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The Sky’s the Limit: Composition with Massive Replication and Time-shiftingExperimentation with tape loops in the 1960’s led Steve Reich to develop phase or process music, characterized by immediate and constant repetition of small phrases of recorded speech that are repeatedly replicated and gradually move out of phase with one another. Reich’s aesthetic was a practical one, as his control of the phase process was only to decide how many loops to use, when they would enter, and how long the piece as a whole would last. The technology of the time prevented him from being able to control the exact timing of those phase relationships; in his later music for acoustic instruments he varies the phase relationships at much longer time intervals—at regular subdivisions of the prevailing beat. This article describes the development of a compositional method utilizing readily available technology to vastly expand the number of replicated parts and to control the time element of the phase relationship. Aesthetic and structural concerns that arise from the technique are considered through several of the author’s compositions.
Hong Kong Baptist University