GCSE Music Area of Study 2 - Reich: 3rd Movement (Fast) from Electric Counterpoint

Edexcel GCSE Music Area of Study 2: Music in the 20th Century

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  • Created by: Mel
  • Created on: 18-04-12 14:18

Hallmarks of Minimalism

  • drones - a long, continuous note or a constantly repeated note (can be any pitch, but is often a low note) 
  • ostinati/loops - repeated musical ideas. The shortest ideas are called cells 
  • phasing - two almost identical parts which go out of sync with each other and gradually, after a number of repetitions, come back into sync again 
  • metamorphosis - gradually changing from one musical idea to another, often by changing one note at a time 
  • layering - adding new musical parts, commonly one at a time. The parts will often interact with each other forming a complex texture 
  • key - in Area of Study 1, it is clear that key has a significant part to play in defining the structure of a piece 
  • note addition - starting off with a very simple, sparse ostinato containing many rests, and gradually adding notes over a number of repetitions
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Hallmarks of Minimalism (cont.)

  • note subtraction - starting off with a more complex ostinato and gradually taking notes away, leaving rests in their place
  • rhythmic displacement - playing a musical phrase so that the accents fall in different places to what would be expected. For example, playing a three-note quaver pattern in 4/4 time so that the accent falls on the first note, then the second note, then the third note, or playing the same phrase but starting at a different point in the bar (this is what Reich does with 'ostinato 1' 
  • augmentation - extending the durations of a rhythmic pattern
  • diminution - the opposite of augmentation
  • static harmony - the piece appears to have one long chord which only changes very gradually, if at all (there is no impression of a chord sequence)
  • non-functional harmony - there are chord sequences, but they do not seem to follor the expected hierarchy of tonic, dominant, sub-dominant etc. (chords do not seem to lead from one to the other in the way dictated by classical harmonic rules
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Steve Reich (1963-)

  • Born in New York in 1936
  • Studied philosophy at university and studied composition at the Juilliard School of Music and Mills College (where he worked with the famous composers Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud) 
  • In 1956/66 he composed two pieces called It's Gonna Rain and Come Out 
  • In each piece he created two identical  tape loops of some speech he felt contained musical qualities and played them simultaneously on two different tape recorders 
  • The tape recorders ran at slightly different speeds, so the loops gradually went out of sync with each other 
  • As the loops become more and more out of sync, the speech becomes less intelligible until it starts to be heard as a rhythm rather than speech (effect is trance-like, extreme form of the 'phasing' technique)
  • His music is often rhythmically complex with much repetition
  • Formed his own ensemble in 1966, starting with just three members
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Electric Counterpoint (movement III) - Instrumenta

This is a minimalist piece for solo guitar with a taped or live guitar emsemble (seven guitars in this movement) and two bass guitars. The texture gradually builds up in the first section, with the guitar parts entering in the following order:

  • Guitar 1
  • Live Guitar
  • Guitar 2
  • Guitar 3
  • Guitar 4
  • Bass Guitars 1 and 2
  • Guitar 5
  • Guitar 6
  • Guitar 7
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Electric Counterpoint (movement III) - Background

  • Last in a series of three pieces for soloists
  • Methany was the guitarist who recorded the guitar sound over the tracks, under the guidance of Reich
  • The recorded parts are seen by the composer as something more than a 'backing track' - a way for the performer to perform in an emsemble with himself
  • Piece takes the act of using tape loops in a different direction - instead of using one, constantly repeating loop, the composer uses the tape as a way of capturing the sound of one performer, giving the whole piece a togetherness of a sound that would not be possible using different live performers
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Electric Counterpoint (movement III) - Structure

Section A1:

