Born: Oct 3, 1936 in New York, NY
Styles: Tape Music, United States of America, 20th Century Classical/Modern Composition, Avant-Garde, Minimalism
Following in the footsteps of La Monte Young and Terry Riley, composer Steve Reich is widely considered the third major pioneer of minimalism; credited as the innovator behind phasing - a process whereby two tape loops lined up in unison gradually move out of phase with each other, ultimately coming back into sync - his early experiments in tape manipulation also anticipated the emergence of hip-hop sampling by well over a decade. Reich was born October 3, 1936 in New York City, and later studied philosophy at Cornell University; while at the Juilliard School of Music, he turned to composition, finally landing at Mills College in Oakland, California under the tutelage of avant-garde composers Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud. During his collegiate years, Reich supported himself by drumming professionally; however, when his academic career drew to a close in 1963, he turned to driving a cab.
Around that same time, Reich completed his first major compositions, Pitch Charts and the experimental film score Plastic Haircut. 1964's Music for Three or More Pianos was his first work to make use of tape loops, followed a year later by the landmark It's Gonna Rain, a phased piece constructed out of a 13-second sample of a sermon by the minister Brother Walter. Reich again applied his phasing manipulations to the recorded voice on 1966's Come Out, but with 1967's Piano Phase and Violin Phase he began employing the process on acoustic instruments. Subsequent works continued expanding the parameters of the phasing concept - while the above-mentioned Violin Phase could be played with one violin and electronic tape or with four violins, 1971's extended Drumming (inspired by a journey to Ghana) was scored for four pairs of bongos, three marimbas, three glockenspiels, and voice.
Reich's subsequent work veered from quintessential minimalism (1972's self-explanatory Clapping Music) to orchestral compositions (1976's Music for Eighteen Musicians, again everything its title promises), with the latter aesthetic becoming his primary focus in later years. Rarely recorded throughout his first decades as an artist, during the 1980s Reich's major works finally began appearing on album, among them 1988's brilliant Different Trains, a Holocaust-inspired piece created for live string quartet, pre-recorded string quartet and sampled voices. (On LP it was paired with Electric Counterpoint, a composition for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny which was later sampled by the UK ambient duo the Orb on their hit "Little Fluffy Clouds.") Reich's Jewish heritage continued playing a central role in his later work as well - 1994's multi-media piece The Cave retold the story of the prophet Abraham. As Reich's trailblazing work came into fashion with the wave of late-'90s electronica, the remix album Reich Remixed appeared in 1999.
- Jason Ankeny (All Music Guide)