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KUNIKO - kuniko plays reich - Words and Music

18 April 2011
Words and Music
Rick Jones

A CD, Kuniko Plays Reich, arrives from Record Company of the year, Linn Records. The Japanese percussionist arranges Electric Counterpoint for steel drums, marimba and vibraphone plus tape and worries the composer as he conceived the piece for electric guitars, ie identical instruments. Kuniko's version, in which each movement focuses on a different instrument, persuades him however. The gentle steady rhythm is seductive. The pans clatter, their vague tuning is un-Reich-like, but their placid sway has the unexpected redolence of the Gamelan. Behind, the vibraphone's ‘wave sound' comes in and out of earshot like a swarm of bees, giving the music almost 3-D depth.

In Six Marimbas Counterpoint, Kuniko pre-records five of the parts and plays the sixth ‘live', a contrast lost on disc. The smooth robotic pulse, unvarying volume, and constantly repeating phrases have a trance-like effect. She plays with clean, precise hits, the hard beater-heads giving an urgent bite to the music. The cheerful bounce contrasts with the conveyor-belt, automaton character like a happy factory worker.

Vermont Counterpoint is originally for flute and tape, but Kuniko's version is for vibraphone. Phase shift techniques create chance rhythmic, gradually changing patterns as in a kaleidoscope. Nothing happens in the music; it never modulates, comes to no cadences and changes key only once and abruptly, without preamble. The piece stops as peremptorily as it starts, although the conclusion is marked with a shimmering of tones which is as much of an emotional climax as Reich ever creates. This is music for the machine age, clean, efficient, precise and of our time. Kuniko expresses this beautifully.  

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