Piano Phase: Steve Reich And The Phasing Technique

Rachel Flowers & Michael ThalliumPiano Phase is a piece by minimalist composer Steve Reich. It was originally written for two piano players or one pianist and tape, but later it was played by one musician with two pianos. The phasing technique is where one person is playing a repeating pattern while the other is gradually getting faster. At first it sounds like people not playing together, but then play together but at different times. The piece has three different patterns: twelve notes, eight different notes, and four notes.

Reich first discovered phasing with tape loops such as It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out. At first he thought one musician couldn’t go out of tempo while another stayed steady, but he found out that it was possible.

When I found out this piece had been played by one musician on two pianos, I thought it was impossible. I played this on my Yamaha M06 with an 88 key controller and the keyboard itself. My left hand was the steady piano on the controller transposed three octaves up, so it would feel more separate from the other keyboard. My right hand was the phasing piano on the Yamaha. I did play it a little faster than usual, but this was the first time I actually got all of the notes right.
I was focusing more on the left hand, so I would know what note the right hand would go to on each phase (not right away, but almost until it’s in time.) Sometimes I did go a little fast during the phasing, but I think I did a good job.

When it comes to the four note pattern at the end of the piece, I usually think of the tape loops so I can hear the gradual changes without getting ahead.

This was one of the last videos Michael recorded before he went back to Spain. I played the piece again later, but I wasn’t happy with it. I really liked the first time better because I felt less pressure. Thank you Michael for making this video. I enjoyed it.

Rachel Flowers
Long Live Rachel Flowers

2 comments to Piano Phase: Steve Reich And The Phasing Technique

  • Todd Trimble

    Hi —

    What happened to this video? I remember being enchanted with it and sharing the link with some friends, and when I looked it up just now, was dismayed to see it’s now “private”. Of course, that is one’s prerogative, but what a pity not to share this wonderful performance!


  • Michael Thallium

    Dear Todd,
    After consulting with Jeanie and Rachel, we’ve decided to make the video public again. Thanks for your comment and… Enjoy it!!

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