On The Ecstasy Of Musical Influence: Hearing Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase” In Tim Hecker’s “Live Room”

One mark of a composer’s influence is how often their sound reappears in the work of other artists. By this metric, the American composer Steve Reich has been highly influential. His pulsating, percussive soundworld is pervasive in the music of both his imitators and heirs alike.

The Canadian electronic musician Tim Hecker makes creative use of Reich’s early piece “Piano Phase” on his recent track, “Live Room.” The piece begins with a slow and jagged repetition of Piano Phase’s twelve note minor key pattern. The piano part, swamped in reverb and delay effects and repeating like a stubborn music box, is gradually joined by Hecker’s signature ambient processed guitar and keyboard sounds as well as acoustic sounds (winds and strings) specially recorded for this project. Layers of noise, long tone drones, and slow moving chords build to create a sensation of being in a massive cathedral. As Ian Maleney describes the track at residentadvisor.net, its sounds “build awkwardly towards strange and jagged peaks before crumbling into patches of desolation that are both beautiful and painful.” Eventually the Piano Phase piano reference fades out and the ambient harmonies are lush, revealing Reich’s music to have been a point of departure for new musical landscapes. By the track’s end, a few long woodwind tones have emerged as the last sounds standing, and “Live Room” seamlessly segues into the next track, “Live Room Out.”

Here is Reich’s “Piano” phase and Hecker’s “Live Room” and “Live Room Out”: