Violin Phase

  1. Thom
  2. April 14, 2009 12:59 am

Violin Phase

Performed at Concert 13 of Music08 June 21, 2008 by Matthew Albert, Nick Naegele, Yei-in Jin, and Chi-Fan Tai. (Info Via Youtube)

Not for the average easy going listener, Violin Phase is a piece full and open to interpretation. Many of my friends would hear this and ask me to turn it off, stating it just sounded like noise. To me its a world of sound to get lost in! How often does pop music take you to an alternate world and open up your thought process?

Violin Phase, written by Steve Reich in 1967, is to be played with solo violin and pre-recorded accompaniment (prepared by the violinist) or by four violins. The concept is simple, the execution is slightly more difficult, especially with a completely live performance. As you see in this video, one violinist begins playing the repeated ostinato (repeated pattern). At about 2 to 4 times repeating, another violinist joins in, playing alongside player 1. Player 2 begins to accelerate very slightly, creating an out of sync sound until eventually locking in to a new pattern. Rinse and repeat 🙂 After a while another violinist will begin to join in, calling attention to the new patterns by picking out one and playing it.
Performing such a piece requires GREAT concentration. One commenter on the video above states:

“when you forget the world around you and the people who are playing with you, you can do it. but it has one major disadvantage for the musicians: you cant listen to the music, as soon as you start to listen to what the others are playing, you WILL make a mistake.”

How incredible, removing yourself and completely ignoring everything else, having to stay steady on your part- or else the piece will fall apart. What do you think of the piece? Hate it? Enjoy it? Want more like it? Leave a comment and let me know!


  1. Shang says:
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Hello Thom,

    I find this Violin Phase very interesting, honestly its something new to me. I found out this whole piece require nothing but solo concentration. The commentator is right, “when you listen to the others, you will make mistake” :S

  2. Rob says:
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    This whole ‘phase’ concept has been done before and for many years. It’s really nothing new, and certainly not limited to the violin. What it really is a starting point for a solist to become inspired and make music. It may not be my cup of tea, but it works for some.

    It is interesting, to say the least.



    • You’re right!

      It is certainly nothing new nor limited to violin. Steve Reich (probably influenced by Terry Riley) has worked with phasing for many years, including phasing tape recording in 1965 and clapping rhythms in 1972. He also worked quite a bit with pulsing, like in the piece, “Music for 18 Musicians.” Interestingly enough, one of the piano parts plays the motive from “Violin Phase” through one of its sections.

      One of my favorite pieces, however, (and my first introduction to his work) is “Electric Counterpoint,” which starts features Pat Metheny on guitar. I totally agree though, not everyone is into phasing. Many friends I play “Violin Phase” for don’t particularly care for it either!

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