REICH (Minimalist Composer): Well, I guess really the bottom line
principle is that sometime when people speak, they almost sing and there's no
better example of that than a Black Pentecostal preacher who really, it's
impossible to say if they're singing or speaking, it's hovering between the
two of them. And this was a young man who called himself Brother Walter, who
was in the Union Square Park of San Francisco in '64, late '64, when I
recorded him. And he's talking or laying it down about the flight in the
Bible, and Noah and the ark, and you've got to remember that the Cuban Missile
Crisis was in '62 and a lot of us were thinking that, you know, this was
something hanging over everyone's head, especially in San Francisco at that
particular period in the early '60s. That kind of thinking was rampant that
we could be so much radioactive dust in the next day or two. So this seemed
very appropriate for the time in history when I was living and also was going
through some difficulties in my own life which this speech spoke to. And I
was playing with tape loops on a technical level. Tape loops are little bits
of tape that are spliced together back then so that they just go around and
around and around and repeat themselves. And when you take a bit of speech
like, `It's going to rain,' the way he says it, you really begin to hear the
music of what he's saying and what he says increasingly blended together so
it's hard to separate them. It isn't that the text disappears. It's that it
gets intensified so far as the way I hear it. And then there are actually two
loops of his voice going--starting in unison and then one slowly creeps ahead
of the other. I just did it with my thumb on the recording reel of one of the
machines. And so the go, what I said was out of phase. If you like, it's
like a canon or a round, like "Row, row, row your boat," only instead of a,
you know (sings) "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream," and on the
word "merrily," the second voice comes in but imagine they both started
together and one just started to get faster than the other. It's hard to do
and you'd get the...(unintelligible)...to kind of shaking or reverberation and
then you'd get sort of imitation and then gradually you'd begin to hear it as
a round or canon, and that's exactly what happens in this piece.
GROSS: Let's here it. This is Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain," originally
recorded in 1965.
(Soundbite from "It's Gonna Rain")
Unidentified Speaker: "(Unintelligible)...it's gonna rain after a while for
40 days and for 40 nights and the people didn't believe him and they begin
a-laughing and they begin a'mocking and they began to say, `It ain't gonna' to
rain.' It's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain,
it's gonna rain. It's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's
gonna rain, it's gonna rain. It's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna
rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain. It's gonna rain, it's gonna rain,
it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain. It's gonna rain, it's
gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna,
it's gonna, it's gonna, it's gonna, it's gonna, it's gonna, it's gonna, it's
it's it's it's it's it's it's it's it's it's it's it's it's it's, rain rain
rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain, it's all it's all it's
all it's all it's all it's all it's all it's all it's all. It's it's it's
it's it's it's it's it's it's it's it's. Plain plain plain plain plain plain
plain plain plain plain plain plain..."
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: It's an excerpt of Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain," recorded in 1965.
Now I'm wondering, when you created "It's Gonna Rain," were you thinking of it
more on an intellectual level, `I wonder what would happen if I did this type
of phasing and tape manipulation,' or was the kind of rhythms and the odd
sounds that you were getting as a result of that tape manipulation really like
aesthetically exciting to you.
Mr. REICH: Definitely the latter. I don't work as a scientist. That's not
an intellectual--it's not an emotionally rewarding way to work. I was just
following my intuition, just following my nose, so to speak, and this guy's
voice was fantastic, and it was full of melodic content, and it was full of
meaning, and so I began working with it because I sensed that, you know, there
would be a lot happening there. Actually, the going out of phase that first
happened was kind of an accident, but when I heard it, I thought this is
fantastic. It's a kind of seamless process that, you know, goes on and on.
After doing that piece and another piece like it, I then began to apply that
principle to live musicians from about 1967 to 1971 and then sort of moved on
GROSS: Let's skip ahead to 1971 and another ground-breaking piece that you
did called "Drumming." Now you wrote this after studying African drumming and
Balinese Gamelan music. Are there things that you took from those musics that
you apply to drumming?
