BTC: Ambidexterous, Autonomous Phasing Soloist


It’s hard to quantify the effects minimalist composer Steve Reich’s “phasing” meditations can have on average human grey matter. The best way I know to describe my own listening experience is a wonky, tripped out sensation of neglected synaptic channels in my brainy bits being seared open and reconnected to other brainy bits in new and unusual ways. Occipital, Parietal, Temporal, Frontal, Limbic… feels like they’re all getting a rigorous, interactive workout. If I listen long enough to this sort of thing, it’ll pitch me into a contemplative state not quite beyond reflexive thinking, but certainly more relaxed, more present, somehow. Kinda like toking, but without “I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER” side effects.

Clip via Ben Morris, thanks. I truly don’t think it matters whether you have a staid background in music, or math, or both. Whether you understand wtf Aidu’s doing here or not, it’ll stir your noodles. Drop into this stuff and stew for a little while.

This abridged rendition of Reich’s “Piano Phase” by Russian concert pianist Peter Aidu is literally head-splitting. The piece is usually performed by two pianists, one of whom repeats the same sequence of notes over and over again at exactly the same tempo, while the other player gradually speeds up and then slows back down, eventually returning to a unified BPM before the pattern starts again. That’s basically all phasing is. Sounds simple enough, right? But try playing one part of it and you’ll soon realize just how difficult it is to sustain. As for performing two separate parts simultaneously? Great googly moogly.

Aidu’s concentration is astounding. He’s got the hypnotized, slightly crazed expression of someone who’s gone to another plane entirely. (It’s a look I always envy on other musician’s faces. If I could, I’d opt to live “in the zone” all the time.) If you like the clip, be sure to grab the full 20 minute version on

Detractors of minimalist experimentation with phasing and polyrhythm all say the same thing; the resulting music is boring, pretentious, cerebral, emotionless. I suspect they’re missing the point entirely. Personally I find the form to be an invigorating causeway to the same meditative state invoked by more traditional forms like gamelan and ketjak. What do you think?

Click below for more Reich-related audiovisual trip toys.

This last one is Brian Eno taking a stab at phasing (and referencing Fibonacci’s Golden Ratio) in his song “The True Wheel” from the classic album Taking Tiger Mountain.

15 Responses to “BTC: Ambidexterous, Autonomous Phasing Soloist”

  1. amanda Says:

    What a fabulous bunch of links. Music for 18 Musicians is one my favorite things to put on for hours at a time…it really does create an inimitable, delicious, fuzzy haze in the brain. I never thought to look it up on youtube though!

  2. Rick Cummings Says:

    Great finds, Mer! Having all these in one spot is great, and what a super thing to wake up to! I’ll be linking this one to a few choice people for sure.

  3. christian Says:

    I completely disagree that minimalism is boring or pretentious or emotionless. Some people don’t need a meaty cheeseburger of music to sink their teeth into, to fill up on or to satisfy a craving. There is that moment of meditative delight and peace which minimalism creates, more like a deep breath instead of meal. Both are required but satisfy completely different aspects. There are those that argue that deep breathing isn’t as necessary but I doubt they’ve ever stopped eating long enough to investigate.

  4. R. Says:

    Thanks, Mer, for the links.

    Those detractors don’t know what they’re missing. Minimalism is the most thought-provoking music in the world. It puts me in a place that is calm and relaxing.

  5. Tequila Says:

    @Mer “…. Personally I find the form to be an invigorating causeway to the same meditative state invoked by more traditional forms like gamelan and ketjak. What do you think?…”

    Given how much repetition plays in our lives I can’t see how this type of exploration could be labeled boring. Pretentious? maybe if someone was selling it as the be all end all but that’s not the case. It is meditative and for some of us that’s as close as we get to going beyond the here and now. It’s as beautiful as it is challenging and while it may lack that certain punch some seek in music, I find it wonderfully hypnotic. It’s like swimming in sound, you’re washed, cleansed, and reinvigorated.

    Thanks for the links Mer!

  6. chaz Says:

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Ben Morris Says:

    The fact that it is possible for one person to play both parts of Piano Phase is something I can’t wrap my head around.

    Minimalist music is one of my favorite developments in modern classical. I find it interesting how vehement some of its detractors are; I once got into a heated argument with someone who declared that process music like Piano Phase and Clapping Music isn’t really music at all.

    Also I’d recommend the music of 13th Century composer Perotin to fans of minimalism.

  8. Jerem Morrow Says:

    I think detractors of this sort of thing are the kind of people who attempt meditation, find it too difficult or alien to continue and give up, citing “irritaion” or “I don’t see the draw” as their false reason.

  9. Jerem Morrow Says:


    p.p.s. Zoe Keating’s work puts me in much the same frame of mind.

  10. Bella Says:

    Best BTC ever :D

    These have been a real treat!

  11. Domino Says:

    This post baked my loaf.

  12. kc Says:

    This is one of the best posts on Coilhouse. Goes straight to ’11’.

  13. altaynin Says:

    Awesome post! I’ve been a fan of Reich for a number of years, and had the great privilage of seeing the Music For 18 Musicans performance last year in Boston. Definitely one of the most incredible, trance-inducing experiences of my life. Thank you Meredith for posting this!

  14. Agent Double Oh-No Says:

    Thank you for this great post!

    Steven Reich is clearly one of the great composers of our day, but his music is generally hard for me to get my mind around. This article makes it all a bit clearer. I wish that Reich, not John Williams, had been asked to write the music for the Obama inauguration. Maybe for his second term?? Wouldn’t THAT be something!

  15. Bunny Says:

    Gah! This is amazing… I am pretty stunned by his abilities. But it isn’t nearly as intense as Mark Gormley one post back… sorry! : /