Steve Reich – Reich Remixed

Reich Remixed is an interesting experiment. Nonesuch, a label well known for edgy music from the sixties through today, asked nine electronica artists to remix some of the best work of Steve Reich. Brilliant, or just a way to expose Reich to a larger audience?

Listening to Reich Remixed, it’s hard not to think that the CD is a little of both – the best remixes take the music on new tangents, or inspire new experimental explorations. The weaker tracks just sound like Reich’s music was a source for some good samples. The result is an album that is interesting, at times inspired and challenging, yet also unsatisfying.

There are nine listed cuts on the album:

  • Music For 18 Musicians (Coldcut Remix) – Steve Reich
  • Eight Lines (Howie B Remix) – Bang On A Can/Bradley Lubman
  • The Four Sections (Andrea Parker Remix) – London Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
  • Megamix (Tranquility Bass Remix) – Steve Reich/London Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas/Theatre Of Voices
  • Drumming (Mantronik Maximum Drum Formula) – Steve Reich
  • Proverb (Nobukazu Takemura Remix) – Theatre Of Voices
  • Piano Phase (D*Note’s Phased & Konfused Mix) – Double Edge
  • City Life (DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid Open Circuit) – The Steve Reich Ensemble/Bradley Lubman
  • Come Out (Ken Ishii Remix) – Steve Reich

There is an unlisted tenth track, also.

The remixes cover a great deal of territory. The Coldcut remix of “Music for 18 Musicians” draws on several extended sections from the original piece, but combines them with electronic filtering effects, and synthesized additions. The result seems inspired by the sound of the original work, if not by its form or technique. The original work is percussive, heavy on mallet instruments, and has the musicians play short repetitive melodies, but slightly out of sync. The result is a constantly shifting texture that is similar to effects that Reich observed in some of his early tape experiments. The remix expands the sonic range of the original by adding some deep synthesized bass, and drum machine. The result sounds a little like Tangerine Dream’s music for Risky Business, which was inspired by Reich, or to some of Banco de Gaia’s work.

Howie B’s remix of “Eight Lines” samples some sections of the original, but seems largely disconnected from it. The remix includes weird sound effects and drum machines, but fails to be especially danceworthy or experimental. Andrea Parker’s take on The Four Sections also sounds disconnected from the original, but is more successful. It mixes stark drum machine rhythms with a combination of Reich samples and synthesized sequences, creating a sort of dark ambient techno.

Tranquility Bass weighs in with a Megamix that draws on a variety of Reich’s music. This is one of the more original remixes, because it uses a variety of Reich’s sources as inspiration and recombines them into a new form. It’s difficult to pick out all the source material, but one can here “It’s Gonna Rain”, “Clapping Music”, “Six Marimbas”, and “Electric Counterpoint”. There’s also a lot of new touches and electronic manipulation. This piece slowly builds, and you can hear Tranquility Bass using some of Reich’s approach to repitition.

The Mantronik version of “Drumming” is only superficially connected to the original. It’s is probably the most danceable of the remixes, yet is not that memorable. It has interesting drum machine work, but sounds more like a background track for a rap than an independent piece of music.

Nobukazu Takemura’s take on “Proverb” is more interesting. It slices and dices sections of the original in BT fashion. Takemura takes a very short section of the original vocal, and reworks it to create a large variety of effects. About 3:30 into the remix, Takemura adds drum machine to the mix, making this work as a sort of ambient techno or IDM track.

D*Note’s Phased & Konfused mix of “Piano Phase” uses large chunks of the original. It also adds techno drum machine and techno flourishes. The drum machine work is interesting in the way it plays in time with the source material, but also shifts the perceived tempo faster and slower.

The City Life remix is by far the most avant garde of the remixes. DJ Spooky uses electronic manipulation in a music concrete manner, slowing and speeding sounds, playing them backwards, treating them with artificial echo effects, and repeating short chunks. The result is a remix that sounds a lot like some of the tape pieces of the sixties. Listeners interested in dance-style remixes will hate this cut, while people interested in more experimental music will probably find it one of the more interesting cuts on the CD.

The Ken Ishii remix of “Come Out” is trippy. It works fairly well following the DJ Spooky remix, and takes the original source material for Reich’s track into new directions. Reich’s piece uses a tape loop of spoken word and creates variations by repeating multiple versions of the loops played slightly out of sync. Ishii goes in a completely different tangent. Instead of playing multiple versions of the loop off itself, he focuses primarily on manipulating a single version of the loop. He filters it, echoes it, and stretches it. This is augmented with additional percussion and synthesized backing.

Reich Remixed has many interesting sections. Unfortunately, the sum seems to be less than the whole. The remix artists seem to all be talented, but they rarely seem to connect with the formal ideas in Reich’s music. They especially seem to miss the idea of using multiple versions of single samples against each other to create sonic effects. Strangely, while most of the remixes are much shorter than the original works, most of the remixes don’t seem especially tight or focused.

Reich Remixed is an interesting experiment. It’s doubtful that these remixes will significantly broaden Reich’s appeal. The collection may work better as an introduction to the various remixer’s styles than as an intro to Reich. Nevertheless, Nonesuch has put out some music that is as experimental and visionary as some of the work they released in the early days of electronic music.


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