STEVE REICH: Phase to Face
Documentary by Eric Darmon and Franck Mallet
Bonus: Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich; A Brief History of Music by Steve Reich
rec. 2007-2009, various locations.
Picture format 16:9, NTSC; Sound format PCM stereo; Region Code 0 (Worldwide); Languages: EN; Subtitles: DE, FR, JP.
IDEALE AUDIENCE 3058128 [52:00 (Documentary) + 28:00 (Bonus)]

This documentary opens with an off-camera voice, that of Steve Reich answering the telephone in his home on April 20, 2009. The phone had rung several times, and Reich was at first annoyed, then said that the calls meant either very bad news or very good news. It turned out to be an NPR announcer calling to tell Reich that he had won the Pulitzer Prize for his work Double Sextet.

For those unfamiliar with Steve Reich’s work, he is one of the founders and leading proponents of minimalism, together with Philip Glass, LaMonte Young and Terry Riley. Reich and Glass, while heading in different directions, have brought this music into the mainstream, and created a number of very important works that have marked the last few decades.

This documentary shows Reich at his home, talking about his music, and in New York, Le Havre, Rome, and Manchester, where he attends performances of his works and talks with musicians who are rehearsing his works. Reich is very open about his music, patiently explaining his ideas and techniques, and not adopting any sort of elitist attitude. One could say that Reich’s music is “popular”, in the sense that it depends on no complex techniques (such as serialism), ideology, and is essentially tonal and rhythmic.

The discussions with Reich are very interesting. He talks about his works, his techniques, and how he feels about different types of music. He does this notably in the “bonus” - outtake - entitled ‘A Brief History of Music, by Steve Reich’, where he discusses the main composers and their importance. The performance sections are, unfortunately, too brief to offer any real appreciation of this music, if you are not already familiar with it. I would have liked to have a real “bonus” with a full performance of one of the works that are shown in small bits, especially that of 2X5 by Bang on a Can in Manchester, in July, 2009. There are excerpts from many of Reich’s works, but all are too short.

The Talks in Tokyo bonus is interesting. Reich doesn’t involve himself in lectures. When he gives talks he plays a recording of a piece not performed in the concert that the audience has heard, and then answers questions. In this case, he played You Are (Variations), a 2004 work. The questions and answers are indeed interesting and worth listening to.

I’m very familiar with Steve Reich’s work. I have nearly all of the available recordings of his music, and attended many concerts given by his ensemble in the late 1970s and early 1980s in New York, as well as a number of others in France over the years. For this reason, I would have liked more from this documentary. It is not intended for people like me, however; it is more for those who are new to this music, or who have a passing curiosity about Reich’s work. It’s an interesting program to see on TV, but it might not be worth buying, as there’s not much value in watching it more than once. This said, if you don’t know this music, I strongly recommend looking into Steve Reich’s unique type of minimalism. From his seminal Music for 18 Musicians, to the recent Double Sextet / 2X5, Reich’s works are among the most interesting in contemporary tonal music.

Kirk McElhearn

An interesting documentary for those unfamiliar with the work of Steve Reich.