Mr. REICH: Well, not really. But let's put it this way, particularly
Ghanaian drumming acted as a kind of huge pat on the back, a green light. I
started studying drums when I was a kid. I was actually 14. First I was
studying piano, and then I finally heard bebop, Miles Davis, and the drummer
Kenny Clark, when I was 14, and I immediately fell in love with that, and I
had a friend who was a better piano player that I was, so I became the
drummer. And when I had gone through music school and sort of swept that
under the rug, so to speak, when I got out of the Juilliard and Mills College
in 1963, I said to myself, `Where in the world is drumming the main voice in
the orchestra, so to speak?' And the answer to that is two places. In West
Africa--or I guess in East Africa as well--and in Indonesia. What happened
was, in a nutshell, was that I felt very strongly that I didn't want to come
back and you know, imitate the sound of African drums or African bells or
either of the Balinese instruments. They're very beautiful. They're very
perfect. But they have their own history, they have their own tradition, and
they have their own context. And for me, it just felt totally out of place.
What the bottom line was this. I found the thinking, the way the African
drumming is organized, which is basically short patterns in what we would call
subdivisions in 12/8ths, little patterns in 3, patterns in 4, patterns in 6,
superimposed so that their downbeats don't coincide. So, if you say, `Well,
where's the downbeat? Where's one?' Well, the answer is `The rattle has it
here, the bell has it there, this drum has it over somewhere else.' That's a
totally different way of organizing music than you find here in the West, and
that idea travels very easily. It doesn't say anything about sound. You
could have, let's say, you know, taped clips of a preacher's voice or musical
instruments. Musical instruments tuned to our scale. So there's no imitation
of any African instruments, of any specific African drumming patterns, but the
idea of being able to make music which is richer than all the electronics that
were being made at that time. Remember, we're talking 1971. Stockhausen is
working with bank of equipment, John Cage is working with banks of equipment,
and I felt, well, you know, drums of skin, metal glockenspiels, wooden
marimbas, and the richness of the sound that comes out of those instruments,
especially when they're piled on top of each other, multiple marimbas,
multiple drums, multiple glockenspiels, is far richer an experience than sign
waves being sent out at you.
GROSS: We're going to hear the beginning of the second movement of drumming.
Do you want to say a little bit about what's happening in this part?
Mr. REICH: Well, it's interesting. The second movement is for three
marimbas played by up to nine players and two women's voices. Well, what are
the women's voices doing? When I started writing the piece, I was working
with a multitrack tape recorder so I'd play some of the patterns, and then I'd
play against myself, and I'd hear like two or three voices at a time, and when
I heard them, I thought, `Hey, I hear somebody singing.' But, you know, there
was nobody singing. What it was was that the marimbas are pitched and have a
very long decay. It's a long sound. Even though you're hitting a piece of
wood, it rings for a long time because there's a resonator underneath it. And
it begins to sound as if there are women singing, kind of like Ella
Fitzgerald--`do do do do'--that kind of singing. We used to call scat
singing. And so I thought to myself, `Well, this is coming from the marimbas.
What if you really did have women in the room and what if they really were
listening carefully to this?' It was all notated in front of them and they
began singing some of these patterns that are really there but they would
reinforce them, giving if you like, what, a kind of audible chop talk, and
that's exactly what's happening here. You're going to hear these marimba
patterns brought to the surface of the music by the women's voices.
GROSS: Let's hear it. This is an excerpt of Steve Reich's "Drumming," from
(Soundbite from "Drumming")
GROSS: That's an excerpt of Steve Reich's "Drumming" from 1971. Now, I have
always wondered this. So many of your pieces deal with repetition and with
slight variations over a long period of repetition. How do you know what is
long enough? What is the appropriate length for a piece? Because it doesn't
have the kind of narrative arc of a melodic piece or something, you know,
where there's a climax in a more traditional way. So how do you gauge the
length of one of your pieces?
Mr. REICH: Well, again, Terry, I think what you said applies very well to
what we just heard and maybe...(unintelligible)...breaking musicians in 1976
but after that, the pieces are...
