S is for Erik Satie

Who does not love brief eccentric piano works? I know I do and have done for most of my life.

When I was very young I would Listen With Mother and on a good day the not very exciting story and inane song would not be of sufficient length to fill the space before the news headlines and so a short piece of music would be played. On a very good day the short piece of music would be by Erik Satie. As he composed numerous short pieces it was often a very good day.

One exceptionally short piece was Bonjour Biqui, Bonjour.

Biqui was his affectionate name for the one love of his life during their brief relationship.

Another short piece was never published/performed during his life but includes a suggestion that it be played repeatedly 840 times.

In the 1960s John Cage and a relay team of pianists decided to give it a try. It took over 18 hours to complete (it can take longer). At the completion a member of the much diminished audience shouted “Encore!”.

391 Cover
Satie contributed to the Dada magazine 391 with his eccentric sense of humour fitting well with the Dada spirit. Anyone arriving at a theatre to see the ballet Relâche may wonder if the performance is cancelled. The performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring the Fratellini family clowns, and supervised by Edgard Varèse never opened and as Varèse soon departed for America they did not collaborate again.

Things to do before I die: Learn to play the piano and play Satie’s piano pieces.

R is for Steve Reich and Reaktor

Who does not love exploring the musical warp and weft of minimalist music? I know I do and Steve Reich is a particular favourite.

In the good old analogue days I would make a large (room size) loop of magnetic tape and run that through half a dozen assorted old tape recorders arranged around my room – with some intricate Meccano constructions to keep the tape taught and moving. With some recorders set to play the sound and others to record the sounds played a sound recorded as the tape passed through one recorder would be replayed when that portion of tape reached the next tape recorder and re-recorded on other tape recorders. Thus building interesting delays and overlaps of sounds.

Reich’s experiments revealed that two loops containing the same sounds could be started playing together but one, from slight mechanical variation, would slowly fall behind the other thus creating interesting shifts in the combined sound. He used this technique for both constructed tape pieces and composed pieces such as Clapping Music

As we moved from the analogue world to a digital world one no longer had to mess about with bits of tape. Reich once observed that where he would spend a month splicing bits off tape together to construct a piece you could now do the same thing on your laptop over a couple of evenings – while watching TV.

One of the best tools for such sonic experimentation is Reaktor which has a an extensive library of User created instruments – several of which are inspired by Reich’s work such as..

Reich Tape Looper:

and It’s Gonna Grain (a play on Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain) and Reichatron which I used for Purple Shift – using two identical loops with one slowly drifting out of sync until it completes its orbit and ends up back where it started


Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed:

But of course the repeating patterns of minimalism is not everyone’s idea of good music and the maximalist Frank Zappa found it ripe for parody with Spontaneous Minimalist Music Composition…