Charles Hazlewood meets Philip Glass and Steve Reich, who added new orchestral dimensions to compositions based on repetition, transcendence and new technology.
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And three, four. ORCHESTRA BEGIN TO PLAY
Sometime in the 1960s, a revolution happened in America.
The sounds of modernity were both disturbing and inspiring a group of
musicians and composers in a wholly new way.
Within ten years, they'd re-written the position of Western music.
That revolution was minimalism,
which went on to become one of the most dominant forms
in 20th century music.
Minimalism was a movement from the mid-'50s to the late '70s
pioneered by experimental West Coast
composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley.
The movement spread east to New York and this film looks at its
incarnation in that city.
The moment it went from avant-garde to the world stage in the work of
Philip Glass and Steve Reich.
Unlike the chilled vibes of Californian minimalism,
this was the soundtrack of the city.
Angular, unrelenting, as powerful as rock and roll,
and it shook the classical music world to its roots.
Minimalism is music based on the transcendental powers of repetition,
coupled with gradual change.
It totally transformed the way we listen to music.
I was reading John Cage's books,
and he said the music is completed by the listener.
Well, that's exactly what it was.
The most important part in any piece of music
-is its emotional effect on everyone involved.
Because without that we wouldn't be sitting on this couch
talking about it.
In some ways, it's music that tries to take you into another dimension.
So you're not listening to it in a normal, like, "Oh,
"where is the tune coming from?" or, "Can I start dancing soon?"
A lot of what this landscape is, when you shut your eyes,
comes from you, yourself,
because it's how that music is maybe through repetition,
it's kind of acting on you
and bringing things out that are within you.
It's like taking some medicine or something.
You're waiting for it to start working on you
and take you somewhere.
ORGAN MUSIC SWELLS
This is an exploration of the two biggest, most successful
living composers on the planet.
Steve Reich and Philip Glass kicked down the barriers
between classical music and rock and roll
and paved the way for a brand-new approach to music.
Their sound was described as the sound of New York.
And it was known as minimalism.
It all began with tape recorders.
Born in New York in 1936,
Steve Reich studied composition at the Juilliard School of Music
before going on to further studies in California.
In the early '60s, Reich developed his interest
in electronics at the San Francisco Tape Music Center...
..where he encountered Californian minimalist pioneer Terry Riley,
and worked on rehearsals of his trailblazing composition, In C.
I had to like open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood
come out to show them.
In 1965, Reich returned to New York working on experiments
without a phase tape loop,
a technique he discovered by accident.
Come out to show them, come out to show them, come out to show them,
come out to show them, come out to show them, come out to show them,
come out to show them, come out to show them.
He went around the streets of San Francisco and later New York,
and recorded sounds, recorded people's voices,
recorded everyday life.
Come up to show them, come out to show them, come out to show them,
come out to show them, come out to show them, come out to show them.
And then he tried it on another tape recorder,
at the same time on a loop.
And they got slightly out of sync with each other and he thought,
gosh, this is interesting.
I'm getting a sort of polyphony here,
I'm getting the music becoming instantly blurred,
and then complex rhythms emerging as the tapes get more and more and more
out of sync. And you get these amazing rhythms starting to happen.
Come out to show them, come out to show them, come out to show them,
come out to show them.
So he immediately saw this incredible potential
for making music, for making sound art out of the simple means
of one human voice and a tape recorder.
-Come out to show them, come out to show them,
come out to show them, come out to show them, come out to show them.
In 1966, the 30-year-old New Yorker had a small idea
that would change the course of music.
Come Out was an idea of kind of, being more worked out,
where they're trying to achieve a certain, you know,
kind of knowing what you could do at this time.
And then after come out, I thought, you know,
if I'm going to spin with tape the rest of my life,
I'm going to go out of my mind.
-INCREASINGLY OUT-OF-SYNC VOICES:
-Come out and show them. Come out.
So, yeah, this has got to work with instruments.
One day I just said, I have a second tape recorder.
