Vermont Counterpoint

Steve Reich

Vermont Counterpoint

About this work

Vermont Counterpoint belongs to a family of Reich pieces that call for a single performer to record multiple tracks of himself or herself, and then to perform live to the accompaniment of those tracks. The first piece of this kind Reich wrote was Violin Phase (1967), which transferred to instrumental music the techniques Reich had previously explored with tape loops of human speech, set to move in and out of sync with each other. Violin Phase was followed more than a decade later by Vermont Counterpoint (1982), for solo flute and tape, and then by New York Counterpoint for clarinet (1985), and Electric Counterpoint for guitar (1988). In these pieces, as well as in other timbrally homogenous works such as Drumming (1971) and Six Pianos (1973), Reich limits his coloristic choices in order to set in relief the remaining musical variables, particularly melodic and rhythmic figures.

Vermont Counterpoint calls for the performer to pre-record ten tracks: three for alto flute, three for flute, three for piccolo, and one solo track featuring use of all three instruments. In performance, the player executes an eleventh part that likewise calls for all three varieties of flute. Because the timbre of the flute remains so consistent throughout its range, lines and figures sneak in and out of the foreground smoothly, and rhythmic shifts are subtle and understated. The resulting texture is quite mesmerizing, yet surprisingly full, balanced and interesting.