Electric Counterpoint is in the ‘Music in the 20th Century along with Peripetie and Something’s Coming. While they have the style of expressionism/serialism and musical theatre, Steve Reich’s 3rd Movement is in the style of minimalism which I will go into detail before we start analysing Electric Counterpoint.
It is useful to understand some of the hallmarks of the style and understand the vocabulary used when describing minimalism. The following are features of minimalism in general, some of which are used in the set work and others are present in other minimalist works:
- Drones – a long, continuous note or a constantly repeated note (can be any pitch but if often low).
- Ostinato Loops – repeated musical ideas.
- Phasing – two almost identical parts which go out of sync with each other and gradually, after a number of repetitions, come back into sync again.
- Metamorphosis – gradually changing from one musical idea to another, often by changing one note at a time.
- Layering – adding new musical parts, commonly one at a time. The parts will often interact with each other forming a complex texture.
- Key – In minimalism this is the only part of the story – the texture is equally as important as the key in defining the structure of a piece.
- Note Addition – starting off with a very simple, sparse ostinato containing many rests, and gradually adding notes over a number of repetitions.
- Note Subtraction – starting off with a more complex ostinato and gradually taking notes away, leaving rests in their place.
- Augmentation – extending the duration of a rhythmic pattern. For example, two crochets become two minims.
- Diminution – the opposite of augmentation. For example, two minims become two crochets.
Electronic Counterpoint Key Features
Here are the main points from Steve Reich’s 3rd movement:
- The key is in E but the piece keeps the listener guessing right up until the bass guitar confirms by playing the note E at the end of it’s two bar ostinato. It then changes to C minor. You can remember the key from the title: Electric Counterpoint, where the beginning letter shows the order of what the key is.
- Tonal ambiguity – keeping the key uncertain.
- The texture gradually builds up in layers and thins out towards the end.
- Piece concentrates on rhythmic development just as much as it does on melodic development.
- Changes metre is 3/2 (three minim beats in a bar) and occasionally changes to 12/8 (twelve quaver beats in a bar).
- Rhythm is syncopated.
- The live guitar plays a resultant melody.
- Guitar 1 (first guitar you can hear at start) plays a one bar ostinato.
- There’s a four part guitar canon on bars 1-23.
- Bass 1 and 2 introduced gradually, with their ostinatoes being built up.
- Use of panning – different instruments coming out of different speakers to create different textures.
- Live guitar introduces percussive texture chords which produces a strumming effect that cuts across rest of the parts.
- Shock to the system when key changes to C minor as it’s unexpected.
- This piece has a rhythmic counterpoint being every part has a different rhythm and note.
- Unpredictable changes to key and time signature.
- Changing of keys become more frequent, building tension.
- Big crescendo at end to build tension.
- Structure is ABA with Coda at the end.