And then I made a tape with the piano phase
and the notes and pattern, and put it on a...made a loop of that,
put it on a tape recorder,
sat down at the piano, closed my eyes and said, here we go.
And, wow, I can do it.
In transferring electronic processes to humans,
Reich lifted the lid on a universe of musical possibilities.
Piano phase is about as wonderfully mad as minimalism could get.
It's one of Reich's first attempts to transplant the phasing effect he
achieved in his tape machine pieces into the real world.
Two pianists began playing the same 12-tone sequence,
and then, bit by bit,
one of the pianist starts to get ahead of the other,
creating a mind-bending phasing effect.
Bit by bit, that pianist gets further and further
and further ahead at the other one until, eventually,
they come full circle and they're playing once again
in perfect unison.
When you're playing phase pieces, that's not,
you know what you have to do, which is to move 1/16 note ahead,
without going too far without slipping back into unison.
But how do you do it?
You close your eyes and listen very, very, very hard.
It's a very human experience.
So when I ended up doing it, I thought, you know,
wow, this is great. I'm not improvising and I'm not reading.
It's clear, I can memorise the pattern quickly.
So what I am doing is listening and the kind of focus
I had never experienced before.
And you're just like, how is it possible?
You know, they have to be so, like,
absolutely Zen masters at their kind of centre of the musical storm
to get there. And something like piano phase,
we hear that kind of virtuosity going in between,
If you're going to try and write down what's happening, you know,
it defeats the highest achievements of music notation,
that kind of thing.
It was like, one small step for man,
one giant leap for Steve Reich
when he went from Come Out to Piano Phase.
Because Come Out was really interesting
and seems like a technology piece, and then when he demonstrated
you could transfer this to live performance,
then all of a sudden it's all these implications
became much more obvious.
Reich's compositions sound excessively complex but, in fact,
they're underpinned by a remarkably simple dogma.
You know how it is, the notes don't seem to change,
the instruments don't seem to change,
the harmony doesn't seem to change,
or at least, if it does, only very gradually.
Well, in 1968, Reich wrote a landmark essay
to explain his premise.
It's called Music As A Gradual Process and he says,
"I'm 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.
My first audiences were the art world and the dance world
and the theatre world.
It wasn't the world of contemporary music, they stayed away.
And you know what?
I was good with that, I was really fine with that,
because I had no-one bothering me.
I just wrote for... I was writing music for people who just wanted to
listen, lying on the floors of the loft.
Most of my friends, they were artists.
I always hang out with artists.
I liked them because, uh...
..the art world was always on the verge of something new,
whereas the music world was always on the verge of collapsing.
I mean, of falling into some deep pit of history.
And that wasn't true for the artists,
they were of a very different attitude.
Born in Baltimore in 1937,
Philip Glass attended New York's Julliard before going to Paris,
on a Fulbright scholarship, where he also studied Indian music
with Ravi Shankar.
Returning to New York in 1967,
Glass turned his back on the classical music world.
This is New York's East Village,
which is a pretty glamorous location these days,
but before these apartments were home for bankers, here,
there was a thriving and gritty downtown art scene and in the '60s,
cheap rents made it very attractive to poets and painters,
and artists and musicians like Steve Reich and Philip Glass,
and these lofts became experimental laboratories for minimalism.
Fillmore East is only a block away.
I'm on 3rd Street, Fillmore East was on 4th Street.
Look where I'm living.
CBGBs was over there and...
..you could hear Frank Zappa right up the street.
I mean, I was right where I was supposed to be.
In this heady musical melting pot,
Glass was also exposed to the early work of Steve Reich,
an acquaintance he'd made at Julliard,
and he began to write what he called music with a constant vocabulary,
process music based on repetition and change.
My favourite Philip Glass music, of any of it,
is the very simple music that he was writing at the start
of his writing career, pieces like Music In Fifths...
..where you are listening to a very, very simple musical idea,
just linking music to numbers, linking music
to the simplest pattern, because that music made us think about music
in a completely different way.
What happens when you repeat that?
What happens in your head when you hear the simplest patterns repeated
over and over again?
I would say that what defines much of Philip's early music...
..is a very intense and fast surface energy and motor,
but with a severe economy of pitch.
And so what you have in Two Pages...
HE PLAYS A FIVE-NOTE SEQUENCE
You have this five-note sequence and he divides it up in a million ways
and says, "OK, we have five things,
what if we repeat the last two things
and then increase how much we repeat it, and what if...?"
So, it's this sort of elasticated music, but built on a grid.
Philip Glass' music has the lustrous veneer of New York about it.
Its metropolitan cool suits the city of its birth.
The angles, the high-rises, the endless repetition,
the relentlessness, the energy, all on the surface, and underneath,
more humanity and emotion than you could shake a stick at.
I didn't really understand, you know,
Glass and Reich's music at all until I had visited New York.
You know, when you're walking around Manhattan and you look up
and you see these interlocking grids of windows and,
you know, it just makes sense, it's just, "Oh, I get it.
"This music is about New York."
If you think about the experience of being in a place where -
like in New York - where the streets are, you know,
kind of hemmed in by the 90-degree angles everywhere,
You know, you look up and you feel like you're in a tunnel
of skyscrapers. Well, in a way, you know, that kind of hypnotic,
repetitive structure of the city is mapped onto the way
that the music works.
This was music for modern New York
and it contained the shock of the new.
Glass' early works were as radical a gesture as punk rock in their
outright rejection of everything composition stood for at the time.
One of the defining hallmarks of almost all great 20th-century art
music is that it is dissonant, atonal.
Now, to make a pretty bold point,
I would suggest that on some level that has to be to do with the fact
that the 20th century was the century of war,
it was the century of global crises,
the like of which no-one had ever witnessed before, and, of course,
the response of the artist was to express some of that disjunct,
some of that pain.
And there was a system devised to kind of explicate it
or to organise it in music, which is known as serialism.
So, along come the minimalists in the 1960s and they're thinking,
"To hell with this arts music, which is so alienating!
"Why can't we reclaim melody, harmony, pulse,
"and some of the energy, by the way, of rock and roll?"
My view of it was that I loved it all, actually,
but I didn't want to write it.
There's no point in my writing it.
I said, "Why would I...?
"After Stockhausen did that, why would I do that?"
I mean, I could never do what he did.
I invented a table that rotates very easily and I put a loudspeaker
in the centre and four microphones at a 90-degree angle
around the table, and these four microphones are connected
with the four channels of a four-channel tape recorder.
The sound which passes by a microphone has exactly the same
qualities on the recording as a car that would pass by.
The German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen introduced chance
He may have been "far out", but in Glass' eyes,
the world he belonged to was old hat.
It wasn't that we didn't like the music,
it seemed clear to us that that was over.
It was like looking at a swimmer coming,
doing the last of their 90 laps and they're on lap 85, and they're...
It's tired. You know?
They're just not going to make it,
it's not going to look that good any more.
America was overdue a return to harmony and concord,
and not just in music.
The 1960s were an extremely uptight period, not only in music,
but in our culture in general.
From the Cold War mentality
and the House Un-American Activities Committee...
..to logical positivism in philosophy
and post-Webernite serialism in music.
It was a very uptight period and music needed to break out
of that and get back to the basics, to a sense of flow,
to the expression of emotions.
The persuasive rhythms in Glass' and Reich's early works
made minimalism the sound of modernity, humanity
and social change.
Reich and Glass thumbed their nose at the recent musical past
and instead turned to 1960s America for inspiration.
Not for them, what Reich called the "dark brown angst"
of post-war Europe.
Instead, the optimistic and heady world of tail fins,
burgers and thriving metropolises.
# Roll over, Beethoven
# Roll over, Beethoven
# Roll over, Beethoven,
# Roll over, Beethoven
# Roll over, Beethoven and dig these rhythm and blues. #
The term minimalism was first used in visual art to describe the clean
lines in the work of Richard Serra and Sol LeWitt.
Now, both Glass and Reich knew these artists in downtown New York.
Glass even worked for Serra for a while in his 30s.
And yet, the two versions of minimalism are quite different.
Minimalism in the art world was also a mid-'60s scene,
but the ideas underpinning it were unrelated.
In visual art, a minimalist chooses a single idea, say, a straight line.
The material itself is minimal.
Yet the minimalist composer uses lots of ideas and variations,
but the contrast between them is minimal.
Glass claims it was the Village Voice writer Tom Johnson that first
applied the word to music,
whilst Reich said it was the British composer Michael Nyman in 1968 -
he was working as a critic for The Spectator at the time.
Whichever, from the 1970s the word minimalism was out there in musical
terms, and it stuck.
By 1972, the word minimalism was used by a critical cognoscenti
to bracket Reich and Glass,
along with Californian pioneers La Monte Young and Terry Riley,
as leaders in a new school of American music.
But musicians and labels never make happy bedfellows.
Well, I wonder, you know, cos I often wonder where, um,
musical labels come from.
And I wonder whether the composers who were thought of as minimalist
actually think of themselves as minimalist.
Was it something applied to them, you know?
I somehow think probably it was,
cos I can't imagine somebody just waking up one day and going,
"I'm a minimalist! Come on!"
What do you think of the term minimalism?
Can you bear for me to go through my routine, which I...?
-I have a routine.
Go on, then, I would love you to go through your routine.
OK, this is my routine. Are you ready to go to Paris?
-OK. I'm actually going in a few days,
but this is a special trip.
And don't forget your shovel. Have you got your shovel?
OK. We've both got two shovels.
OK, we're there, and we'll take a taxi to the cemetery
where Claude Debussy is buried.
We're there. OK, now, there's the grave.
Are you ready?
HE IMITATES CREAKING
I wasn't asking whether you were one, really,
I was just asking what you thought of the term.
Well, I think I gave you...
What more can I say?
I was a music critic for 25 years.
I think terms are always helpful.
Musicians don't like them, but the mass of music lovers
cannot understand the music scene in all of its detailed complexity.
You can't package culture for people without coming up with the words
to associate things with.
By 1972, the music had a label,
but only amongst a comparatively small audience.
Few people were buying records or putting on concerts
outside of lofts.
Such was the outsider status of this new music that it was difficult,
if not impossible, for the composers to support themselves.
Living bohemian lives in their downtown lofts,
they still had bills to pay.
So they odd-jobbed.
Philip Glass worked as a plumber and as an artist's assistant,
and at night both he and Reich took to the streets
to drive yellow taxis.
I imagine they drew a lot of inspiration
from such a colourful job.
The problem with driving a cab was that it was very dangerous.
Six to eight guys got killed every year.
Murdered in their cabs.
And when you went and you picked up your car,
you knew that it was possible that someone, that night,
was going to die.
It didn't happen every night, of course, but it happened enough.
When did you get your composing done?
I had a good system.
I would pick up the car around four in the afternoon,
three or four, and I would drive till one or two.
I would go home and write music till seven,
take my kids to school, go home, and go to sleep.
While it may have been tough to get by,
momentum was gathering around minimalism and by the early '70s,
Glass and his electronic ensemble were ready to take it
out of the lofts and go uptown.
Music In Twelve Parts, written between 1971 and 1974,
was a deliberate attempt by Glass to combine all the minimalist
experiments he'd been making since the late 1960s
into one colossal work.
For the premiere of this ambitious new piece,
Glass knew he needed a significant venue.
So he chose this - New York's Town Hall.
Now, the hire of this 1,400-seat venue was a colossal 8,000 -
quite a gamble for a composer just approaching his 40th year
and whose typical loft audience had numbered
somewhere between 40 and 50 people.
But somehow or other, by dint of magic, or perhaps word of mouth,
on the 1st of June 1974,
a capacity crowd witnessed a four-and-a-half-hour marathon
celebration of Glass's achievements in minimalism to date.
The Philip Glass Ensemble featured cheap keyboards bought by a composer
who couldn't afford a roomful of pianos.
So the original ensemble had three keyboards, four keyboards sometimes.
Well, you don't have four pianos and three pianos,
so I went out and got these little Farfisa organs things...
