Phase Shifting

April-May, 2015 Curatorial Residency at Fieldwork: Marfa
International research program run by les beaux-artes de Nantes / HEAD-Genève

June 4, 2015
Public lecture at The Contemporary Austin

Phase Shifting

In 1965, Steve Reich composed a work for magnetic tape consisting solely of a 1964 tape recording of an African American Pentecostal preacher foretelling the end of the world. Entitled It’s Gonna Rain, the piece uses two Wollensak tape recorders that play the same recording, set to start simultaneously. As the composition progresses, the recorders fall out of sync and enter “phase shifting,” an audio phenomenon in which all possible recursive harmonies are explored. Two years later, Reich was commissioned to compose a similar piece for a fundraiser for the six African American teenagers falsely arrested for committing a murder during the Harlem Riot of 1964. Entitled Come Out, this later work uses a voice recording of Daniel Hamm (one of the “Harlem Six”) in which he describes his treatment by the police: “I had to, like, open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.”

Reich’s magnetic tape works draw upon a legacy of composition that directly intersects with the development of Minimalism in the visual arts. It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out are not the first compositions to use strategies of phase shifting. Both are influenced by composer Richard Maxfield’s 1960 composition Amazing Grace, which he created by mixing tape loops from two sources: a speech by revivalist James G. Brodie and electronic fragments from his 1958 opera entitled Stacked Deck. An active member of Fluxus (he co-curated early concerts at Yoko Ono’s loft with La Monte Young), Maxfield was close with the artist Walter De Maria. Infrequently referenced in discussions of De Maria’s practice and its relationship with music, their friendship is one story among many of the intersections between sculpture and sound during this period.

For more information on the residency, please click here.

For more information on the public lecture, please click here.