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Rethinking Reich$
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Sumanth Gopinath and Pwyll ap Siôn

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190605285

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190605285.001.0001

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Improvisation, Two Variations on a Watermelon, and a New Timeline for Piano Phase

Improvisation, Two Variations on a Watermelon, and a New Timeline for Piano Phase

(p.217) 10 Improvisation, Two Variations on a Watermelon, and a New Timeline for Piano Phase
Rethinking Reich

David Chapman

Oxford University Press

Steve Reich’s Piano Phase (1967) represents a pivotal moment in the composer’s creative practice. With this keyboard duet, the composer felt that he had successfully translated his phase-shifting process to live performance and had left behind earlier improvisatory practices. Documents held in the Steve Reich Collection at the Paul Sacher Stiftung complicate this picture: in the months before its composition and premiere, Reich first revived Music for Two or More Pianos or Piano and Tape (1964) as a potential model for live performance, and in Improvisations on a Watermelons (1966) he explored concepts now firmly associated with Piano Phase. An archival audio recording of the Piano Phase premiere also documents a brief improvisation performed by Reich and Arthur Murphy. This chapter argues for a more critical reading of the composer’s autobiographical statements—such as, “we were not improvising”—and offers a newly detailed timeline for the origins of Piano Phase.

Keywords:   Steve Reich, Piano Phase, sketch study, improvisation, indeterminacy, performance practice, autobiography, jazz, minimalism, phase-shifting process

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