-You could get them for about 200 in January...
..because, uh, kids usually got them as Christmas presents
and they ended up in the basement within a month.
And I knew exactly where they would be. I would go up to Queens...
..and it would be in somebody's basement with, you know,
knotty pine walls and pool tables and these things would be there,
and you could buy 'em two or three weeks after Christmas and, you know,
for 200 bucks.
I... At one point, we had four or five of them
because they also broke down.
I personally think that Music In Twelve Parts is the most kind of
beautiful and delicious thing,
but it's not something that you would say,
"Oh, you've got to come along, this will be a really fun kind of hour,"
because it's, like, seven hours long.
But then I think that, you know, there is an appeal, where...
..to the music where it's sort of hypnotic
and I think that was something that a lot of people keyed into.
They're playing music of almost superhuman virtuosity,
it is so repetitive, it is so fast,
you just can't believe that human beings are actually performing those
kind of patterns for such a long period of time
and I think this is where he's trying to blur the boundaries
between electronic music, between taped music,
you think this can't be human beings.
It is terrifying to play,
because you really can't check out for a second
and you have to be in this constant state
of very high-intensity counting.
It's definitely not something you can have a glass of wine before!
Music In Twelve Parts contained the thrill of a rock gig,
amplified electronic instruments all mixed live on stage,
but it was still classical music, too.
Music In Twelve Parts contains a sting in the tail.
Somewhere in the middle of the last section
there is a little 12-tone row, a technique borrowed
from the largely atonal world of serialism,
an affectionate joke perhaps on Glass's part against the musical
establishment he was determined to leave behind.
When you wrote the music for Twelve Parts, you - rather naughtily -
you put a 12-tone row in, didn't you?
I did it at the end, I did it just for fun.
I did it... I was showing off.
I put a tone row in it, but I did things like that when I was young...
I still do. I'll do a thing just for the hell of it.
But did you have any idea back then, Philip, that you would go on
to create a music which somehow bridged that gap...
That's why the music that you wrote, for me, when I was young,
was so important, because I, of course,
was classically trained and developing as a conductor,
but I was also listening to the Grateful Dead and I couldn't see the
reason why these two worlds were kept apart as they were.
-Well, I put them back together.
The scale and ambition of works like Music In Twelve Parts
meant that minimalism was truly crossing over.
Brian Eno and David Bowie gave it the royal seal of approval
by attending Glass and Reich concerts in the UK.
But the biggest crossover moment was a rock album released in 1973
which owed its very being to Californian minimalist Terry Riley.
Terry began by experimenting with cutting-edge technology -
in particular, early synthesisers and tape recorders.
And what Terry started,
Mike Oldfield took to the top of the charts.
MUSIC: Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.
If minimalism at its core is about creating a whole world from the most
minimal number of ingredients, in this case minimal number of notes,
then Tubular Bells is it, with bells on!
MUSIC: Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield
Imagine if you're a teenage boy with prodigious musical gifts -
your name is Mike Oldfield, by the way -
and you spend all of your spare time in your house playing every
instrument you can lay your hands on and trying to master it,
because you've been listening relentlessly and obsessively
to Terry Riley's A Rainbow In Curved Air, a piece,
a record which famously was made by one man using multiple instruments,
overdubbing, repeating, collaging
all the different instruments together.
So it's all his work, all his fingers,
all his essence contained in multiple forms on one record.
Mike Oldfield is determined to do the same thing
and the result was Tubular Bells.
Tubular Bells was the third biggest-selling album of the 1970s
in the UK. Meanwhile, by the mid-decade,
New York minimalism had earnt its place
not just at the top of the charts,
but also at the table of high culture.
1976 wasn't just the year of punk, Abba, Kraftwerk,
it was also the year for minimalism.
Major new works from Steve Reich and Philip Glass
was putting the music on a world stage.
Perhaps more importantly for the composers themselves,
it was allowing them to make a living from it
for the very first time.
On April the 24th, 1976, at the Town Hall,
the very same venue that Philip Glass had used
for Music In Twelve Parts,
Steve Reich premiered what would become his breakthrough work -
Music For 18 Musicians.
The piece marked the moment when Reich moved away from simple phase
shifting to more elaborate and imaginatively scored composition.
He chooses for Music For 18 Musicians a sumptuous,
upholstered sound of an orchestra of clarinets, strings,
pianos and keyboards, and percussion, and female voices.
He controls this form for nearly an hour himself as a composer.
It's not just that he's set up a process and he lets it happen.
And that, for me, is a whole new phase of music.
It is a whole new phase of what we call minimalism, where the composer,
as an artist, is making their own choices.
This was his first piece for a large ensemble and there's more harmonic
movement, that's the difference in colour between chords,
in the first five minutes than in pretty much
all of his previous music.
You know, it's sort of chugging along and then, suddenly,
it just turns into a different piece of music.
And you have this sense of there are sort of forces which you can't
comprehend, which have made this change inevitable.
This is rarely seen BBC film archive capturing Steve Reich in his prime
from 1979's Reich's Revolution.
Well, the first time I watched that, I could hardly cope with it,
actually, the repetition. It made me twitchy and...
...it has since become one of my favourite pieces of his.
Um, it's so brilliantly written within the style that he has been
developing over all these years.
All the techniques that I had used before,
substitution of beats for rests, constant pulse, are there,
but they are living in a world of relatively frequently changing
harmony and it definitely affected almost everything
that came afterwards.
Music For 18 was probably the first thing that really rocked my world,
just the sound of that piece was so amazing,
just the way it resonates and, um, just the way the music is made.
You cannot not love Music For 18 Musicians, it's so good,
and I think what's great about it is, again,
there is this surface activity.
Right, you can sort of happily kind of bob on the surface of it,
but what's actually going on are there are these big chords at the
beginning, that he presents at the beginning and the end,
and then he explores them in variations or double variations.
That piece is so joyful, and so slow and fast at the same time,
so it feels like you're walking and flying over the same landscape.
When it was finally released on record in 1978,
it sold a staggering 100,000 copies,
an unheard-of amount for a living composer in the 1970s.
All of this gave this experimental, avant-garde,
contemporary, classical or new jazz, or however...
That's how the first...
You know, the first issue of Music For 18 Musicians,
they didn't know where to put it in the record store,
so it was kind of in the jazz section, so...
It gave though all of that sort of bleeding edge of musical
experimentation, whichever genre it ends up belonging to,
a place at the table of a bigger cultural conversation,
and that's massively important.
With minimalism now firmly established,
it could grow into other forms.
When it began in 1958,
it was unimaginable that it could transform the world
of international opera, but in 1976, it did.
Einstein On The Beach was a collaboration
between theatre director Robert Wilson and Philip Glass.
It was commissioned by the Avignon Festival and premiered on July 25,
1976, before playing to a packed Metropolitan Opera House
later that same year.
An uptown triumph for New York's performing arts scene,
Einstein expanded opera's creative boundaries,
paving the way for the modern production era, as we know it.
Einstein On The Beach was so new in that its materials could be spread
throughout the entire opera, uh, completely changing the usual sense
of form in opera, it was not a linear structure any more.
And we thought, "OK, this is the new form opera's going to take,
"this is what we're going to do from now on."
Despite the reputation of extreme simplicity attached to minimalism
in general, there's something very complex about Einstein.
And you don't know it until you get in the middle of it,
and these things...
You think you can start predicting what's going to happen
and the changes always take you by surprise.
It's a very pleasant, suspended feeling.
It..it..it... it blows your mind
because there's so much going on and it's so magical
how fluent the collaboration is,
but also how it can work completely in tandem,
but then also in counterpoint, all the different elements.
As with a lot of Philip's music,
the last eight minutes are some of the most beautiful in the world,
it was just this...
With these little holes.
So, you know, again, it's repetitive,
but there are little surprises and that beautiful,
beautiful piece of text.
I get gooseflesh even thinking about it!
The day with its cares and perplexities is ended,
and the night is now upon us.
The night should be a time of peace and tranquillity...