GROSS: Oh, I agree. Yeah. Absolutely.
Mr. REICH: ...so for these early pieces, basically, the scores when written
and the oral transmission of the information when it was oral were the same.
Which is, you could repeat this bar, I would say to James Preiss or Russ
Hartenberger, Bob Becker, who are the sort of core members of my group way
back when and they're still around, you know, let's say anywhere from five to
15 times. And--but I don't want you to count those number of times. I want
you to feel, well, that's clear. Now I'm going to move ahead, so therefore,
the score reflects that. It gives you certain limits.
For instance, we made a recording of this piece of "Drumming" for Dutch
Gramophone back, I think, in 1974. And it came out to be an hour and 20
minutes long. Now that's on the long side, but it's certainly within the
ballpark. We re-recorded it for Nonesuch in '86 I think it was and it was 56
minutes, and everybody said, `Oh, well, you know they must have been shortened
for the CD.' Wrong. We simply were playing it that way. It was now about 15
years after the piece was written, and the, what, Zeitgeist or we had gotten
older or whatever had changed, and we just played it a little bit more
tersely. It works either way. If you play "Drumming" over and it takes you
25 minutes, that's a mistake. If you play "Drumming" and it takes you two
hours, that's a mistake. But anywhere between, let's say, 55 minutes and 70
minutes, 80 minutes, that's OK. And that allows the musicians, individual
player who's making decision, you know, at any given moment to simply judge it
as a musician. I'm giving that responsibility to them. They want to do
something so that you really get the idea, and they don't want to bore you.
So that's one of the fringe benefits of playing this kind of piece.
BIANCULLI: Steve Reich, speaking with Terry Gross in 1999.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 1999 interview with minimalist composer
Steve Reich, who turned 70 last week.
There is a series of performances in New York this month commemorating his
GROSS: When you were first playing your repetitive pieces, I was wondering if
your audiences had to learn to listen in a different way and to not expect
that dramatic arc of tension and release of Western melody and harmony.
Mr. REICH: Well, you know, a lot of this music has to do with a lot of
Western music which is prior to 1750. As a music student, I went to Cornell
as an undergraduate and I studied music history there with William Austin, who
was a very great musician and a wonderful teacher, and the way he taught
Western music history was like this. You started with a Gregorian chant. I
think nowadays people taking over for him might start with Hebraic chant, and
he went up through the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750, and the next
thing he did was Debussy, Duke Ellington, Gershwin, jazz, Stravinsky, Bartok.
Then, when all of that was done, he started again with Hayden and went up
Now, me, I liked the first half of the course. And that's really where I
stand, where I've stood all of my life. And that's, you know, an intuitive
choice. It's how I feel about things. And there are a lot of community of
interest, if you like, between earlier music, let's say starting from about
1100--composers like Perotin, Leonin, but was called the school of organ
impasse in the 11th and 12th century I feel very close to. Obviously,
chronologically, I couldn't be further away, but this is music which changes
pretty slowly, which is the earliest music to work in either two, three or
four voices, which is systematized to some extent, which is, I think,
emotionally very powerful. And what are called isorhythmics techniques,
certain techniques of repetition that were found lot in France and in Belgium
in 12th, 13th, 14th century, I found really exciting. I mean, I felt like I'd
learned something from that.
Sonata allegro form, the form that drives the symphony and sonata forms from
Hayden up through Wagner is something--the narrative form, with the climax and
the, you know, the exposition and the development and the recapitulation that
you're talking about, and that is a quasi-literary form, and there are many
people why are very in love with that, and I respect that, that some of the
music is obviously some, you know, some towering geniuses who produce music
like that. Personally, I'm not interested. I'd rather hear, you know,
something of Bach, before, than any of that period, and that's reflected in
the music that you hear of mine.
GROSS: In the liner notes to the new CD retrospective, there's some notes by
Michael Tilson Thomas, the conductor, and he describes playing your
composition for organs in New York City, and this was pretty early in your
career. And Thomas writes, "In all my years as a performer, I have never seen
such a reaction from an audience. There were at least three attempts to stop
the performance by shouting it down. One woman walked down the aisle and
repeatedly banged her head on the front of the stage, wailing, `Stop! Stop!
