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Once a fringe composer, Steve Reich is now part of the musical mainstream. His progress as a composer over the decades is impressive, but some of his earlier major works still stand as milestones, and Drumming is one of the best. Inspired by his drumming studies in Ghana, Drumming is a lengthy piece for percussion, sometimes reinforced by voices. It's thrilling to hear in person, and mesmerisingly involving even on recordings. (Don't listen to it while you're driving!) It's great that Reich's music is being taken up by young performers, and this new recording by So Percussion has many virtues, including lots of energy and very clear recording. It also uses singers who have worked with Reich (including the amazing Jay Clayton). Overdubbing parts doesn't seem to matter much either way. Unfortunately, the recording has a major, disqualifying flaw. The high-pitched opening of Part 3 becomes an undifferentiated hash in this performance, losing vital rhythmic definition. Both of Reich's recordings get this part (and everything else) right; the earlier version on Deutsche Grammophon uses the maximum repeats, in this case a real virtue. --Leslie Gerber
Digital Booklet: Reich: Drumming
Digital Booklet: Reich: Drumming
Top customer reviews
But to pull off Steve Reich's "Drumming" with such precision and clarity is a whole other kind of talent. It's a talent of the rarest kind, one that very few groups have. The So Percussion Group has that talent, and nothing shows it off so well as this recording.
I saw the group perform Part I of Drumming in Nashville last fall, and it was an incredible experience, as is listening to this recording. This CD is by far the best version of "Drumming" available. The phasing is mind-bendingly precise and is like nothing else out there.
For those not familiar with this piece, the basic concept behind it is the aforementioned process of "phasing." Two players are playing an identical rhythm, then one player begins to push the tempo ever so slightly while the other one holds steady. The effect of this is that at first the notes sound together in unison, then they begin to sound a little muddy, then as if every note is actually preceded by a grace note. As the two tempos pull further from each other there occurs a sudden moment of pure aural bliss as one player's beats occur exactly at the halfway point between the other player's beats. Up at a fast tempo the effect of this is dumbfounding. As the accelerating player continues to pull away, the notes begin to sound muddy again until the player arrives at a destination spot exactly one beat in the measure ahead of the first player. So you end up with two players playing the same pattern, one a beat ahead of the other.
So Percussion pulls this off better than anyone else out there. Some recordings of this phase shift feel like they are jumping from one chunk of the phase to the next: from unision, to grace notes, to 16th notes, back to grace notes, and then to the final destination. The shifting between each of those stages is rushed because, well, it's insanely difficult to pull off. In contrast, So Percussion's recording is like a machine, like two slightly-off clocks or the original tape loops that gave Reich this concept in the first place. The phase shifting is drawn out and takes its mind-rippingly sweet time, a truly gradual phase that leaves you feeling like your brain has just been ripped down the middle and pulled in two different directions. It's aural relativity, the sound of being in two different times at once. It's what Picasso would have done if he was a musician, asking what it would be like to HEAR from multiple perspectives, as opposed to seeing from them. It's something that must be heard to be believed.
Keep an eye on these guys. Their break-through debut record was of the utmost quality, as is this follow-up, and who knows where these boys will go next. But one thing is for sure: they have a long and incredible career ahead of them.
I saw So Percussion perform this piece at Columbia University's Miller Theatre in March 2005 and was stunned at their precision, energy and enthusiasm. I expect to see this ensemble go far! While I haven't heard the DG 2-CD recording of Drumming referred to by Amazon's editorial review, I don't find the start of Part III to be an undifferentiated hash in So's version; there is slight aural haze caused by the overtones and resonance of the glockenspiels but the rhythmic definition and drive is still perfectly audible. Another advantage of this recording is that it preserves most of the length of 'Drumming' (~73 mins vs ~85 mins on the 2-CD set) without the nuisance of having to change CDs midway. Unbroken concentration is a vital ingredient in the spell of the piece.
If you're a fan of Reich's music I would also recommend Cantaloupe's recording of Tehillim / The Desert Music with Alan Pierson conducting; having purchased a recording of Tehillim on the Nonesuch label with Reinbert de Leeuw conducting several years ago, I thought I didn't like Tehillim much... until I heard the clarity and drive of Alan Pierson's interpretation!