Steve Reich: Drumming
It is unquestionably a superb performance of what is one of the most important works in the minimalist canon – the rhythmic detail is made to sound perfectly natural and the interlocking shapes and slow shifts of colour are beautifully managed.
One will not find a better representation of Drumming on disc.
Following their acclaimed 2004 Cantaloupe debut, Sō Percussion has completed an entirely new recording of Steve Reich’s epic Drumming, made in an entirely new way. This is the first recording of its kind, in which the 4 members of Sō perform all nine separate percussion parts while joined by the singers of Reich’s own ensemble. The result is a direct, precise sound, with a clarity that illuminates this landmark piece. This CD brings the percussion world’s Beethoven 9th into the 21st century.
For Sō Percussion, the reasons to play Steve Reich’s Drumming are simple: it is exhilarating to perform, it is elemental yet intelligent, and it is fun to share with audiences. The other story, however, is an evolutionary approach to musical composition. Although every note of Drumming rocks, its existence is due to the composer’s tireless search for new modes of musical expression.
For Reich, Drumming was both a refinement of past techniques and a departure for new ones. Most importantly, he wanted audiences to hear all of the processes that make the music what it is. One rhythm permeates the entire piece. At the beginning, two players dramatically build that rhythm up one note at a time. This is a bold statement: Many other composers of Reich’s generation worked very hard to construct layers of mind-boggling complexity in their music.
Once this rhythm builds up, one player starts moving slightly faster than the other. The result sounds at first like a musical train wreck, but gradually a new rhythm emerges, which is really the same rhythm set in different places. Other musicians then begin picking out patterns from this grid. These patterns move through three different instrument families (drums, marimbas, glockenspiels), and gradually up four octaves over the course of an hour.
Reich’s study in Africa enabled him to write music that had to be percussion music. Its ecstatic grooves communicate directly, without pretense. Drumming captures the immediacy of that experience, and gives us a reference point for work still to come.
– Adam Sliwinski