I confess.' The audience made so much noise that in spite of the fact that the
music was amplified, we were unable to hear one another's playing." Now how
did you feel when that happened? I think you were performing on that night.
Mr. REICH: I was.
Mr. REICH: I was getting lost along with Michael and he was mouthing the
syllables, you know `one, two, three, four...(unintelligible)' and, well, you
know, it really was a time bomb that I was unaware of. Michael was at the
time one of the conductors of the Boston Symphony and he had planned this
concert of multiples--we were four organs and he had a multiple orchestra
piece of Mozart, and he had a piece called the "Liszt: Hexameron," which was
a piece Liszt wrote for six piano virtuosi of the day, and he had six grand
pianos out there. Well, this was a subscription concert for the BSO in New
York at Carnegie Hall in 1973, and it drew the kind of audience that you might
expect, which in those days was a very conservative, you know, elderly type of
audience. The last thing in the world an audience like that would want to
hear would be a very hard-edged piece for four screaming Farfisa electric
organs, amplified with maracas. So he kind of set the stage. I just wasn't
paying attention to that. I was worrying about rehearsals and electrical
plugs and tunings and things like that. But when it happened, I turned white
as a sheet, but Michael sort of clapped me on the back and said, `Hey, this is
GROSS: Well, did you feel like, `Yes, this is as exciting as the "Rite of
Spring," the audience is rebelling against this new and exciting adventurous
music?' Or did it feel like, `Boy, is this really a mismatch?'
Mr. REICH: Yeah, I think more of the latter. I'm not on the epater le
bourgeois, you know, shock people bandwagon. I really--I want people to love
what I do, and I want them to really, you know, enjoy it, to love it, and so I
didn't have that feeling. Perhaps Michael was a little bit more of the
provocateur at the time. He certainly had engineered a situation guaranteed
to explode, and when it did, as I say, I just felt sort of taken aback and you
know, `What's going on here?' Maybe in the long run, you know, that was a
worthwhile thing for him to have done. I've never personally tried to present
myself in situations whereby that kind of reaction will happen.
BIANCULLI: Steve Reich, speaking to Terry Gross in 1999. We'll hear more of
their interview in the second half of the show.
David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. We're
continuing our career retrospective of minimalist composer Steve Reich, who
turned 70 last week. Several New York concert halls are presenting programs
this month tied to Reich's music, and Nonesuch Records has released a new
retrospective box set of his work. Terry spoke with Steve Reich in 1999.
GROSS: Let's jump ahead to 1981 and hear an excerpt of your composition
"Tehillim." Now you talked a little bit about how you'd studied African
drumming and Balinese Gamelan music. At some point you kind of explored your
own roots in Jewish music and you studied with a Jewish cantor. What sent you
back to studying cantorial music?
Mr. REICH: Well, actually, it was a trip to Africa, strangely enough. When
I was in Africa, besides studying music, I enjoyed being, you know, being over
there. It was a very nice period of time, and one of the things that I
admired was the fact that, in fact, there was no notation as you observed
earlier. Each musician was playing something that they had learned from their
father or their uncle or, you know, somebody in their family, and it had been
so passed on that way for, you know, obviously a couple of thousand years or
And I thought, you know, I came back, `Gee, you know, isn't there anything
like that that I'm a part of?' And I thought, `Wait a minute. I'm a member of
one of the oldest groups on the planet, and I know nothing about it.' I was
raised as a Reformed Jew and I had zero information. I couldn't read Hebrew,
I'd never studied Torah. I didn't know anything about it. Didn't know it was
written in a cycle. Didn't know any of the practices. So I thought to
myself, `Well, maybe I ought to look in my own back yard since I haven't the
foggiest notion of what's going on there.' And I ended up studying at an
Orthodox synagogue in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and studying biblical
Hebrew and the text of the Torah in its weekly portions.
When I was studying Hebrew--Hebrew as you may know is a consonantal language.
