Steve Reich may not have the immediate name recognition of other minimalist composers like John Cage or Philip Glass, but after a few minutes of listening to his music, you might be surprised at how much of it sounds familiar.
Spoken-word samples? Reich was one of the first musicians to use them -- Rolling Stone once called him the "father of sampling." Listen to EDM? Some scholars have suggested its repetitive nature has origins in minimalism, which Reich developed in the early sixties. And if you play music yourself, you’ve probably experimented with some form of phasing, another Reich invention -- the act of two musicians (or tracks) who start playing at the same tempo, with one veering incrementally off-tempo before aligning once again.
In October, Reich turns 80. His life's adventures include attending Mills College for graduate school, becoming involved with the experimental San Francisco Tape Music Center, and pioneering minimalism with friend and colleague Terry Riley. This weekend, the San Francisco Symphony celebrates the milestone with a program of Reich’s work, featuring performances by the Kronos Quartet, Eighth Blackbird and Reich himself. In his honor, we’ve collected six popular songs bearing his influence -- you might not know Reich’s name, but you’ve definitely heard his impact.
1. Sufjan Stevens
In 2007, Sufjan Stevens was asked to name his top five albums at a literary event. He only named one: Music For 18 Musicians. Reich's most famous piece, Music for 18 Musicians is centered around a repeating progression of 11 chords -- there’s a short piece of music corresponding to each chord, with each segment eventually folding seamlessly back into the piece’s rhythmic backbone, a series of pulses anchoring the piece. Reich's influence is apparent on several of Stevens’ songs, but it’s especially obvious on the last track of the 2005 album Illinois. "Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run" is a an instrumental straight out of the Reich playbook, built around shimmery pulses and forgoing Stevens’ typical overstuffed songs for a minimal, cyclical approach.