Performance Practice
of Electroacoustic Music

Steve Reich

Come out


In April 1964 six young African Americans were arrested and brutally beaten after the so-called «Little Fruit Stand Riot» in Harlem. The six youths, later called the Harlem Six, were eventually released, but subsequently accused of a murder which had occurred shortly thereafter. They were again arrested, beaten and in an unfair, biased trial sentenced to life in prison. It was only years later that they were finally exonerated (for a more detailed account of the Harlem Six case s. Gopinath (2009), pp. 124).

In late 1965 or early 1966, Reich was approached by human rights activist Truman Nelson to realize a tape collage for a fundraising event organized to help the Harlem Six in their upcoming court appeal. In Reich’s collage, original statements given by the accused were to be used. «Come out» was realized in addition to the collage and was first performed at the same fundraising event (Gopinath (2009), pp. 126).

For «Come out», Reich chose a single sentence, spoken by Daniel Hamm, from the vast sound material:

«I had to like open a bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them that I was bleeding».

The piece begins with an introduction in which Hamm’s sentence is presented three times, each time followed by a short pause of approx. 1,7’’. The following three main sections follow each other without any pause. The first main section begins at 20.66”. It uses a looped sequence consisting of a fragment from the above sentence («come out to show them»). This appears simultaneously in the first and second channels.  It is, however, played at a slightly faster speed in the right channel, resulting in a shift of up to approx. 298 ms (for a transcription of the phasing process in the beginning, s. Gopinath (2009), p. 130). Since there is a progressive decorrelation between the two channels, the musical texture is effectively two-part. The second section begins at 2’59”. It uses a sequence of approx. 1,18”, corresponding to the last phasing state between the two channels heard in section 1. This is downmixed and copied onto channels 1 and 2 and again started simultaneously in channels 1 and 2, with the latter running at a faster speed, thus creating a four-part texture (2×2) and a maximum shift of approximately 596 ms. In the third section, beginning at 8’38”, the same procedure is applied to a loop again reflecting the last phasing state of the preceding section (pattern length aprox. 610 ms), thus creating an 8-part texture (2×4).

Sections 1 and 2 are marked by changing rhythmic patterns. Due to its four-part structure and length, these patterns are much more complex in the second section. The third section with its eight sound layers presents the highest level of intensity and density. The shorter loop leads to a marked acceleration. The increased polyphony makes less perceivable the rhythmic details of the shifting patterns, while several musical layers can be perceived by the listener (for an interpretation of these, s. Gopinath (2009), p. 133). 

The phasing between the channels also results in panning phenomena in all three sections. At the beginning, there is a fast panning movement from right to left (only in the first section) and back to right followed by a slow movement towards the center. As decorrelation between the channels progresses, a stereo, then a reverb effect and finally rhythmic patterns are perceived.


Performance material

The performance material is rented from Boosey & Hawkes. It is a stereo file (44,1 khz/16 bit); duration is duration is 12’58’’. There is a fadeout at the end beginning at approx. 11’45’’


Archival material

The Steve Reich collection at Paul Sacher Stiftung has a digitized copy of the piece which is identical with the commercial Nonesuch release.


Performance report

At the outset, it was intended to realize a sound projection that would closely correspond to the experience of listening to the piece through headphones. When using headphones, phenomena prominently used in the piece, such as panning and different degrees of delay between the two audio channels, are perceived strongly and constitute an essential part of the listening experience. At first, a setup with two widely separated pairs of loudspeakers (10 m distance) placed on the sides of the hall was tested, the objective being to achieve a clear separation between the left and right channels. However, the sweet spot proved to be too narrow and a detailed perception of panning phenomena at the beginning of the shifting process couldn’t be achieved, even in this hall (concert hall 1, ZHdK) with its dry, studio-like acoustics. This approach was thus abandoned in favor of a full-bodied, yet clear overall sound. This was achieved by using two front speakers in relatively close position as a main system (basis width 5m, height approx. 2m) and two side speakers at the left and right side of the hall (height about 4.5m) supporting the overall sound. The volume was adjusted using the speaking voice in the piece as reference.

Selected Bibliography

Biareishyk, Siarhei, Come out to show the split subject: Steve Reich, whiteness, and the avant-garde, in:  Current musicology 93, 2012, p. 73-93.

Duffet, Mark, Ghetto voyeurism? Cross-racial listening and the attribution of sociocultural distance in popular music, in Volume! La revue des musiques populaires, X/1, 2013, p. 93-107.

Ebbeke, Klaus, Minimal Music, in Schweizerische Musikzeitung 122, 1982, p. 140-147.

Gopinath, Sumanth, The problem of the political in Steve Reich’s Come out” in Sound commitments: Avant-garde music and the sixties, 2009, p. 121-144.

Moore, Allan F., Anachronism, responsibility, and historical intension, in Critical musicology: A transdisciplinary online journal, 1994 (last accessed on April 15, 2016 at

Schematic Overview

Piece information

Composer Steve Reich
Title Come out
Year 1966
Studio Private studio
Type Tape, 2-channel
Duration 12’58”
Publisher Boosey & Hawkes


Performance material

Renter Boosey & Hawkes
Format CD
SR/Bittiefe 44,1 kHz /16 Bit
Duration 12’58”


Archival material

Paul Sacher Stiftung Audio (identical with Nonesuch release)


Commercial releases (selection)

Elektra Nonesuch 1989 Elektra Nonesuch Records 9 79169-2