of Electroacoustic Music
It’s gonna rain
For the composer, It’s gonna rain is the prototype of a process-based composition: “The purest process piece that I ever did” (Reich quoted in Potter (2000), pp. l69-70). It consists either of single looped patterns, within which the start point of a shorter fragment of fixed length slowly shifts (mono), or of drifting looped patterns copied into each channel (2-channel). Reich describes the technique as having been discovered by chance while looping simultaneously the same material with two tape machines: due to unforeseen slight differences in the loops and the speed of the machines, the patterns slowly started to drift, producing unexpected psychoacoustic phenomena („mysteries“, s. below) and complex rhythmical overlaps. He abandoned his initial intention to make a collage with the tape material and adopted phase shifting as the main composition procedure.
Reich used of a field recording he had made of Brother Walter preaching about the Deluge at San Francisco’s Union Square in 1964. The preaching, delivered in the melodious style of Black Pentecostal preaching, inspired Reich on several levels, its somber content on the one hand resonating with personal difficulties he was experiencing at the time as well as with the sense of a nuclear threat induced by the recent Cuban missile crisis of 1962 (Reich 2002, pp. 19). On a musical level, the melodious, almost songlike quality of the speech impressed Reich for whom at the time using recorded speech offered itself as a means of producing vocal music that would not destroy the quality of the speech by imposing a fixed meter on it (Reich 2002, p. 19). Apart from the spoken text, the recording also contains the knocking sound of a pigeon taking off, the sound of voices, birds and rumbling traffic noise, which become rhythmically relevant in the piece.
Scherzinger (2005) advocates an understanding of the piece that not only takes into account aesthetical and structural elements from the (local) perspective of minimal art and minimal music, but explicitly acknowledges its deep (global) relation to African American culture as contained in the voice of Brother Walter and to African music. The last claim is supported by Reich’s own account of the impact of African music on his own work at the time he was working with tape loops (s. Scherzinger (2005), p. 235).
According to Reich, the formal disposition is quite straightforward: „The first part is from unison back to unison and the second part goes out of place as much as possible“ (s. Reich quoted in Scherzinger (2005), p. 219).
A closer look of course reveals a more complex situation. The fragment of the original recording chosen was divided in two sequences used as introductions to each part. In the first part the introduction, which has a clear pitch center on d, is followed by three sections of different lengths based on a pattern over the third phrase “it’s gonna rain” (s. text below). In the first section the pattern is repeated 29 times with slight dynamic modulations. In the next section an excerpt of it with fixed duration is looped, its beginning continually shifting. It begins with the „i’ts go“ and is continually started somewhat earlier until the starting position is reached again. This process takes place twice at different speeds (32,1 and 42,6 sec.). In the third section, the complete pattern is put onto both channels and repeated seven times before the actual phasing begins. In the beginning (2’07 to approx. 2’10), characteristic panning phenomena caused by micro decorrelation can be heard („Mysteries […] unintended, personal, psychoacoustic by-products” (quoted in Scherzinger (2005), p. 212.)): The sound seems to move from right to left and again to right until at 2’10 it stabilizes in an increasingly reverberant stereo image. After approximately 1’18“ (3’19) two different streams are heard left and right. Rhythmical overlapping now occurs. At approximately 4’37 (delay approx. 130 MS) they again coincide and reach the unison as a quasi-stereo image at approx. 7’18 until at 7’31 the sound finally becomes mono. After 17 repetitions the pattern is once prolonged to allow for the complete sentence „It’s gonna rain after a while“, completing the first part.
The second part again has an introduction, this time transposed a major second upwards to e, and three sections in which the number of shifted voices increases from 2 to 8. In the first one, a new pattern is presented. It is a compound sequence of fragments extracted from the introduction to part II (see bold text below). At 9’02,2“ in the third repetition of the pattern („had been sealed“) the mono signal suddenly turns into stereo: the delay jumps from less than 1 ms to 16 ms, again the left channel is ahead. From 9’24 (6th. repetition, delay 69 ms) two streams can be perceived. In the second section the number of streams is doubled in each channel and the texture turns into a 4-part counterpoint. The used pattern is extracted from the preceding section. The phasing process restarts. In the last section the piece further unfolds to form an 8-voice counterpoint following the same procedure.
In the commercial release, the piece ends within the 8th repetition at about „they cried“. The second part here has a duration of 7’20“. In the performance audio the second part has a duration of 9’44“ and ends in the 26th repetition of the last pattern after a fade-out of approximately 40 seconds.
He began to warn the people.
He said: “After a while,
it’s gonna rain after a while;
for forty days and for forty nights.”
And the people didn’t believe him.
And they begin to laugh at him.
And they begin to mock him.
And they begin to say:
“It ain’t gonna rain!”
„They didn’t believe it was gonna rain.
But glory to God.
Bless God’s wonderful name this evening.
I said, this evening.
After a while,
they didn’t believe it was gonna rain.
But sure enough,
it began to rain.
They began to knock upon the door.
But it was too late. Hoo!
The Bible tell me,
they knocked upon the door
until the skin came off their hands. Whoo! My Lord! My Lord!
I say, until the skin
came off their hand.
I can just hear their cry now.
I can hear ’em say: “Oh Noah!
Would you just open the door?”
But Noah couldn’t open the door;
it had been sealed
by the hand of God“
(Transcription by Dalmo Mendonça)
 Technically speaking, it is not stereo, but 2-channel.
 Steve Reich, It’s Gonna Rain, text transcription by Dalmo Mendonça: http://genius.com/Steve-reich-its-gonna-rain-lyrics (11.4.2016)
The performance material is rented from Boosey & Hawkes. It includes two stereo files (44,1 khz/16 bit) for the first and second parts of the piece leaving the length of the pause to be determined by the performer. Total duration is 17’42’’. There is a fadeout in the end beginning at 17’15’’ (the Nonesuch/Elektra release ends at 15’23’’ with no fadeout).
The Steve Reich collection at Paul Sacher Stiftung has a digitized copy of the piece which is identical with the commercial Nonesuch release.
Although a concert performance was not realized in this project, we would refer to the report on Reich’s “Come out”, which raises comparable issues
Potter, Keith, Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Reich, Steve, Music as a Gradual Process, http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/draft/ben/feld/mod1/readings/reich.html (12.4.2016)
Reich, Steve, Writings about music, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 19-22; 91-97.
Scherzinger, Martin Rudolf, Curious intersections, uncommon magic: Steve Reich’s ‘It’s gonna rain’, in Current musicology, 17/80 (2005), p. 207-244.
Strickland, Edward, Minimalism: origin, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, (c) 1993.
|Title||It’s gonna rain|
|Studio||San Francisco Tape Music Center|
|Publisher||Boosey & Hawkes|
|Renter||Boosey & Hawkes|
|SR/Bittiefe||44,1 kHz /16 Bit|
|Paul Sacher Stiftung||Audio (identical with Nonesuch release)|
Commercial releases (selection)
|Elektra Nonesuch 1989||Elektra Nonesuch Records 9 79169-2|