Steve Reich – “It’s Gonna Rain”

Year: 1965

Album: It’s Gonna Rain

According to NPR, Reich’s first official piece, composed about fifty years ago in San Francisco, happened by accident. Reich was playing with two identical tapes of a recording he made of Pentecostal preacher Brother Walter when the loops suddenly went out of synch with each other and produced the recording you hear.

In Reich’s own words: “Sometimes when people speak, they almost sing. Tape loops are little bits of tape that are spliced together so that they just go around and around and around and repeat themselves. And when you take a bit of speech like ‘It’s gonna rain,’ the way he says it, you really begin to hear the music of what he’s saying and what he says increasingly blended together so it’s hard to separate them.”

In 1965 it was impossible to escape the threat of nuclear war, with the Bay of Pigs and JFK’s assassination still fresh on everyone’s minds. For Reich, Brother Walter preaching “it’s gonna rain” was surely a sign of what was to come. The recording captures that uneasiness with a brilliant and influential use of minimalism.

Alex Ross, in his excellent book The Rest is Noise, says it best: “the machines essentially wrote ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ by themselves and [Reich] was smart enough not to stop them.”

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber