Steve Reich Phase to Face

Steve Reich Phase to Face film by Eric Darmon and Frank Mallet. This is a documentary film detailing the career and music of Steve Reich. Includes bonus featurettes Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich and A Brief History of Music by Steve Reich Grade: B

For the novice just getting into classical music, it may seem, on first glance, that classical music is dead. Not dead in the sense that it isn't being played, performed, and loved by millions of people, but dead in that seemingly no new classical music is being written. One need only visit this site to see that the interest for watching classical music exists. But an inspection of the titles shows that the music being played is distinctly older. While there are plenty of new ballets being produced and new operas being performed, it seems that new classical music is highly underrepresented.

But as the novice digs further,  he will find that modern classical music does exist. It just doesn't sound much like the works of Beethoven or Mozart. A fine example of this is the work of Steve Reich. A modern, minimalist composer, he has been writing and performing from the mid-1960s and is still composing today. His work is marked by the use of phasing - a technique where two of the same instrument play the same piece of music, at steady but not identical tempos. The result is a sound unlike most in the classical tradition. This technique, and Reich's works, have been highly influential in  the direction of modern classical and popular music.  When the history of late 20th century music is written, Reich's name will appear as one its key figures. Here are a few screenshots of Reich in his trademark olive baseball cap:

The film itself is only about 50 minutes - a bit on the short side. But both the topic and the man himself are so engaging that the running time is an afterthought. The film follows Reich as he travels the world from concert to concert and into recording studios where he continues to perform new music. Interspersed between the concert footage are sections with Reich discussing his life and influences. He discusses several of his most well regarded works, namely Music for 18 Musicians and Different Trains, as well as other pieces. While not exhaustive in detail, there is definitely enough to get a feel for the type of music Reich composes. Here are a few shots of the types of musical interludes in the film - both live performances and video montages made for the film:

The disc also contains two extras - a brief "Q & A" after a performance in Japan, and a short discussion of "The History of Music" as seen by Reich. These are just as illuminating as the main feature. Honest and thoughtful, Reich is an excellent subject for a documentary. His passion for music is readily discerned from his discussions, but he never ventures into avant guarde pretension.

My only disappointment with this disc is that there is no extra of a complete performance of one of Reich's works. If this documentary does well in the market, perhaps HDVD producers will be encouraged to release complete concert discs. But I'm aware that this disc is advertised as a documentary only. As such it teaches the novice much about Reich and the future of classical music, and it deserves the grade of "B."