Most helpful positive review
The Ravishing Textures of Life
on February 3, 2004
When a work of this stature invokes a level of profound and richly rewarding response from a listener, its difficult to know, or to offer any explanation for, just what it is that separates a work of this magnitude from music, even excellent music, which just doesn't reach this level of expression. And this isn't music that's likely to turn everybody's crank, either, as by any standard that considers the vast range of kinds and qualities of music available in the world today, its unique, unusual, and insistently individualistic in almost every way.
This music is capable of functioning on any number of different levels, as the many Amazon reviews show. On a less complex level of response its ravishing surface textures can be accepted as simple ravishment, its simple harmonic structure can be enjoyed for its simplicity, and its flowing tempos can absorb a listener in the sheer sense of encompassing flow. Yet for many listeners the amazingly rich washes of sound arising from the intricate interlacing of simply repeated but subtly shifting motifs engender a complex, suffusing experience that somehow transcends any attempt to limit the listening response to individual elements or individual emotional responses. Like any great musical work this piece offers a more encompassing, synthesized representation of a way of looking at, responding to, and understanding the world, and any listener fortunate enough to have their synapses firing along the same lines is apt to experience a truly involving and powerful response.
This music offers a powerful metaphor of life itself. Not literal, not representational, not discursive, but cogent, coherent, and rich with the depth and involving flow of life. And not just a slice of life, but a whole, urgently encompassing sense of life's textures, and moods, and endless flowing depths and dynamics. It's really a glorious thing that music can do this, and Reich's stunning achievement with "Music For 18 Musicians" was to accomplish this with his own new vocabulary, which he brought to fully realized maturity in this piece, and which so clearly and simply reduces commentary about movements and styles to insignificance in the face of such patiently and potently mesmerizing expression, unfolding its layers of sound, meaning, and complexity out of such basic tools.
But it's also just simply a gorgeous example of sonic manipulation, with seemingly endless textures flowing in and out with the carefully modulated interplay of repeated tones and motifs. There's no need to invoke aesthetic theory, or to listen to this piece only when a totally involving musical symbolism is needed to reaffirm one's connection to the world, because its rich textural flow functions just fine as simple ravishment, and its simplicity of structure can soothe and involve simultaneously, and that flow - that glorious, by turns gentle and then insistent flow, can just carry a listener away in rapture.
A seminal work like "Music For 18 Musicians" occupies a rare space, and accomplishes with seeming ease what lesser works are unable to do, and in doing so demonstrates the function and the power of truly great music to organize sound into a coherent symbolic representation of life's endless flowing textures. And that's a wonderful thing.