  • Begins with guitar 1 repeating a one-bar ostinato
  • Live guitar part starts with three notes of ostinato 1, building up to the full ostinato by bar 6 using note addition technique
  • Guitar 2 enters in bar 7, playing ostinato 1, but one crotchet later
  • Guitar 3 enters at bar 10, building up ostinato 1 using note addition, ostinato is displaced by five and a half crotchets
  • Guitar 4 enters in bar 16, playing ostinato 1 displaced by two and a half crotchets
  • Reich calls it a 'four-part guitar canon'
  • When all parts have entered, live guitar starts to play the resultant melody
  • Piece is in 3/2 time with a clear triple metre
  • Hints at E minor
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Electric Counterpoint (movement III) - Structure (

Section A2:

  • Bass guitars are introduced at bar 24, reinforcing the feeling of a triple time metre
  • Two-bar bass ostinato is introduced gradually, starting with the first bar and then adding the notes until it is played in full by bar 33
  • Key of E minor becomes definite
  • Live guitar continues to play the resultant melody
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Electric Counterpoint (movement III) - Structure (

Section A3

  • Live guitar introduces a new idea by playing strummed chords. Has a dramatic effect on the texture by introducing a new, rather percussive sound that cuts across the rest of the parts
  • Guitar 5 introduces the sequence C, Bm, E5 at bar 40
  • Guitar 6 introduces the sequence C, D, Em at bar 52
  • Guitar 7 introduces the sequence C, D, Bm at bar 64
  • Guitars 5-7 play at the same time but because the chords are played at different times in the bar, there is a new and interesting rhythmic  counterpoint introduced and the chords can be heard as distinct chords, even though when the notes overlap they form much more complex chords
  • Live guitar continues to play chords through this section, interweaving with the rhythms of guitars 5-7
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Electric Counterpoint (movement III) - Structure (

Section A4:

  • Live guitar returns to playing a resultant melody part

Section B5:

  • First big change of key to C minor at bar 74 is rather startling, signalling the start of section B
  • Texture remains the same as for section 4

Section B6:

  • Key shifts back to E minor
  • Metre changes to 12/8 (in all but guitars 1-4)
  • Bass parts play a new ostinato
  • At bar 86 metre shifts back to 3/2 and the bass ostinato changes back to ostinato 2 (bass 1 is inverted and adds one additional note)
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Electric Counterpoint (movement III) - Structure (

Section B7:

  • Return to C minor
  • Metre continues to change every four bars

Section B8:

  • Bar 98 - Return to E minor, shifts key, metre more frequent, builds tension
  • Bar 106 guitars 5-7 and two bass parts begin to fade out, gradually at first

Coda 9:

  • Texture has returned to the four-part canon of ostinato 1 in guitars 1-4 with the live guitar part playing resultant melodies
  • Shifts in key and metre continue until bar 129 when it is finally made clear that the piece will end in the key of E minor
  • Piece ends with a crescendo to a final E5 chord played simultaneously in all five remaining parts at the end of bar 139
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Important points

  • Electric Counterpoint (movement III) is basically in E minor but Reich likes to keep the listener guessing what the key might be right up until the bass guitars finally make it obvious by bar 33 when they play the tonic note of E at the end of their two-bar ostinato. This is called tonal ambiguity - keeping the key uncertain
  • Like much minimalist music, the piece is actually modal
  • Texture is built up gradually and it helps to define the structure, particularly the subsections of section A. Texture thins out towards the end (guitars 5-7 and basses fading out), even though the pieces finishes dramatically with a crescendo and a forceful E5 chord. Once all the parts have been introduced, texture is quite constant but with clever use of panning and the interweaving rhythms, it always seems to be shifting
  • Piece concentrates on rhythmic development just as much as it does on melodic development - changes in metre between 3/2 and 12/8 in section B. Reich feels that the piece ends clearly in 12/8 metre, but you may not feel this. Reich composed his ostinati with little gaps (quaver rests) so that there would be a rhythmic counterpoint when the two parts were played out of sync with each other. The interplay of the bass parts is a particularly interesting feature of this piece
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This is really good

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