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GCSE Music Notes - Steve Reich - Electric Counterpoint Movement III

Updated on December 23, 2015


This piece was created in America in 1987 by composer Steve Reich. It is in the style of minimalism. The piece can be performed by an entire guitar ensemble, however it is written for a live guitar playing with a pre-recorded backing track


This piece is in Binary form, which means it is divided into 2 sections, (AB), and also has a coda.The change to from the A section to the B section is decided by a key change. The structure generally builds up in three layers:

1. A syncopated quaver motif, introduced in the live guitar and top 4 guitar parts, one at a time.

2. A more syncopated motif, introduced in the bass guitars.

3. A more sustained motif built around three chords. It is introduced in the live guitar but then transferred to other parts.


The melody is a one bar ostinato that is developed through phase shifting and other typical minimalist techniques in guitars 1-4. At one point the live guitar plays a melody , made up of selected individual notes from the other guitars, creating a resultant melody. Reich uses the hexatonic scale of G major. In some parts note addition is used to build up the melody, this means that notes are gradually added to a part until all the notes in the melody are heard.


In the opening there is a monophonic texture, as only one guitar is playing. In bar 16 there is a canon as the 4 guitars and the live guitar are playing the same melody at slightly different times. Overall the piece has a contrapuntal texture, it is in counter point.


Guitars 1-4 play mezzo forte throughout. The change in dynamics overall is negligible and, if it occurs, extremely gradual. In the B section guitars 5-7 enter piano. The live guitar has a crescendo to ff in the coda and fades in and out throughout the piece.


This piece is scored for 10 guitars, 1 live guitar, 7 pre-recorded guitars and 2 pre-recorded bass guitars. Guitars 1-4 develop the ostinati, and 5-7 develop the chords. The live guitar is slightly amplified, so it can be heard over the pre-recorded guitars. The two bass guitars are panned, one to the left and the other to the right.

Harmony and Tonality

The harmony is completely diatonic and there are no chromatic notes. The final chord is an E5 chord, which uses the tonic and dominant E and B, creating a sparse and open sound to finish the piece. The live guitar introduces the first chords, which are C C C Bm E5. The A section's tonality is slightly ambiguous, it could be E minor but it could also be in G major, so it is said to be in Aeolian mode transported to E. The B section features a modulation to C minor, orAeolian mode transported to C.However, the key is ambiguous until the bass enters.

Rhythm, Metre and Tempo

The rhythm is quite simple, mainly being repeated quavers. Reich usesinterviewing rhythms and rhythmic displacement by each guitar having accents on different notes as they are phase shifted.Reich also alternated which note fell on the strong beat. The metre fluctuates at different points in the piece, alternating between 12/8 and 3/2. Cross rhythms can also be found in the piece.


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