Music for 18 Musicians - A website tribute


March 2017 - a mixture of updates:

- video from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with two percussionists and Micaela Haslam from Synergy Vocals talking about their rehearsal of M418M and their more cool/laid back approach to playing the piece.

 - M418M Remix from Konstantin Kandelaki

- All at once - all sections of M418M played together until they run out of steam! 

- 3 minute version - quick run through all sections in 3 minutes

- A video of a complete performance from The University of Tennessee Contemporary Music Festival Closing Concert at the Cox Auditorium on 25th October 2015.  Filmed on two cameras from the audience.  The ending is interesting as the violin doesn't wind the piece up into a fade but the tuned percussion does.  

From January 2017

"Music for 18 Machines" by Simon Cullen.

From July 2016

Phillip O’Banion, the Assistant Professor and Director of Percussion Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, posted a video of a performance of “Music for 18 Musicians” on YouTube here.  The performance, from April 5 2016, featured players from Temple University, Mobius Percussion, and special guests.  Philip kindly answered some questions about the performance, as below.

You had three days to prepare for the performance. Can you possibly describe how the preparations for performing the piece went? Did you have a fixed plan on day one and stick to it? Did you have to go section by section?

Preparation happened in stages, but yes, most of it occurred the 3 days prior. The ensemble was a mix of professionals and students (grad and undergrad, plus some recent alums). I spent a few rehearsals, over the course of a couple of weeks, with many of the percussionists playing through individual sections to get an idea of how they worked, and the piano players rehearsed on their own a couple of times (hard to find a rehearsal space with four grand pianos!).

I sent everyone a rehearsal contract with four rehearsals and then the concert. Tech rehearsal on Sunday night, double rehearsal on Monday, and then a dress rehearsal Tuesday morning, then concert Tuesday night. We were actually missing Voice 2 and 4 at the Sunday night rehearsal, so didn’t have everyone until Monday. The goal for Sunday night was to get all the mic/sound/monitor mix correct. This happened rather quickly with the help of Ray Dillard from NEXUS who knows the piece so well, and is a genius when it comes to sound. We rehearsed sections on Monday, but mostly transitions, and ended both rehearsals with a full run (the full run on Monday evening is actually where most of the video footage comes from - I had everyone wear their concert clothes for that run through). At each rehearsal we would do a couple spots that were rough in the previous run, and then run it again. The dress rehearsal on Tuesday morning actually went very well, and some things were even tighter then than at the actual performance.

I have to say, it was extremely helpful to have piano 3, marimba 2, and clarinet 1 who had all done the piece before in other places. Plus having Russ and Ray present. I don’t think we would have been able to pull it off in such a short time without these guys and the other pro’s. But the students really stepped up as well - I even had some freshman involved in this production, and they really stepped up their game, took this very seriously, and played with great professionalism.

Is there a specific part that is more difficult for the ensemble? Part 5 usually gets the vote here I think because of the piano interplay.

Section V is definitely tricky - hard for them to hear across the stage with the four grands - in fact, I wish we had a little more time in the hall just to do that section alone. Section 9 and 11 also can get weird if people aren’t absolutely on their game. The hardest part is probably just maintaining a sense of energy and focus at the end of the piece, and not letting things get too loose.

What do you think is the most difficult part to play individually? I don't think I would have the discipline to play the offbeat Marimba 2 which runs through much of the work.

I would tend to agree that Marimba 2 requires great focus, but so does Marimba 1 honestly. They are really driving the bus, and Marimba 2 is just following. Marimba 3 is also important. Technically, I’m not sure that any of the parts are virtuosic - but it’s really the mental stamina, focus, and just rock-solid timekeeping required in many of the parts.

What did Russel Hartenberger provide in terms of his input?

Russ was very helpful - general artistic input since he knows the piece so well, and has probably played it more than anyone else. Since I was playing, we needed someone in the hall (besides Ray) that could simply listen and provide critical feedback during rehearsals. He also made comments on things that you just can’t get from the score - for instance, making sure that the marimbas change chords very gradually in the pulses section, rather than a hard shift as some people tend to you. Apparently Steve prefers a much more gradual ‘wash’ to the chord changes in those sections.

Why did you use 20 musicians?

I think we actually used 21 - and it was simply to get more of the Temple students involved in the production.

The sound production is fabulous on the video. Do you attribute this to setup? Presumably there some element of inter-performance mix going on?

That was all Ray - we talked extensively about audio logistics before we moved into the hall, and pre-selected microphones based on our inventory. Setup is pretty much what is in the score - but Ray was careful to mix and blend all the voices. It sounded absolutely fantastic in the space. And it sounds almost as good in the video - for that we took sound from both room mics and from Ray’s mix at the board. Special thanks to Evan Chapman for weaving this audio mix so seamlessly into his video work.

You all seemed to be enjoying it - with so much glorious syncopation to enjoy is it difficult to remain focused?

The piece is actually very groovy - and for percussionists, the syncopation is nothing new. It’s easy to lose focus for a second or two for some of the players, but I do agree with you - most of the time everyone is simply enjoying the sounds all around them. This really is quite a communal piece - and you must listen to everyone around you. But yes - everyone enjoyed themselves immensely - the music swings and grooves in a way that is very infectious and contagious.

Your marimbas looked huge... do you have an extra lower octave?

We did - just what we had in the hall - and I wanted them all to match. They are 5.0 (five-octave) marimbas.

The four singers always seem to be having fun on almost all versions of the piece that I've watched, online or live. Repeating jazzy syncopated phrases I guess puts them in a good mood?

Maybe - I think it’s just unlike anything else in the vocal repertoire, and there is something very satisfying for them about being just another ‘voice’ in the ensemble.

I've never seen a performance with a male singer before - did that present any issues?

I let one of my colleagues choose the singers - I was a bit sceptical. But he did fine with the range - there was just one place where he (Vocal 4) and Vocal 2 had to switch notes for a brief passage.

At section IIIB where 3 players play on 1 marimba always looks fabulous, iconic even - is it difficult to do?

Probably not as hard as it looks… Hardest for the guy who is looking at the instrument from the wrong side for sure, but once you learn the pattern, not a huge deal.

Do you have a favourite part of the piece? Section 6 is often chosen by the media if there is only a brief part to broadcast, but the most wonderful section for most people is section 7 at 36:30 on your video.

I think sections 6 - 8 with the maracas are the obvious climax of the piece, and it’s chosen for obvious reasons. I think 7 is actually more fun than 6 in a few ways, but they both make you want to move.

In terms of the building up of rhythmic phrases - I couldn't see players queuing in the changes so much, say where a piano and marimba have to keep adding another note to the phrase. Was that me or was there a pre-agreed number of repeats each time?

There was nothing we talked about, but I think one of our xylophone players tended to be pretty consistent throughout rehearsal and performance with how he did the builds :)

At 47:05 and 52.30 the clarinet has to indicate a cue to the rest of the players - I've seen this live a number of times with players standing up etc. This is just before section 11 and also just before the end pulses. This presumably is because the vibraphone isn't queueing in the changes at this point?

Exactly - one of the things that makes the transition there (and similarly into Section 5) difficult is because there is no vibe cue. These are the two most obvious clarinet cues, although really the first clarinet cues most of the pulses and also several of the transitions in other sections as well. Vibraphone and clarinet 1 do most of the ‘conducting’ duties of the piece.

Many thanks to Philip O’Banion. 

From June 2016

Three new full concert videos available.  See video

24th April 2016 - Students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, Wisconsin, USA.  A version with a 12 minute introductory talk is available here This performance was played on the 40th anniversary of the music's premier performance back in 1976.  On the "intro" version the first few minutes is a general "thankyou" but then Prof. Erica Scheinberg does an interesting introduction to the piece for the 21st Century listener, which includes the musicians playing some elements of the piece to assist.  Give it a listen.  I love the description of one of the musicians who says that playing 18 Musicians is like being in an ocean but still able to breathe.

5th April 2016 - Players from Temple University, Mobius Percussion, and special guests, Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.

March 2015  - Bang On A Can Allstars/So Percussions/Cash Ensemble.  National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland.  

Kenny Savelson, Executive Director of Bang on a Can says 
We uploaded the video recently because it was a great performance, a lot of fun for all of us to put together, and we wanted to share it.  The performance took place at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland on March 7, 2015.  This and all the performers who participated are listed on the uploaded video.  The performance was part of a "Bang on a Can Marathon" concert curated by Bang on a Can co-founder/composer David Lang.  The short 'story' is that David Lang and Bang on a Can were invited to curate and produce a contemporary music festival weekend at the National Concert Hall in Ireland.  As New Yorkers, we decided upon a program of concerts that would feature some of today's most innovated New York composers and ensembles side-by-side with our contemporary 'cousins' in Ireland.  Whenever possible, we love to look for exciting opportunities to bring artists and audiences together, to collaborate and for obvious reasons (certainly for you and those interested in your site!), it was a perfect fit to have the festival end with a powerful coming together of Irish and American musicians to play Steve Reich’s legendary 1973 classic Music for 18 Musicians." 

From February 2016

Two new full performances from Youtube:

ARTS Helsinki - Sibelius Academy from a performance on February 3rd 2016.  A really good live video of the performance with some great overhead shots of the musicians.  Interestingly the performance was supervised by Russell Hartenberger, one of the original members of the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble.   It starts off pretty fast but then settles down, indeed the end pulses seem to last longer than any version I can recall.  Anyway, you can find it here.

Aaron M. Olson's "A Musical Tracing (Live)".  And now for something completely different.  I'd never heard of anything called "Musical Tracing" before so I asked Aaron to explain the process: 
"The process: I got 18 musicians, had them bring their own pairs of headphones and instruments of their choosing, had them all plugged into the same sound source (an iPod with splitters and headphone amps), played the original ECM recording of music for 18 from said sound source, and had everybody try to play what they were hearing (any part that stuck out to them) to the best of their abilities. The sound that the live audience and YouTube recording ended up with is the product of what these 18 musicians were playing, with no remains of the original ECM recording; a tracing if you will. There were no rehearsals for this and the musicians varied greatly in their familiarity with the piece (some had never heard it before). I hope that explains it clearly enough!" .... Thanks Aaron for the explanation.

And the musical result?  To me it sounds like Sun Ra meets Steve Reich, with John Coltrane, Stockhausen (Aus Den Sieben Tagen era) and others all rolled into one.  Bizarre, but compelling, especially for it's "live" aspect.  I bet it was great to be there.  I prefered to ignore the video and just listen to the music...  oh and Happy Birthday!  

From December 2015

The New York Times has named Ensemble Signal's recording as one of the best classical music recordings of 2015. See here.  Also it made the list of top ten classical CD's of 2015 in the UK Guardian Newspaper, see here.  (Thanks Laura Cohen)

From October 2015

- A recording has surfaced on Youtube of a recording from Paris on October 19th 1976.  This would have been presumably the same musicians as appeared on the original ECM recording.  It is broken down into4 individual videos sections, presumably due to Youtube restrictions, but is an interesting listen.  Here is part 1.

From June 2015 - The new recording by Ensemble Signal has been awarded a Diapason d'or.  See here

Big news!  A new recording of Music for 18 Musicians has been released.   It is available as CD or download from all the usual websites  It seems wonderfully fast, beautifully recorded and just the tonic for an 18 Musicians Junkie like me.  talking of junkies, look at some of the language used here.   Performed by Ensemble Signal Recorded, directed by Brad Lubman,  at EMPAC Troy, NY (USA) in March 2011.  This is the first new recording since the fine Grand Valley State University in 2007.  Enjoy!

From October 2014 - Updated information about the new recording : a new  recording of "Music for 18 Musicians"  is being released in May 2015 by  harmonia mundi France (HMU907608), performed by Ensemble Signal Recorded at EMPAC Troy, NY (USA) in March 2011.  This will be the first new recording since the fine Grand Valley State University in 2007. 

The recording of 18 will feature Ensemble Signal along with members of Third Coast Percussion, twenty musicians in total. The recording is the result of a week-long residency of the musicians at EMPAC in mid-March, 2011 that culminated with a public performance on March 12th 2011

Note that is the same recording that was originally to be released by Cantelope - now to be realised by harmonia mundi France. 

