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SoundStories: Spotlight on Steve Reich

We hope you enjoy this edition of SoundStories, with a deep dive into the world of Steve Reich.

Composer Spotlight: Steve Reich

“American composer Steve Reich has strong links to Toronto: 2 original members of the Steve Reich Ensemble – Russell Hartenberger and Bob Becker – were also founding members of Canada’s illustrious percussion ensemble Nexus, famously described by the New York Times as “the high priests of the percussion world.” Building on this rich history, Soundstreams initiated a series of projects in Toronto with Reich and Nexus in 2005, 2010 and 2016, including co-commissioning the world premiere of Reich’s Mallet Quartet, written especially for them. When we can gather together once more in the near future, we look forward to presenting historic events celebrating together Reich’s 85th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Nexus’s founding.”

– Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney

Come Out is a 1966 piece by Reich. He was asked to edit down tape footage into a form of collage for a benefit for the Harlem Six, and Come Out was a by-product of the collage’s production. The Harlem Six were six black youths arrested for the murder of Margit Sugar, a Hungarian refugee.

Reich eventually used the voice of Daniel Hamm, one of the boys involved in the riots but not responsible for the murder; he was nineteen at the time of the recording. At the beginning of the piece, he says, “I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them” (alluding to how Hamm had punctured a bruise on his own body to convince police that he had been beaten while in jail). The police had not previously dealt with Hamm’s injuries since he did not appear seriously wounded and they had beaten him themselves.

As pointed out to us by one of our Facebook fans, an excellent follow-up would be “Rethinking Reich” (2019, Oxford University Press), which contains the essay “Steve Reich’s Dramatic Sound Collage for the Harlem Six: Toward a Prehistory of Come Out.”

Dive Deeper: Recommended Reading and Listening

  •  LISTEN – A recent interview between 1975’s Matt Healy and the composer.
  •  READ – How is Steve Reich holding up in quarantine? An interview for NPR

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