Bruise Blood: Not Remixing But Reimagining Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood”


Bruise Blood: Reimagining Steve Reich’s ‘Music for Pieces of Wood’ (Transgressive Records) is a wonderful example of a practice of musical interrogation I have noticed popping up here and there over the years in contemporary acoustic and electronic music circles. Instead of merely sampling the past by taking a sonic photo of a musical moment, some musicians and composers are choosing instead to revisit and engage with influential works in a more substantial and sustained way by reimagining them. To switch the analogy, older musics are being studied and manipulated and re-cast like found objects to generate new works through meticulous (re)arrangements. Some examples:

Alarm Will Sound’s arrangements of Aphex Twin

Contact Contemporary Music’s arrangement of Brian Eno’s “Discreet Music”

Pink Freud’s covers of Autechre tracks

Dirty Loops’ jazzy-soulful pop covers (which I wrote about here)

electronic musician Murcof’s chill-inducing version (with Vanessa Wagner) of John Cage’s “In a Landscape”

and this awesome, African music-imbued version of Terry Riley’s “In C” featuring Africa Express (which I wrote about here)

Steve Reich’s music has had its share of versions/covers/homages over the years. There was an official remix album called Reich Remixed, which contains this gem by Nobukazu Takemura

and Tim Hecker uses shards of Reich’s “Piano Phase” in his piece “Live Room” (which I wrote about here)

Bruise Blood is a collaboration between Poliça, an electronic pop group from Minneapolis, and s t a r g a z e, a chamber orchestra from Berlin. (By the way, the co-founder of s t a r g a z e, André de Ridder, is the arranger of Africa Express’s version of Terry Riley’s “In C Mali” above). The music sounds like a cross between ethnographic field recordings, experimental electronica, and Reich’s own works. It reminds me of someone picking through Reich’s audio files on his computer (or maybe his brain?) and finding interesting outtakes that never made it out of the composer’s studio and into a finished piece. The recording is divided into three parts and throughout we hear Reichian signature sounds mixed with new elements: a steady clave timeline sounded by an echo-y tone alternating between two slightly different pitches, a clear 6/12-beat metrical feel, pizzicato strings playing the various clave parts from “Music for Pieces of Wood”, voices singing vocables (as they do in Reich’s Drumming), and low percussive bass rhythm-tones.

Similar to the other examples of musical interrogation in this blog post, Bruised Blood is engaging to listen to and blurs the line between what is live playing and what is computer processed. The project is also a testament to the endurance muscles of Reich’s acoustic music, some of which is now over forty years old.

Here is Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood” performed by Nexus:

Here is Part 1 of Bruise Blood:

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