From August 2014

1. Checkout Ken Yanagimoto's Electronica version of 18 Musicians here thanks to Rene K. Mueller

2. New youtube video of full performance from Eighteen Squared San Diego, California, USA

From July 2014

For performances of 18 Musicians checkout the Boosey and Hawkes page: or from the official Steve Reich site 
If you know of any others then let me know

  • Signal Ensemble's new recording of 18 Musicians (along with Double Sextet) still due to be released in 2014!
  • The lucky french (again) get 12 performances of 18 Musicians from 21st October 2014 to 7th November at the Palais Garnier, Paris - a production with Paris Opera Ballet Choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.  Sounds fascinating. 
  • Need coaching for your own performance of 18 Musicians?  Checkout Micaela Haslams coaching page.
  • Picture (right) taken from the July 3rd 2014 Bridgewater Hall concert in Manchester with Synergy Vocals and London Sinfonietta  - sorry about the quality!


From March 2014

"Rough Fields" 

Something new indeed, called an "overdubbed" version, it is basically a re-instrumentisation of all of the individual parts, kind of.   The effect is great, clearly recognisable but still "18 Musicians" in its glory, in fact there is something added in terms of timbre, but maybe at times something lacking from the original, depending on your point of view.  Take a peek/listen:  or

Ambient version

Anthony Distefano has done another version for the "Absynth".

From December 2013

New Recording for 2014

The new recording of 18 Musicians is still due, but now in 2014.  It is at the top of the list on Signal Ensembles list of recordings here  Can't wait! See Available recordings for more info

Ensemble Links on Youtube in France ... AGAIN

The description says "flashmob" although it looks somewhat too pre-ordained for that title.  These french guys again doing their dance thing with part 6.  Similar to the Cabaret Sauvage event, in terms of the dance routine, and maybe the Compagnie Sylvain Groud event (although this is no longer available on Youtube it seems).  These french have it all don't they, a brand new Asterix the Gaul and then all of this 18 Musicians activity.

Queens College Un-semble - full version on youtube.  don't know much about this one, Static camera facing front in an auditorium, sound quality a bit distored at times, but a youthful (obviously) and vibrant performance.

From September 2013

Yet another full version appeared on youtube.  This time from the Lowlands Festival in Holland with MJO Reich Ensemble and Steve Reich himself on the mixing desk.

From August 2013

A couple of interesting recent entries on YouTube, both involving 18 Musicians and dance, and both in France!

A complete performance from May 2012 with Cabaret Sauvage at the Moulin Rouge.  Filmed very closely and somewhat wildly, firstly from stage right, and then after a "blip" of an edit at 22minutes, from right underneath the clarinets.  The whole atmosphere is far more rave or rock gig than formal performance with lots of cameras filming the event, audience members grooving along, and drinks scattered about on the stage.  Towards the end of section 6 part of the audience kick off what appears to be a flash mob type event where there are a large bunch group of people moving and dancing in unison - it all looks intense and a long way from the RFH type of experience.  Looks like great fun although the video in its entirety is a bit difficult to watch with all of the zooming in and out.  At the end they even do an encore!

next: A youtube video deleted!
This was just 3.5 minutes of a performance in May 2013 from Ensemble LINKS and 150 amateur dancers, working with Compagnie Sylvain Groud . The whole piece has co-orodinated dance movement throughout - with (if you believe the video) the audience arriving during the opening pulses, parading throughout the musicians during some sections, but generally dancing from the foyer.  Some of the dance looks comedic, some rapturous and other sections more serene.  You have to see it to believe it (difficult as it now doesn't exist).  The credits advise that there are further performances on 4th April 2014 in Metz and 23rd May 2014 in Évereux (actually I don't know if these performances are for 18 Musicians or just another similar music/dance combination).   The lucky French!

Finally a new musical endeavor.  "I took Steve Reich's "Section I" from Music for 18 Musicians and slowed it down by 800%. I got some of the most peaceful ambient music I've ever heard. Wonderful for sleeping and meditation or just observing the sky on a summer day."