Steve Reich: Electric Counterpoint

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This new version of Reich's Electric Counterpoint strives to emphasize the connections with the Central African tradition that inspired its composition. Metric duality, timbral heterogeneity, and an embellishment approach grounded in the traditions of the Banda-Linda musical practice are some of the elements that were incorporated with traditional African musical characteristics in mind. It was prepared in collaboration with South African born NYU ethnomusicologist Martin Scherzinger, and recorded, mixed, and mastered by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio. Additional digital editing was done by Michael Caterisano, and the design and layout was done by Memo Salazar. A full digital booklet with liner notes is available at newfocusrecordings.com/fcr165

Official digital only release, 3.11.16

"Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint for multiple electric guitars is surely one of the landmark modern works of its kind. Pat Metheny did a version in 1987 that came out as part of an album that included "Different Trains." That was a beautiful take on it but now we have another excellent one, multi-tracked by Daniel Lippel New Focus CD). The piece as Reich conceived it was in part based on traditional Banda-Linda music of Central Africa. Lippel worked with NYU ethnomusicologist Martin Scherzinger to accentuate the African rootedness of the work. I must say the music sounds wonderfully well, perhaps the best it ever has in Daniel Lippel's hands. It is marvelously resounding and drivingly rhythmic. I am a huge Reich enthusiast and so it did not take any arm-twisting to hear this version. It is exceedingly beautiful to begin with, and even more so in this extraordinarily well articulated version. Keep in mind that this is an EP with around 15 minutes of music. A better 15 minutes I cannot imagine, unless it were to be on some other planet! All guitarists should hear this. Everyone else, too, while we are at it. Seminal." --Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog, 3.30.16 http://gapplegateguitar.blogspot.com/

"Reich’s devotees have long known and celebrated the heritage of central African music that he explored—highly transformed—in many of his early works. Guitarist Daniel Lip- pel wanted to emphasize this African heritage in his performance of Electric Counterpoint, originally composed for Pat Metheny (M/A 1990) and recently recorded again in a fine performance by Jonny Greenwood (J/F 2015). Working with my old friend Martin Scher- zinger (a composer himself, and an important scholar who counts African music among his dizzying array of interests), Lippel experiment- ed with different sorts of timbres (including occasional preparation of guitars to resemble mbiras) and, now and then, a pronounced emphasis of the work’s metrical ambiguity to effect a sonic hybridity between Reich’s West- ern sensibility and an African one.

The result is stunning. The raspier timbres of the prepared guitars are quite effective in the outer movements, and Lippel’s artistry works on its own to give the central movement a welcome urgency that I’ve never heard before. Some of the timbres—particularly the phased chords shortly after the beginning of III, don’t have enough bite for me. Nevertheless, Lippel’s release reminds me—in a good way—of Glenn Gould’s famous dictum that the only reason to record a composition again is to do it differently."

- Rob Haskins, American Record Guide, Rob Haskins, July/August 2016

"Daniel Lippel has released an EP on the New Focus Recordings label comprising a single work by Steve Reich: Electric Counterpoint (1987), also the title of the 15-minute EP. Lippel is co-founder and director of New Focus Recordings, and has served as resident guitarist of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) since 2005, and of the new music quartet Flexible Music since 2003. He studied at Oberlin with Steven Aron, and with Jason Vieaux at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

In my recent review of Third Coast Percussion’s Steve Reich CD, I touched on the science of psychoacoustics, or the study of how the brain responds to sound and music. Reich often manipulates listeners’ perceptions of time through his repetitive, pulsing works, and Electric Counterpoint is no exception. It’s easy to become lost in Lippel’s playing; he jams his way through the three movements with impeccable rhythm and a verve that, while delightfully engaging, doesn’t emphasize any particular pattern in the music, instead washing over the listener in relaxing bursts of musical chatter.

There are 10 distinct parts in Electric Counterpoint — eight electric guitars and two electric basses. As in Reich’s other “Counterpoint” pieces (New York, Vermont, Cello), in live performances, either an ensemble will play together or a soloist will play one of the voices while the other nine are played on tape. Lippel, in the tradition of many guitarists before him, played and dubbed all 10 parts, giving each an individual flair and style. In his liner notes (available only online), he discusses his approach to the piece and how he strove to highlight the indigenous African influence that Reich has said pervades much of his own music. This approach involved highlighting differences in timbre in each of the parts and emphasizing competing meters or rhythmic structures. It’s a slightly different take on the piece, and it’s quite nice — a bit more dynamic than previous recordings.

The quality of sound also deserves mention. Ryan Streber of Oktaven audiO, a Juilliard-trained composer and audio engineer, mastered the recording. Martin Scherzinger’s expertise in African music informed Lippel’s interpretation, and Michael Caterisano, another Juilliard-trained composer as well as multi-instrumentalist and audio engineer, assisted in the early editing stages. It’s short. It’s available to listen to for free on the New Focus Recordings website. Check it out here." — Jeremy Reynolds, Cleveland Classical 1.3.2017

"Along with his contributions (classical and acoustic guitars, electric bass, jaw harp) to Davis's On the Nature of Thingness, Dan Lippel has a new release of his own, specifically an EP-length treatment of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint. Tackling the piece comes with some built-in challenges: not only does the guitarist have to contend with the precedent-setting premiere performance by Pat Metheny, he/she must find a way to imprint his/her personality upon it despite some inherent constraints. In contrast to Riley's In C and Glass's Two Pages, both of which are amenable to different choices of instrumentation (Glass's includes “a single unison line of music [that] can be played by any combination of instruments”), Reich's piece is scored for a particular instrument and comes with specific tempo markings.

Fortuitously, Lippel, an ICE member since 2005, discovered that his own burgeoning interest in traditional folkloric music from Africa coincided with his desire to produce a version of Reich's piece. As those familiar with the composer's background already know, Reich traveled to Africa as a young man to learn about African drumming and ultimately incorporated what he learned into his own rapidly developing composing style. In short, the approach that Lippel proposed for his version, one that would emphasize metric duality (specifically a musical passage simultaneously executed in both double and triple meter) and timbral diversity would be a natural fit for the piece as opposed to a contrived one grafted onto it. Aided in this endeavour by South African-born ethnomusicologist and composer Martin Scherzinger (whose work also has appeared on New Focus Recordings), Lippel proceeded to map out various ways by which the African roots of Reich's composition might be brought into even sharper relief. From Scherzinger, the guitarist learned, for example, that the canonic material in Reich's opening movement draws from a traditional piece associated with adolescent initiation rites by the Banda-Linda, a Central African people who number about 30,000 and live in a wooded savanna region.

On timbral grounds, Lippel made adjustments to the guitar's strings to bring it closer in sound to plucked string instruments such as the African lamellaphone, an instrument comprised of iron rods. The balancing act here, of course, is that one must find a way to individuate the performance of Reich's work without altering it so radically that the character of the original is lost in the process. This is something Lippel does ultimately succeed in doing: the performance may sound superficially similar to Metheny's, but were one to listen to them side-by-side differences would become subtly audible, those of timbre especially. Don't worry: those massed guitars and spidery single-line patterns are still present, the middle movement still exudes the harp-like elegance we've come to know and love, and Reich's signature pulsation, bass and otherwise, remains firmly in place. But differences arise, too, a case in point the percussive-like fluttering that emerges midway through the opening part.

Anyone with a musicological bent will find much to appreciate about the notes by Lippel and Scherzinger that accompany the release. In their in-depth texts, the two enlighten the listener with information about the rhythmic approach of Lippel's version and the work's African connections (Scherzinger notes, for instance, that “a single instrumental line in Electric Counterpoint performs the pattern made by three distinct hocketing horns in the African ensemble”). Their analyses make clear just how sophisticated Reich's composition truly is." Ron Schepper, textura, 5.2016

"Is there an icon for contemporary electric guitar music? I really think so. That icon is Electric Counterpoint. There are a lot of fantastic editions, including the first one, played by Pat Metheny. Over the years this has become a true icon. What makes Daniel Lippel's version so interesting? He uses a very special perspective. Reich has found much inspiration in the music of Africa during his career. Lippel, on the other side, was attracted by the opportunity to explore the connections between Reich's pieces and the African music that inspired them

This unorthodox approach generated a new version, with greater dynamics flowing like a live performance and offering a new sound version of the piece. At the same time this version transmits reverence both for the original version and for the traditional musical culture to which it refers. It may be risky to claim to take influence from an indigenous musical culture that is not his own, but Lippel has managed to do it with great humility. Electric Counterpoint is a remarkable piece that touches and crosses so many musical and cultural connections. As in every great piece of music, Electric Counterpoint rewards many different interpretations, and this new interpretation has brought new enthusiasm, giving us the opportunity to listen to this piece in familiar and new contexts. Daniel Lippel treats Reich's sound as one of the materials of his art. Where art is a way to organize his considerations on history, on progress and on the relationships between these things and the single individual. The result is an irresistible combination of coldness and catchiness, time and counter-time."

-- Andrea Aguzzi, Neuguitars, 10.2018

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