Music For 18 Musicians (Steve Reich)
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A re-interpretation so often comes from an impulse, even if subliminal, of one-upmanship - let me do better, wait 'til you hear it my way. Sometimes though, and it happens too rarely, the cover is an act of devotion in which a musician's humility produces something more beautiful than bravura could. When Erik Hall undertook his painstaking reconstruction of Steve Reich's 1976 masterpiece of minimalism, Music for 18 Musicians, it was as much an exercise in modesty as ambition. With it's repetitions and complex constructions, the piece makes great demands on stamina and concentration, and Reich himself advised that these challenges meant it should probably be performed with more than eighteen musicians. Hall, however, recorded every part himself in his small home studio, playing instruments he had on hand, in live, single takes. Here, then is the ambition. But here too is the modesty: by doing one section a day, one instrument at a time, he made his way through this monumental piece, building a faithful and loving re-creation, one sonic brick at a time. Xylophone becomes muted piano, violin becomes electric guitar and so it is that music for eighteen becomes music for one. "I didn't want the differences to be distracting, or gimmicky, says Hall, who's loved the piece for as long as he can remember. "I wanted it to be true to the timbre and spirit of the original recording," and he thought a great deal about, "how I would shape the tone of each instrument, to come across with the same impact that we know the piece to have." His methodology, as with Reich's piece itself, is workmanlike, and it's from this humble and steadfast undertaking that something honest and radiant emerges.