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Editorial: Slow-motion, rapid progress

Dave Robinson 23 April 2014
Editorial: Slow-motion, rapid progress

Caught up on a little reading over the Easter weekend. (Yes, a lovely time in Scotland, thanks for asking.) I’m currently poring over Steve Reich’s Writings on Music 1965-2000, something I should have consumed a long time ago. It’s edifying and illuminating stuff.

I’m a massive fan of the American composer, both the man himself and his work. What I hadn’t fully realised, as the extent to which he proposed a process which is now commonplace in audio editing. Slow Motion Sound was a theoretical work that Reich conceived in 1967, as he came to the end of his tape loop experiments: ‘Very gradually slow down a recorded sound to many times its original length without changing its frequency or spectrum at all.’ 

At the time, the technology was not sufficiently sophisticated for Reich to ‘perform’ the piece to any satisfactory degree, and so it remained a concept, as Reich moved on to other themes and ideas. Producer and drummer Chris Hughes, a life-long Reich fan, experimented with the piece years later with his work Slow Motion Blackbird (from Shift, 1994, reissued in 2008). Here’s a video interpretation of this amazing work.

Hughes told me that, at the time, using ’90s Apple Macs and Digidesign software to interpolate between the samples as the audio became increasingly ‘stretched’ had pushed the technology to the limit. And now years later, there’s plenty of YouTube videos purporting to be such-and-such a track slowed down hundreds, even thousands of times, ‘without changing its frequency or spectrum at all’. Even bloody Justin Bieber.

Reich’s original concept – a prediction, no less – can now be made manifest in a matter of seconds. It’s a reminder of the nature of true genius, and of how far technology has brought us. And that there’s still hope for that singing tattooed Canadian twerp.

Dave Robinson, editor, PSNEurope

PS discovered this morning that updates of WordPress are named after jazz musicians. Current version, 3.9, is called Smith, after Hammond player Jimmy Smith. Reich, meanwhile, makes no secret of his love of the music from the name behind version 2.7….

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