Recently, as I was listening to the thrilling final four minutes of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, I began to hear subtle echoes of Viva la Vida by the British alternative rock band, Coldplay. Take a moment and compare the pulsating rhythm and harmonic progressions in both examples and see if you agree.
Interestingly, both pieces appear to have been written around the same time. (Viva la Vida was released on June 13, 2008 while the Double Sextet, written in 2007, was premiered by Eighth Blackbird at the University of Richmond on March 26, 2008). Coldplay has been accused of plagiarism in the past, but that’s obviously not what’s happening here. Perhaps these particular sounds were just “in the air” in 2007? More importantly, the similarities highlight the subtle pop undertones in Steve Reich’s music, as well as the clear influence of minimalism on Coldplay. In 2014, post-minimalist composer Nico Muhly wrote an admiring review of Coldplay’s Ghost Stories album. The gradually emerging, repetitive patterns three minutes into the song, Midnight on that album don’t seem far removed from similar patterns in Steve Reich’s Eight Lines.
If Steve Reich’s earlier music was based on a pulse as persistently steady and unflinching as a disco beat, many of his later works (the rock-inspired 2×5, for example) grow out of a complex, irregular heartbeat. This is what we hear in the 2009-Pulitzer-Prize-winning Double Sextet. It’s music which reflects the unrelenting hustle of a large city where multiple pulsating parts blend to create a vibrant whole- exhilaratingly chaotic, yet eternal.
As with contemporary pop music, there’s an infectious sense of swing inherent to Steve Reich’s music. The best performances of Reich’s music revel in this satisfying feeling of “groove.” That’s what unfolds in this electrifying 2015 Vancouver, BC performance of Reich’s Double Sextet by Ensemble Paramirabo and the Thin Edge New Music Collective. Navigating the constant meter changes of this piece seems to be an exercise in intense collective focus: