Steve Reich :: It’s Gonna Rain

On January 27, 1965, composer Steve Reich premiered his piece It’s Gonna Rain in San Francisco. The piece consists of the manipulation of a taped recording of Brother Walter, a charismatic Pentecostal preacher in Union Square.  Brother Walter’s fire and brimstone sermon begins to mutate into echoes of itself forming a constantly changing, pulsing canon made of human speech woven into an interlocking rhythm. 

‘He (Reich) says the creation of the work came about by chance as he was fiddling with two identical tape loops of the preacher that got out of synch with each other.”Actually the going out of phase was kind of an accident,” Reich told NPR’s Fresh Airin 1999. “But when I heard it I thought, ‘This is fantastic.’ It’s a kind of seamless process that goes on and on. After I did that piece and another one like it, I began to apply that principle to live musicians from about 1967 to 1971, and then sort of moved on from there.”‘  -Steve Huizenga, NPR Music, January 27, 2015

“I put on headphones (which were stereo with each ear with a separate plug going into the two machines.) By chance, two machines were lined up in unison. So what I heard was this unison sound sort of swimming in my head, spatially moving back and forth. It finally moved over to the left, which meant that the machine on the left was slightly faster passing in speed than the machine on the right. So the apparent phenomenon in your head is the sound moving to the left, moves down your shoulder and then across the floor! (laughs) Then after a while, it comes into an imitation and then finally after four or five minutes, you hear “it’s gonna… it’s gonna… rain… rain…” “By the time it got that far, I thought to myself “this is unbelievable”. Instead of a particular relationship here is a whole way of making music, going from unison through all these contrapuntal relationships, all the way back to unison. All the possible relationships, rational and irrational, are there. So I immediately decided to experiment with just how fast that process should happen. Then in the second half of the piece, it got much more complicated, going from two then to four then to eight voices and never coming back together again, which is more in keeping with the text.” If you listen to a black preacher, sometimes it’s hard to say whether they’re singing or speaking. They’re exactly in the cusp between speech and song. It’s a very mannered kind of speaking. It’s almost chanting. So it was perfect for this kind of tape manipulation.” – Steve Reich, in conversation with Jason Gross, Perfect Sound Forever, April 2000. (furious.com)

On Reich’s “Early Works” album, It’s Gonna Rain is featured on it along with Come Out, another tape-piece from the same era, this one using a taped phrase from a man describing being beaten by police in Harlem. Reich’s accidental discovery 51 years ago not only provided him with a rich compositional strategy that would be the basis for all of his subsequent works, but also introduced a process of music-making which has been adopted by generations of musicians and composers since.  From Captain Beeheart to Robert Fripp to Prefuse73, Reich’s legacy is felt, noted and continues to evolve. Reich’s Music For Eighteen Musicians and Drumming have long been favorites of club DJs, and the outstanding 1998 album, Reich Remixed features remixes of the composer’s works remixed by notable DJs, such as Howie B, DJ Spooky, Mantronix and Nobukazu Takemura.

“But Come Out’s lasting artistic influence is most deeply felt in electronic music and DJ circles, factoring into ambient, house, trance and trip-hop, and utilized by the likes of Orbital, UNKLE and D*Note. Madly cut up Hamm’s voice for the Madvillainy single “America’s Most Blunted.” Come Out opened Leon Vynehall’s recent BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix and it lies at the heart of Nicolas Jaar’s Resient Advisor 500 mix. Through musical references to Come Out often focus on its trance-inducing texture rather than its message, Jaar’s usage re-engages with the piece’s history. Not five minutes earlier in his RA ix, Jaar samples a line from dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson about “when the present is haunted y the past,” and then Daniel Hamm’s voice and blood come out in response. It’s a strange moment, with the brutality of the line haunting a sumptuous modern beat.” – Andy Beta, Blood and Echoes: The Story of Come Out, Steve Reich’s Civil Rights Era Masterpiece, Pitchfork, April 28, 2015 (pitchfork.com)

Steve Reich’s latest piece, Pulse, was performed as a world premiere at Carnegie Hall on November 1, 2016. along with Three Tales, which was created in collaboration with his wife, Beryl Korot.  Steve Reich has been called “America’s greatest living composer” (The Village Voice), “the most original musical thinker of our time” (The New Yorker), and “among the great composers of the century” (The New York Times).

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