Of the holy trinity of American minimalism, Terry Riley may be more brashly original and Philip Glass more ardently lyrical, but it’s Steve Reich who has best explored the style’s potential for dramatic storytelling. Reich often incorporates his music into multimedia presentations that draw on history for their emotional resonance–a technique that reached maturity with his Different Trains (1988), which he called a step toward a new kind of documentary music video theater. That work’s minimalist gestures–the driving yet static pulse, the trancelike suspension outside time, the infinitesimally varied repetitions–marry perfectly to the chugging beat of a train, punctuated with ruminations in speech or sound and urgent refrains from a string quartet. Taped reminiscences of World War II, broken up, reconstituted, and repeated, cling to the mind like fragments from one’s own memory. In 1993 Reich followed up with The Cave, a far more ambitious multimedia collaboration with his wife, installation artist Beryl Korot. There they employed videotaped interviews, creating a vast collage of questions and answers elicited from Arabs, Israelis, and Americans on the significance of the biblical Cave of the Patriarchs. Reich and Korot recently completed “Hindenburg,” which juxtaposes the life of German president Paul von Hindenburg (a war hero who appointed Hitler chancellor in ’33) with the brief career of the zeppelin named after him, providing glimpses into the Nazis’ turbulent rise to power. It’s the first episode in a projected trilogy, Three Tales, which will look at “three disastrous moments in man’s struggle to dominate his own inventions” (the second installment will be called “Bikini,” after the Pacific atoll where the U.S. conducted nuclear tests in the 40s and 50s, and the third, “Dolly,” takes its name from the sheep clone). “Hindenburg” will be mounted by Reich, the all-female vocal quintet Synergy, and ten members of his percussion-heavy ensemble, who’ll play, among other things, bongos, marimbas, maracas, and xylophones. The concert also includes Different Trains and parts one and two of Drumming, written shortly after Reich’s study of percussion patterns in Ghana in 1970. Wednesday, 7:30 PM, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; 847-673-6300. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Alice Arnold.