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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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“Departing to Other Spheres”

“Departing to Other Spheres”

Psychedelic Science Fiction, Perspectival Embodiment, and the Hermeneutics of Steve Reich’s Four Organs

(p.19) 1 “Departing to Other Spheres”
Rethinking Reich

Sumanth Gopinath

Oxford University Press

Steve Reich’s Four Organs (1970) is a watershed work in the history of musical minimalism, famously causing an uproar at Carnegie Hall on January 18, 1973. Scholars have typically discussed the work’s technical details and have avoided drawing a wider intertextual circle around it to encompass contemporaneous auditory cultures and contexts. Filling this lacuna, this chapter offers a historically plausible reading of the piece, in part by identifying linkages to 1960s US/UK pop/rock and soundtracks for film and television and by attending to the composition’s peculiar instrumentation, its rhythmic-metrical patterns, and its narrative trajectory. What emerges is a fresh interpretation of Four Organs: the work narrates a form of subjective sublimation charged with psychedelic sound imagery, effecting that sublimation through a semblance of bodily and planetary departure—and, as such, suggests racial-political resonances with the US space program during the Cold War, including the previous year’s Apollo lunar landing in 1969.

Keywords:   Steve Reich, Four Organs, US space program, Apollo lunar landing, tresillo, Carnegie Hall, Star Trek, Cold War, music and race, music in the 1960s

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