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AoS 2 S/W Reich

Our final Area of Study 2 piece is by Steve Reich, taken from Electric Counterpoint, written in 1987, for guitar:

If you can't get at YouTube, then click on the Grooveeshark widget below to listen:
III. Fast by Steve Reich on Grooveshark

Steve Reich (1936-)

Steve Reich is an American composer born in New York. Much of his work was created in a minimalist style drawing on artistic influences of the time including the work of Mark Rothko. Much of Reich's music is rhythmically complex and makes extensive use of repetition. Reich's music is also influenced by the sounds of Africa where he spent time studying African drumming and this led him to write pieces such as 'Drumming' and 'Clapping Music'.

An example of Mark Rothko's work.

Task 1

Try to find out more about him by reading this basic biography. You should also try to find other examples of Steve Reich's music, you might like to try listening to the other pieces in the 'Counterpoint' series. What are instruments are they written for? Why do you think they all have the word 'Counterpoint' in the title?

Electric Counterpoint (3rd movement- Fast)

Written in 1987, Electric Counterpoint is the third piece of a series of works for soloists performing with pre-recorded tapes. You should have listened to these pieces to complete task 1 but there are links to both pieces here, Vermont Counterpoint and New York Counterpoint (N.B this was originally for soloist and pre-recorded tape). You will see how all of the examples make use of many common techniques associated with minimalism.

Task 2

Find out the meaning of the following terms and add them to your score. They are all words that will feature in our analysis of 'Electric Counterpoint'

  • Looping
  • Layering
  • Note Addition
  • Note Subtraction
  • Resultant Melody

Analysis of 'Electric Counterpoint'

The instrumentation for 'Electric Counterpoint' for fairly simple, it was written only for guitars. However,as mentioned earlier, many of the parts are pre-recorded with a live soloist playing the remaining part. The line up for this piece is

1 live guitar

7 Pre-recorded electric guitar parts

2 Pre-recorded bass guitars.

This extensive line up of instruments allows Reich to manipulate the texture throughout the piece. It does present difficulties for the performer, have you ever tried playing along with a pre-recorded backing track; the lack of flexibility in tempo really create challenges. The original performer of the piece, Pat Methany, admitted this himself after he had recorded all of the parts with Steve Reich.

The structure of 'Electric Counterpoint' breaks into 9 sections. They are unequal in length but at each point something significant happens to the texture. Use the tables below to help you identify where each section begins, the times are there as well to help develop your listening skills.

A 1-23 24-35 36-66 67-73
0:00-0:42 0:43-1:05 1:05-2:05 2:06-2:16

B 74-81 82-89 90-97 98-113
2:16-2:31 2:32-2:46 2:47-3:01 3:02-3:32

Coda 114-140
Task 3

Copy each of the section marks onto your score (use the labels A1, A2, A3 etc). Look at the score, can you identify what is happening at each point to explain why there is a change in section? Then listen through the piece and identify where each of the sections changes. You should be able to identify the ideas that are below for each section change.


An ostinato is a short repeated musical idea. The image above shows ostinato 1. This pattern is used by the first four recorded electric guitar parts. They all enter at different times and never on the first beat of the bar. These entries create what Reich calls a 'Four part guitar canon'. As you look through the score you will notice that guitar 3 makes use of note addition before eventually playing the whole ostinato at bar 14.

The tonality of 'Electric Counterpoint' is ambiguous at the start and it takes a while for it to settle. At bar 33 the piece seems to be in E minor which ties in to the key signature. In E minor however we would expect to see an accidental, D#, look through the whole piece, you won't find one!

This is because the piece is actually modal, aeolian mode to be precise (transposed to E).

Task 4

What notes are there in an Aeolian scale? What are they if you transpose it to start on E?


As with all the pieces, there is a three-way process to learning everything you need to know about the piece:

  • Know the basics (C) - title, composer, key, time signature, instrumentation etc. This needs learning to start with.
  • Understand the detail (B/A) - the technical details of the piece, and how they relate to DR G SMITH. This needs you to have written up all the detail onto your score. Listening to the piece lots whilst following through the score is what is needed here.
  • Hear the detail (A/A*) - being able to recognise the sound of all the technical language in the pieces, with no score in front of you. Listening to the piece without the score is what you need to do here.

This checklist document should help you with the process.

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