There are no letters for vowels. There's no A, E, I, O, U. Instead there are
little dots or dashes which are affixed below or above the consonants and they
are the vowel points. When I was studying Hebrew with my teacher, there was
yet another little marking there and I asked him, `Well, what's that?' And he
said, `Oh, that's the musical notation.' I said, `Really?' So I said, `Well,
how do I learn about that?' He said, `Well, you have to study with a cantor to
do that.' So I looked up someone who was at the Jewish Theological Seminary
through a mutual friend, and he taught me a little bit about how to do it and
how the notation worked, and the notation was basically--have you ever looked
at a Greek vase and you see a funny picture of a guy who looks like a
conductor and he's sort of motioning with his hands and the musicians are sort
of looking at him? He's not a conductor. He's doing what the Greeks call
cheironomy. He's using his hand as a notational reminder, `Hey, it goes like
that.' And this was a common way of notating music within cultures prior to
our system of notation which, by the way, evolved from the human hand. There
are five lines on the staff because there are five fingers on your hand.
GROSS: I didn't know that.
Mr. REICH: Well, live and learn. So I decided to set--"Tehillim" is
basically the word for Psalms--the original word for Psalms. I took about a
small piece of four different Psalms and set them in the original Hebrew, and
after years of doing pieces of a more unusual sort, that you've heard a little
bit of today, out came a piece that was very, very melodic in the simplest
sense of the world.
GROSS: Let's hear the opening of "Tehillim."
(Soundbite from "Tehillim," sung in foreign language)
GROSS: That's an excerpt of Steve Reich's 1981 composition "Tehillim." One of
the things I really so admire about your work as a composer is that you kind
of rewrote the musical vocabulary, in a way, and stripped it down to some
basic essentials and then started building on that, never kind of abandoning
that initial vocabulary you came up with but always kind of adding to it.
Mr. REICH: Yeah, that's very good. That's right, Terry. Thank you. That's
well put. I couldn't do better myself.
GROSS: Because, like, in "Tehillim," you know, you have the drumming, I think
there's like clapping hands in it, too...
Mr. REICH: Yes, there is.
GROSS: ...kind of like you're clapping hand music. Plus you've got the
addition of the singing and the melody on top of that. You know, I'm
wondering, like when you were, say, 15, or even when you were in college, and
you knew you were getting really serious about music, what did you expect you
were going to be doing, before you knew that you would be kind of writing your
own musical vocabulary and coming up with your own style of composing, where
did you think you were going to fit in?
Mr. REICH: Well, I mean, I was pretty worried about it, because, you know,
Bartok was five and Mozart was four, and I was 17, and I was just getting a
start late, so I was very apprehensive, and I wasn't getting a great deal of
support from my father, who felt I should do something a little bit more of a
clear supportive nature financially. (Unintelligible).
GROSS: What did he do for a living?
Mr. REICH: He was a lawyer.
Mr. REICH: But my mother was a singer and they were separated. They were
divorced actually when I was one year old, and of course, my mother was quite
supportive, but I had been brought up primarily with my father so he had the,
you know--I looked to him. But I started looking away obviously. It was a
difficult period of time actually. I went to music school, and when I got
done I felt that I didn't want to teach, and there were no other prospects, so
I worked for the Yellow Cab in San Francisco and I worked for the US Post
Office. So it wasn't a rosy path. I felt a little lonely. When I was a
music student, the style of the music at that time in the colleges was either
like the Europeans, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Lucian Berio, who
I was studying with, Berio, and--or John Cage. Basically meant nonrhythmic
music, music you couldn't possibly whistle or tap your foot to, and I felt
very far from that and therefore, kind of out of it, and it was a difficult
period of time up to about '65, '66 when I finally began to hit on this and
meet a few other people like, people like Terry Reilly in particular who were,
you know, working in Spain.
