Rock-Critic Pop Quiz: How Many Steve Reich Pieces Can You Name?


Our weekly rock critic Scan-Tron is totally skipping work to run off to the Unsound Festival! The 10-day experimental music blowout is so enticingly nerd-centric that it makes Northside Festival look like a beer-bong at a frat party. This year’s highlights include an appearance by electronic original gangsta Morton Subotnick, the second American performance ever by dark ambient cellar-dweller Lustmord, a night of chest-caving “Bass Mutations” courtesy of the Bunker, and a night of pan-global noise curated by New York’s own Carlos Giffoni. Plus, Norwegian ambient duo Deaf Center will be interviewed by yours truly on Sunday, if you enjoy free talks that are likely going to devolve into super deep talks about Evil Dead 2. We rang up Unsound’s publicist, Gamall Awad, who tells us that just under 100 rock critics have hit him up for guest-list spots (which are now closed, moochers.) All of which got us thinking–just how much do we really know about experimental music? We asked 15 music writers:

How many Steve Reich pieces can you name?

This should be remarkably easy, no? His name looms large no matter what genre you’re into–his manic repetition foreshadowed electronic dance music, his skipping tape loops set the stage for hip-hop, Captain Beefheart bit his steez on Trout Mask Replica, and his pieces for feedback and amps certainly influenced any number of Sonic Youths. Plus, dude did a piece for clapping. Like how do you even applaud after that?

We once again cobbled a consortium of 15 professional and semi-professional rock critics, all given the usual rules:

1. I will not identify you AT ALL, so it is OK to be wrong. [We will say that our esteemed panel edits magazines, websites, and alt-weeklies. They have written for pretty much every outlet you’ve ever heard of, from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Billboard on down to random Tweets.]

2. You can’t use Google.

Will our panel come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them come out to show them?

Some selected ones you should really know: It’s Gonna Rain, Come Out, Piano Phase, Pendulum Music, Four Organs, Drumming, Clapping Music, Music For 18 Musicians, Tehillim, The Desert Music, Different Trains

Out of 15 polled:

Number of total nerds that got nine or more: 3 (including one who did it over email and sent me a list of 16 off the top of his head)

Number of critics that got three: 3

Number of critics that got two: 2

Number of critics that got one: 5

Number of critics that didn’t know any: 2

Most correctly answered piece: Music For 18 Musicians

Second most correctly answered piece: Different Trains

Critics who responded to the question with “Haha, Christ” or “Oh Jesus Christ”: 2

Critics who just responded with a “:(” : 1

Critics who sent me 23 seconds of themselves playing a MIDI verson of “Piano Phase” and then added “‘Piano Phase’ on midi wurlizer is the realest shit you will hear today”: 1

Various wrong answers: “Blah For Number Blah,” “Circles,” “Foundations,” “I know he has something for 9/11 too, but fuck that shit,” “Music For 18 Dudes,” “Music For 21 Musicians” (“well, I have the one with bonus tracks”), “Whatever the shit was on ‘Little Fluffy Clouds,'” “Music for Piano, Organ, Choir, Drums, Wurlitzer and Fucking Theremin.”

So yeah, Steve Reich’s position with the modern rock critic is somewhere between total fanboy freakout material or someone to have a vague understanding about–pretty much minimalism version of Odd Future! You can see Poland’s Sinfonietta Cracovia totally rip into some Reich on Wednesday or, for now, just enjoy some of The Orb’s ambient classic “Little Fluffy Clouds,” which sampled liberally from Reich’s Electric Counterpoint–correctly answered by only one critic. Reich was flattered and told Nonesuch not to sue. What a sweetheart!

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 1, 2011

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