Einstein was a real kind of...
It felt like the culmination of something,
would you agree with that, in terms of your work to that point?
Yes, it's the... Yes, it's the end of a... It's the end of a period,
not the beginning. Uh, that's... It begins with Two Pages
and Music In Fifths, and then...
Like, that's '67.
By '76, nine years later, it's Einstein On The Beach.
So that's the end of it.
It is the old, old story of love.
Two lovers sat on a park bench...
Einstein was the end point of what Philip Glass regards
as his minimalist years.
Both he and Reich were now commissioned composers,
successful enough to be able to write ambitious works
for larger ensembles.
But minimalism's fundamentals of phasing and repetition
would remain a crucial part of their work,
and I'm going to show you how by getting under the skin
of Reich's first work for large orchestra,
Variations For Winds, Strings And Keyboards.
A key part of the compelling way that Steve Reich builds textures is
through putting instruments slightly out of phase with each other.
It's like those very early tape experiments,
he's been completely obsessing with the same core ingredient ever since,
and so, for this, his first orchestral piece from 1980,
Variations For Winds, Strings And Keyboards, he does absolutely that.
He's got a flute playing the theme and another flute playing
just a note behind. So here's the theme on its own...
Now, let's hear that again with the other flute playing
out of phase with it.
So you've got that exquisite flute burbling along, as it were,
with the pianos, and with the organs kind of in the background.
And then the flutes and the pianos are suddenly gone,
and they are replaced by three oboes and the organs come into the fore as
well, so you get this complete sort of shimmer of colour change in an
instant turning on a dial.
I've talked about phasing in the most obvious way
that it occurs all the way through this piece,
but there's a less obvious and really wonderful
way, a kind of extreme form of phasing that takes place.
Imagine if you had seven voices all playing one note out of phase with
each other on that melody that we looked at,
and then if you just chose one moment in time
just to freeze-frame it, and you would get this amazing harmony.
It's made up of two sets of harmony,
I'm going to break it down like that anyway.
The first one is this...
SLOW, LOW CHORDS
And then the other one is this...
Now, those two chords occur simultaneously.
As I say, seven pure notes,
all of them from the melody that we heard from the flutes.
It's almost as if these chords are like a kind of vast iceberg.
Sort of like a hot iceberg, if that's not a contradiction in terms,
just floating incredibly slowly across a turbulent sea.
Steve Reich and Philip Glass' minimalist journey through the '70s
changed music forever and slowed down time.
In breaking down the musical establishment's doors,
they gave permission to new generations
of minimalism-infused New Yorkers.
I think there's a very direct lineage from Steve Reich,
Philip Glass, the New York School of Minimalism, to younger composers.
Um... There's a generation of composers who are now
in their late 50s or so who are known as Bang On A Can...
..and that is David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe,
and I think they've taken the Steve Reich, the Philip Glass aesthetic
and really put it into a post-rock 'n' roll, post-punk era.
So their music is a lot more hard-edged, it still is repetitive,
it still has a simplicity about it,
but I'm particularly thinking of Julia Wolfe.
Her music tells stories.
She writes music about, pieces about mining disasters,
she writes songs, she writes wonderfully powerful folk-influenced
soundscapes for string orchestras.
They are in a direct lineage to the New York School
of minimalist composers.
But I think what we took from minimalism
is this interest in music being very direct.
It's not like I consciously say I'm only going to use these materials,
but I definitely work in that way.
So I think economically.
Like, I don't necessarily use every percussion instrument
and the kitchen sink, I think, "I only need these instruments."
And I think in terms of development, as opposed to, "Well,
"I'll do a little bit of that and I'll do a little bit of this," and
that's... I think that's something that came, partly, from the purity
and directness of minimalism.
Like, when you've left the hall, what...
what do you remember about the piece?
What was the experience of that piece?
There's a kind of third generation of those composers.
I'm thinking of Nico Muhly, I'm thinking of Bryce Dessner,
from The National, who are very much in that
New York milieu, but who have processed the simplicity
of the 1960s, '70s generation of minimalists
and it's come out in a very different way,
it's come out much more lush, it's more, um, symphonic.
