Steve Reich’s musical etudes are already a kind of self-contained lesson in rhythm. Inspired by drumming traditions, Reich distills in his music essential principles of rhythmic construction, introducing Western Classical musicians to cyclic forms. That makes them a natural for visual scoring – doubly so something interactive, which is what an iPhone can provide. And so one percussion ensemble has made an app that both reveals Reich’s techniques and opens up a toy you can use to make your own musical experiments. Plus – it’s free.

The app is called “Third Coast Percussion: the Music of Steve Reich” – that’s a mouthful. And the app is packed with content.

Phasing starts with the looping idea of It’s Gonna Rain.
Additive lets you assemble interlocking polyrhythms, working with Music for Pieces of Wood.
Canons works with overlaid melodies, from Sextet.

And you can add your own audio samples – loops for Phasing, or substituting your own samples for Canons and Additive. You also get control of tempo, phase, and even the rhythms and melodies – so this is a compositional app as well as an interactive learning tool.

The app is the work of Third Coast Percussion Ensemble of Chicago and developer Joseph Genden. Naturally, that means it also encourages you to listen to excerpts of their album and a buy a copy (as well you should – it’s terrific).

Now iOS-only; they say an Android version is in the works.

Check out their John Cage app, and an app devoted to the history of bells.

This warms my heart even as it chills my bones: the ensemble plays Steve Reich around Chicago, which some special meaning to me as it’s the city I first got to hear the Reich Ensemble live as a kid.

Actually, even despite the electronic bent of this site, I think acoustic instruments are a great way to complement education of the physics of sound. As part of a collaboration with the engineering program at Notre Dame, the ensemble has put together a program on that very topic – they even engineered custom percussion instruments just for the project.

Also I expect inspiring to budding sound designers, don’t miss the great composer August Read Thomas talking about her collaboration and what it means to compose for this set of instruments – that’s Create Metallic Music.


Third Coast Percussion: the Music of Steve Reich [App Store]