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Steve REICH (b. 1936)
Drumming (1970-71)
Kuniko (percussion, vocals)
rec. 2017-18, Aichi Prefectual Arts Theater, Nagoya, Japan

My only other recording of this work is the classic 1987 Nonesuch recording by Steve Reich and Musicians, a recording which is totally different to this one. The work is scored for four pairs of tuned bongo drums, three marimbas, three glockenspiels, soprano and alto voices, whistling and piccolo, twelve musicians in total on the Nonesuch recording, including Reich himself as percussionist and whistler. This new recording can not be more different as here we have Kuniko, a multi-talented musician, playing, vocalising and overdubbing every single part herself, in effect returning the work to the early Terry Riley concept of minimalism with repeated phrases built up on tape, a true minimalist recording then.

This recording is a virtuosic tour de force, one in which Kuniko proves that there is a different way of looking at things, a way that led Reich to say “The result is like a microscopic close up of the piece where all the details are heard with amazing clarity. I found it a remarkable pleasure to hear. Bravo!” This clarity comes partly due to the tempo, Kuniko’s version is nearly a quarter of an hour longer than Reich’s own recording and partly due to the wonderful performance. Despite the length of the recording it in no way drags, rather it is a well-paced and well executed performance. By the nature of how this version was recorded, it does lack a little spontaneity, but as she says in her notes, an ensemble recording, no matter who records it, can be affected by individuals losing or gaining pace during a performance of the piece, whereas here every part is beautifully paced and in line with every other part. This is a highly focussed performance where every detail of each phase is minutely captured with clarity and accuracy, the way Kuniko manages to capture and exploit every ebb and flow of the music is quite mesmerising, even more so than Reich’s own performance. If I miss something from the Reich performance it is the more ethereal vocalisations of Pamela Wood Ambush and Jay Clayton, but this is more than made up for by the perfection of her playing. Yes, it might not be as spontaneous and exciting a performance as Reich and friends, but the way that Kuniko manages to emphasise each, and every, phase shift is wonderful.

The recorded sound is wonderfully clear, something that helps the performance, it has been recorded over three sessions so being able to maintain the clarity and dynamic over the months that it took to record this work is a credit to the engineers and to Kuniko. The booklet notes are excellent, not only do we get Kuniko’s own notes in which she discusses the piece and her approach to it, but you also get three pages of notes on the work by Steve Reich himself. Yes, there is more than one way in which a work can be performed and Kuniko’s incredibly nuanced performance shows this. And there is certainly space on a shelf for when the performance is as compelling as this is.

Stuart Sillitoe

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