BIANCULLI: Steve Reich, speaking with Terry Gross in 1999.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: In 1989 Terry Gross spoke with Steve Reich about "Different
Trains," a composition for string quartet and tape, commissioned for the
Kronos Quartet. The piece was inspired by Reich's childhood memories. As he
just told us, his parents divorced when he was one. His mother moved to Los
Angeles. His father stayed in New York. And because they had joint custody,
Reich traveled back and forth by train, with his governess, between the years
1939 and 1942. Looking back on the excitement of those train rides, he
realized that if he'd been in Europe as a Jew, he would have been riding a
train to his death. The first movement is set in America, before the war.
(Soundbite from "Different Trains")
GROSS: You've called what you're doing in "Different Trains" a form of
Mr. REICH: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: That's because you're using actual sounds in there, recordings of old
people's voices, real train whistles, sirens.
Mr. REICH: Yeah, absolutely. It goes back to very early pieces that you
probably know, "It's Gonna Rain" and "Come Out," which were working
exclusively just with short snippet of a recorded voice, so as opposed to,
let's say, setting a text the way Schubert has done, the way every composer
has done and the way I've done in, let's say, "Tehillim" or "Desert Music," in
"Different Trains," I'm not setting a text, I'm setting human beings. That's
quite a different situation.
GROSS: What you did is interview the governess who took you on the train
rides between New York and Los Angeles. You interviewed a Pullman porter, who
worked the trains in the years that you rode on them, and you interviewed a
few Holocaust survivors who are the same age that you are. And you took
fragments of their speech and used that as the musical text. I find myself
saying their lines over and over. It becomes kind of like music even though
it's speech that you're using.
Mr. REICH: I think what you're driving at is how can the speech become music
or at least I hope you are.
GROSS: Yes, exactly.
Mr. REICH: Because what happened is I selected each of these sentences,
phrases, single words, place names, dates, for what they said to be sure, but
also, for how they were said. Sometimes when we speak, you or I and
everybody, we almost sing. We don't know it. It goes by in our conversation.
But if you isolate it on tape, then you find, for instance, that my governess
when she was talking about one of the trips, she said, `He went from Chicago
to New York,' and it was really--I don't have perfect pitch but it was
F-A-flat, F-A-flat. The Pullman porter said `1941' and the rule I sent for
myself was, every time a woman speaks, she'll be doubled note for note by the
viola, and everytime a man speaks, he'll be doubled note for note by the
cello. And my job is to arrange, harmonize and write counterpoint to
something that is a given that I can't change, and that was quite an enjoyable
GROSS: The first movement of "Different Trains" is set in the United States
based on your rides back and forth between 1939 and 1942 between New York and
Los Angeles. The second movement is the Holocaust, and there's an incredible
musical shift that happens right between the first and second movements.
Would you describe for us what you're doing there?
Mr. REICH: Well, what happens right on the button is that the air raid
sirens begin right as Rachella, who's a woman from Rotterdam now living in
Oregon, says `1940.' Musically, I wanted to get something that would come in
(Soundbite from "Different Trains" begins as Reich speaks)
Mr. REICH: ...you know, like an absolute knife stroke and just divide those
movements even though there's no time between them.
(Soundbite from "Different Trains" continues)
GROSS: In the third and final movement of "Different Trains," well, the
movement opens with something closer to more traditional violin playing, a
Mr. REICH: Right.
GROSS: ...playing than we've heard earlier on.
Mr. REICH: Right.
Mr. REICH: Well, what happens at the beginning of the third movement is
(sings) "da da di di da da, da da di di da da, di di da da. Well, you've been
so used to hearing voices, you wonder what that is. Well, actually what it is
is it's Paul, the Hungarian now living in Boston saying, `And the war was
over,' but you don't him at first because there has been so much speech, so
much train whistle, so much siren, so much noise, that the third movement
begins to move away from all of this towards music, towards some kind of
resolution of the situation, which of course can't be resolved, but there is,
I think, a good attempt at that in the third movement, I think, a successful
attempt at it in the third movement. What's happening in the third movement
is that paired little rhythm of the train has stopped and now all the rhythms,
all the music are going to come out of the speech patterns. Da da di da da da
is multiplied into the cello and the viola and into the two violins of the
quartet so that when he finally says, `And the war was over'...
