Unreal Nature

February 9, 2018

My Set of Bells

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… from 20 to 80 percent of the players would rather not play my music nor the music of my contemporaries.

This is from ‘Non-Western Music and the Western Composer’ (1988) found in Writings on Music 1965-2000 by Steve Reich (2002):

… When I returned to New York from Accra [Ghana] I brought with me several iron bells called “gong-gong” and “atoke.” I thought I would use these bells in a composition of my own. One of my first considerations in this respect was tuning, since these bells obviously did not correspond to the notes in our scale. Because the bells were made of iron, a metal file would be necessary to retune them.

[line break added] The more I thought about this, the more it began to seem like a kind of musical rape. These bells came from a certain musical context and history and it seemed to me totally inappropriate to take a file and retune them. So, in order to get the desire to play them out of my system, I simply taught members of my ensemble how to play some of the Hatsyiatsya patterns for these bells I had learned in Ghana.

[line break added] The more I thought about the whole thing the clearer it became to me that I didn’t want to use any African instrument in my own music. Shortly after that I began to work with glockenspiels for a section of my piece Drumming. The glockenspiel was my set of bells. It came from a shop in New York and was tuned to the same scale as all our other instruments. I was free to use it as I liked.

This next is from ‘Questionnaire’ (1989):

… Immediately on finishing The Four Sections, I felt very clearly that I had no further interest in writing for the symphony orchestra in the foreseeable future. I felt that, finally, most of the clichés about the orchestra were true: it was designed to play the music of Haydn through Schönberg, and does not reflect at all the impact of microphones, non-Western music, jazz, rock, computers, electric instruments, and so on. That is to say, in its bones the orchestra reflects eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe … but it is almost the twenty-first century and I live in America.

There is also the “sociology” of the orchestra, undoubtedly connected to the music it plays, which also means that somewhere from 20 to 80 percent of the players would rather not play my music nor the music of my contemporaries.

My most recent previous post from Reich’s book is here.

-Julie

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