There are big operas, there are great, big orchestral pieces.
I think we're sort of done with self-identification in terms of,
"I am part of this score, this is what I believe in," or whatever, and
I think it's much more about thinking about...
Thinking about our ancestors, our musical ancestors,
as things from which you can always borrow recipes,
and I think it's not about...
It's no longer about...
..you know, this is a fusion restaurant,
it's, like, French-Asian, or whatever. You know, it's much more
about, "This is what I do, this is what the craft is."
I think sometimes we reduce the power of minimalism
and especially of these individual voices,
whether they be La Monte Young or Terry Riley,
or Steve Reich or Philip Glass,
who are all kind of these living giants among us now
and who really have opened many windows, they've opened doors
into all kinds of music, all kinds of expression, and more than that,
they've kind of broken down barriers in terms of the way we hear music,
the way we present music, the way music is performed.
They have really expanded the boundaries
of where music can travel.
La Monte Young, Terry Riley,
Steve Reich and Philip Glass are still thoroughly active today.
Unremitting, unflinching, I think, happy experimenting musicians.
It's proof perhaps that minimalism has come of age
and has thrown off some of the doctrinaire rigidity of its origins.
It is the last big thing in classical music...
..and until a new one comes along,
it will always have the thrill of the new.
It's impossible to overstate the influence of this music because it's
In our pop music with loops and repetitions...
The way that cells and fragments have gone
straight into classical music traditions as well.
You know, all of those things come from this moment.
There is a kind of transcendence about it,
or transcendental quality to it.
It's a spiritual... There's something spiritual
-about your music.
Well, you see, you probably don't see that at all, or you now see it,
but in a very different way. I would apply that to...
I mean, even the really early pieces.
That is the nitty-gritty of all great music.
But it turns out that all great music that has that
is also founded on some very... very, very strong
structural development and creation,
and that without the marriage of the thinking process
and the emotional process, then...
..it doesn't matter.
I can't really overstate how important minimalism has been
for me as a musician, for me as an artist.
You know, I emerged with all that classical training,
absolutely in to conducting my Stockhausen, and my Schoenberg,
but equally very interested in what Kraftwerk were doing
and some of the experiments of bands like the Grateful Dead.
How to join these things together when the world I was living in
was so about mutually exclusive categories?
And somehow minimalism was the form which made it OK,
which squared the circle, which joined the dots,
and so for that I will be forever grateful
to these four extraordinary men.
What's your view of the term minimalism?
Well, I think, as I used to say, it was pretty good for its day,
but now there's other music.
But now I'm going back to certain elements of it.
I'm just doing a big minimalist piece in the Carnegie Hall
in a couple of months and most of it is the original.
I've added to it.
So, I would say that...
I used to say, "Well, it's something that we used to do,
"we don't do any more," but I have to...
I think I have to change that and say that it's definitely a tool box
of its own and if you know how the tools work,
they can be used for a long time in very different ways.
In this episode Charles Hazlewood meets the genre's superstars Philip Glass and Steve Reich.
Across the 1960s these New Yorkers added new orchestral dimensions to compositions based on repetition, transcendence and new technology, and broke into the mainstream in the following decade. Charles explores how breakthrough techniques Reich first explored on tape were transposed for orchestral performance. Glass's experiments with repetitive structures, along with his innovative work in opera - Einstein on the Beach - revealed new possibilities for classical music.
The episode includes excerpts from minimalist pieces, including Reich's Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards performed by the Army of Generals orchestra. Charles Hazlewood's All Stars Collective performs part of Mike Oldfield's minimalist-inspired Tubular Bells.
The key attributes of minimalism, its reliance on repetition, its mesmerizing transcendent qualities and innovative use of technology are also discussed with broadcaster and writer Tom Service; director of music at the Southbank Centre, Gillian Moore; composers Laurie Spiegel, Nico Muhly, Julia Wolfe, Max Richter and Bryce Dessner; and musicians Jarvis Cocker and Adrian Utley.