KUNIKO - Reich: Drumming - The Times

Performances of Steve Reich’s exemplary minimalist percussion epic Drumming usually require 12 musicians: nine to hit things, three to sing, blow or whistle. However, if you are the Japanese percussionist Kuniko, you might well decide to play all parts yourself in marathon recording and dubbing sessions spread over six months. That is what happened here.

The end product lasts a miraculous, if eerie, 70 minutes. Pinprick precision? Here it is, with every layer in Reich’s tapestry cleanly delineated to a degree hard to achieve in a live concert. Reich called the result a “remarkable pleasure”, offering a startling “microscopic close-up” of his score. I know what he means, particularly when one section and instrumentation morph into the next, or when voices add their pennies’ worth to the melodic phrases generated during the rhythmic tattoo.

What you can’t get is the crackling excitement only possible with a conventional ensemble account. Compared with the recent recording by the Colin Currie Group, Kuniko’s one-woman show, though technologically breathtaking, veers towards the cool and clinical. Buy this album for reference and general ear-cleaning, not for an adrenaline rush.

The Times
19 October 2018