(Soundbite from "Different Trains" begins as Mr. Reich speaks)
Mr. REICH: ...his voice is surrounded, if you like, as a mosaic of tiles,
each tile being, in fact, a musical rendition of what he says. There is no
other train rhythm overriding that, and that's what separates the third
movement from the other two movements.
(Soundbite from "Different Trains" continues)
BIANCULLI: That's an excerpt from "Different Trains," by composer Steve
Reich. This month Reich turns 70. Let's get back to his conversation with
GROSS: Let's skip ahead to the '90s, and I want to play an excerpt of a
pretty recent piece from 1994 called "City Life." What's the inspiration
behind this piece?
Mr. REICH: Well, basically sampling, I know, what's sampling? The pop world
came up with a keyboard called a sampler, I guess in the middle '80s, which
was basically a kind of keyboard, you go to the store, you buy it, you bring
it home, you plug it into the wall, you press Middle C and nothing happened,
because you've got to record something. It's basically a digital recorder
with a keyboard attached, and it means that you can have a musical instrument,
i.e. a keyboard, which you can program with whatever, you know, your voice,
my voice, a Beethoven symphony, a dog barking, whatever you possibly could
want, and it means that you could integrate that into a musical ensemble in a
way that would hitherto have been impossible. It's quite--it's a much more
musical integration than, let's say, having a tape playing while musicians are
playing with it, which I certainly have done my share of.
So "City Life" was about taking the idea of sampling, which I had done in some
earlier pieces, particularly "Different Trains," and saying, `Look, let's just
put it in the band. Let's just have two guys playing it.' And so "City Life"
is scored for about 20-odd musicians. There are two pianists, and then there
are two additional keyboard players who just play sampling keyboards, and when
they play A-flat or what have you, out comes `check it out' or a door slam or
another sound, many of which I recorded here in New York City, and then those
sounds are, if you like, married off to various instruments in the ensemble,
so when you hear the air brakes on a bus, that kind of go shhhhh, you hear the
crash of a cymbal, which is a similar kind of a sound, actually. And when you
hear a car door slam, you'll hear a bass drum with it. And it's just what it
says. It's trying to give a picture of life, and particularly New York City,
in the '90s. There's a whole movement that's filled with car alarms I'm sure
you'll be delighted to hear.
GROSS: Let's hear Steve Reich's 1994 composition, "City Life." This is from
the opening movement.
(Soundbite from "City Life")
GROSS: That's pretty catchy.
Mr. REICH: Thank you.
GROSS: Yeah. So are those like found sounds that you recorded? Did you go
out and record the door slams and the car alarm?
Mr. REICH: Some I recorded. Some I recorded and some were like on CDs
that--sound-effects CDs ...
GROSS: Oh, that's cheating!
Mr. REICH: No, no, no, that's--you know, Stravinsky said if you're going to
steal, steal big time and do it well, so...
Mr. REICH: ...it's a mix. But I was looking for foghorns later on in the
piece and I couldn't--there weren't any more foghorns, but there was a great
long, deep horn on the Staten Island ferry, actually, so, you know, it's a
BIANCULLI: Steve Reich, speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. He turned 70 last
week, a birthday being celebrated this month in New York with performances of
his music at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews "The Departed."
This is FRESH AIR
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Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews "The Departed"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, all
in a film by Martin Scorsese. Do you think anyone will want to it? "The
Departed" is a thriller about cops and gangsters infiltrating each other's
inner circles with extremely violent results. Film critic David Edelstein has
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: Major American auteurs don't often do remakes of
foreign hits so why, apart from the paycheck, did Martin Scorsese sign on to
transplant the great 2002 Hong Kong thriller "Infernal Affairs." My guess is
he welcomed a chance to fashion a mean, unbelievably bloody, relatively
impersonal crime thriller in which everyone is damned to hell. Working with
Irish instead of the Italian gangsters he knows and loves, Scorsese has made a
movie with little heart and no mercy, not even for the audience. I envy you
if you haven't seen the original, because you'll get to experience the
ingenious pretzeled symmetry for the first time. The story, set in Boston,
centers on two youngish deep cover agents, a cop working as a mobster, played
by Leonardo DiCaprio, and a mobster working as a cop, played by Matt Damon.
