Using Electric Counterpoint as a central reference, this chapter outlines the constitutive role played by audible cultures of the non-West in shaping the distinctive sound of Steve Reich’s music. Reich’s involvement with African music, in particular, extends beyond the common historical narrative of “influence” (construed as mostly confirmation and encouragement for an already formed style). Electric Counterpoint draws on a host of African musical strata—ranging from literal quotations and paraphrases to the application of techniques and principles—derived from local expressive cultures, ritual traditions, biospiritual practices, and musical cosmologies from Ghana, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, and Mozambique. The project tracks the way music and sound circulates within different regimes of meaning, mediation, and value, with a particular interest in retrieving the often tributary and ephemeral phenomena found in geographically remote cultures that, for complex reasons, are systematically written out of world history.
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