A Steve Reich Primer

Thinking about getting into Steve Reich? Here’s my suggested order of operations:

  1. Music For 18 Musicians (ECM)

    Generally considered Reich’s first masterpiece, 18 Musicians broke Reich away from the strictly “minimal” and process-oriented pieces he had previously written.

  2. Tehillim (ECM)

    A setting of Hebrew text to stunningly original orchestration, Tehillim is the piece that made me a life-long Reich devotee.

  3. Electric Counterpoint

    Counterpoint is Reich’s multi-layered masterpiece written for, and performed by, Pat Metheny. You might recognize it as an eternal source of samples, notably first with The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds and later from several RJD2 backing tracks.

  4. Different Trains

    On the same CD as the previous, Different Trains was one of Reich’s earliest (and greatest) experiments with composing around the pitches present in human vowel sounds.

  5. City Life

    A five-movement piece built around field recordings taken by Reich on the day of the original World Trade Center bombing, City Life is strangely beautiful and affecting.

  6. The Desert Music

    Perhaps one of Reich’s most difficult pieces, The Desert Music is complex, at turns claustrophobic and expansive, and worth many repeat listens.

  7. You Are (Variations)

    Written while Reich was approaching 75 years of age, I think You Are is one of Reich’s later masterpieces.

  8. Early Works

    I’ve optimized this Reich ordering for easing into his music rather than studying him academically. That said, no Reich collection would be complete without a CD that highlights Reich’s early philosophy of music as a gradual process.

Reich has written many wonderful pieces not included in this list (and some will be cross that I did not include their favorites, like Drumming), but I believe if you’re serious enough about him to purchase these eight CDs you will probably end up like me and collect the rest. Enjoy!