You have DiCaprio alerting the police captain that a deal is going down, then
Damon, alerting the crime boss, Costello, that the cops are on the way, then
DiCaprio alerting the captain that the mobsters know the cops are on the way,
then Damon alerting the crime boss that the cops know the mobsters know the
cops are on the way. You can see how things might get tricky, especially as
each rat becomes aware that he has a rat doppleganger on the opposite side.
DiCaprio gets desperate as he tries to communicate this to his boss, Queenan
played by Martin Sheen, but only gets through to the second in command, played
by Mark Wahlberg, the actor, a Dorchester native, who here gets to resurrect
his inner Southie and is absolutely terrific.
(Soundbite from "The Departed")
Mr. MARK WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) Why don't we just meet up, sweetheart? Let
me buy you an ice cream.
Mr. LEONARDO DiCAPRIO: (As Billy) I'm getting on a plane unless you put
Queenan on the phone.
Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) Queenan had a funeral to go to, OK? This is my
shift. Just calm down.
Mr. DiCAPRIO: (As Billy) He's out? You actually want me dead. Look, there
is a rat in your unit. That is a fact, all right? Where's Queenan?
Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) He's not here.
Mr. DiCAPRIO: (As Billy) They knew you had cameras in the building. They
knew everything, all right? There is a leak from the inside. It's real, man.
Smoke him out.
Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) Yeah? How do we do that?
Mr. DiCAPRIO: (As Billy) Let it slip through SIU that you have sealed
wiretap warrant for Costello's apartment. Don't tell anyone in our division,
but tell SIU. Flush it down the pipe and see if it comes out on my end, all
right? That's what we do first. We narrow it down.
Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) You want to meet up? When you got something real,
call me back.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: Plenty of movies and TV shows depict the gnawing suspicion
and loss of identity that come with undercover life. But with all the mirror
image variables here, the permutations are limitless, and the characters'
paranoia spirals. William Monahan's dialogue is David Mamet speak played at
Alvin and the chipmunks speed, with a broad Boston accent, and Scorsese and
his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, drive the accent relentlessly. They cut from
DiCaprio to Damon and back. They leap around in time. They chuck in random
splattery head shootings with geysers of blood like demitasses of espresso in
the middle of a long road trip.
Classical conductors speak of the ability to, quote, "sustain the long line,"
to resist the impulse to break the passage up into too many climaxes.
Scorsese, brilliant as he is, is a fits-and-starts man, and a couple of key
scenes don't have the clarity that would have made them classics. I miss the
original's galvanic emotion, too. DiCaprio is a fine actor, with a wide face
and lots of brow to furrow, but he's either overemoting or brooding, and
Scorsese doesn't bring his camera in to help us connect with his fevered
alienation. Damon has good darting little eyes and a slippery squirt smile,
but the character's an opportunist, with no loyalty to anyone and doesn't have
the dramatic complexity he had in the original.
At two hours of jabber and jolt, "The Departed" does have enough tension to
keep you engrossed and enough color for 10 crime pictures. Scorsese obviously
adores his expansive and expensive ensemble, and this is one of the few films
in which the over-the-top Boston accents enhance the performances. Take Jack
Nicholson as crime boss Costello. The accent keeps him from slipping into
that familiar lazy singsong. He looks great, not healthy, but not puffy,
haggard in ways that make him more magnetic than ever. In the first half,
when he plays it straight and self-contained, he's very scary. But then he
gradually metamorphizes into Wacky Jack, the Hollywood jack-in-the box, and
that goes with the whole camp nihilist bloodbath tone that ends the picture.
Depending on your point of view, the finale will either send you home cackling
or leave you thinking you should be feeling more. I'm in the latter group. I
didn't just want a sick joke sign-off. I wanted to mourn for "The Departed."
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
(Soundbite of music)
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