Steve Reich: Phase to Face
Bonuses: Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich; A Brief History of Music by Steve Reich
Video: 16:9; Sound: PCM Stereo; Region: 0; Subtitles: English, German, French, Japanese
EUROARTS BLU-RAY 3058124 [80:00]
Picture and sound are both good on this stereo only disc and the menu system is blessedly silent. Thank you for that Euroarts. The main feature is very much a standard modern documentary: small snatches of talk interspersed with small snatches of music. Reich is allowed time only for sound-byte length comments before the next musical break comes along. Sometimes these extracts are apposite, often not. The expectation is that the viewer has a very short attention span. Since the essence of Reich's work is incremental changes of rhythm and timing over extended periods, the film-makers' style is very destructive. Combine this with the tendency to introduce clever video clips that try to reflect the type of minimalism heard in the music - multiple split screens, repetitive images, rapid changes - and we have a recipe for dizziness. Indeed I had to close my eyes on several occasions to reduce motion sickness.
What Reich is actually saying about his compositional methods and influences is interesting and insightful but the director is not listening. For example, he speaks of the influence of a particular piece by John Coltrane but we get no illustration from it to assist understanding. The musical extracts are so short as to be little more than compositional debris though watching Reich and his fellow musicians is very instructive. To add visual 'variety' we have Reich hailing taxis, Reich walking along pavements and Reich making recordings, all mixed up with him sitting and talking. All the usual clichés are present except no walking down corridors.
For a taste of real quality go to the two fascinating bonus items, totalling nearly 30 minutes and minus any directorial interruption. One has his thoughtful and extended answers to audience questions with the actual questions edited out so we hear almost continuously from Reich. The other, his 'history', is as intriguing an account of the development of Western Music since the 14th century as I have heard. He sees it in terms of a change from linear to chordal structure and from simple instrumental and vocal sound to complex. Finally he sees it as a move away from pleasing the audience to pleasing other composers.  

Dave Billinge 

A key minimalist musician is shown in an irritating main documentary but two excellent bonuses.