The composition City Life was written by Steve Reich in 1995. It’s a 5 movement work that uses technology that has only been available for the last 25 years or so. In addition to traditional instruments it also uses sampling which is basically the use of short recordings that are played through an electric keyboard. Reich blends the sounds from the samplers with sounds of the traditional instruments to create a sound entirely unique to late 20th and early 21st centuries. In fact, the sounds that he sampled are the foundation of the entire work.
Steve Reich is a part of the music movement called Minimalism. Minimalism in music started in the 1960’s and it exploits small amounts of music material to the fullest extent possible. Static harmony and repetition are very common practices in this style. Gradual and slight variations in repeated music material over time are often used to create a hypnotic effect. Link (Links to an external site.)
In this piece Reich attempts to create a sound landscape that reflects the sounds of life in a city. All of the sampled sounds were recorded in New York City. The sounds he sampled are the text phrase “check it out,” a car door slam, bus air, subway air, a car motor, a car horn, a car over a manhole, a subway chime and a tire skid. The sample “check it out” is of a street vendor and it creates a 3 note motive. Reich exploits that 3 note motive by imitating it in other instruments, playing it backwards, forward and upside down etc. He blends that motive with the other sampled sounds and the traditional sounds to create something completely new.
I. “check it out”
II. Pile driver/alarms
III. “It’s been a honeymoon- can’t take no mo”
IV. Heartbeats/boats & buoys
V. “Heavy smoke”
1- Listen to the first movement of this piece. (There are some great YouTube videos of the same work with a lot to look at if you want to explore them)
1 page of your thoughts
Here are some things to think about. Did you like it? Why or why not. Do you think that the sampled sounds belong? Do you think that he effectively created a sound landscape that reflects city life?
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