Set work: 3rd movement (fast) from 'Electric Counterpoint'

YouTube Video

Electric Counterpoint Key Features

Here are the main points from Steve Reich's 3rd movement:

  • The key is in E but the piece keeps the listener guessing right up until the bass guitar confirms by playing the note E at the end of it's two bar ostinato. It then changes to C minor. You can remember the key from the title: Electric Counterpoint, where the beginning letter shows the order of what the key is.
  • Tonal ambiguity - keeping the key uncertain.
  • The texture gradually builds up in layers and thins out towards the end.
  • Piece concentrates on rhythmic development just as much as it does on melodic development.
  • Changes metre is 3/2 (three minim beats in a bar) and occasionally changes to 12/8 (twelve quaver beats in a bar). 
  • Rhythm is syncopated.
  • The live guitar plays a resultant melody.
  • Guitar 1 (first guitar you can hear at start) plays a one bar ostinato.
  • There's a four part guitar canon on bars 1-23.
  • Bass 1 and 2 introduced gradually, with their ostinatoes being built up.
  • Use of panning - different instruments coming out of different speakers to create different textures.
  • Live guitar introduces percussive texture chords which produces a strumming effect that cuts across rest of the parts.
  • Shock to the system when key changes to C minor as it's unexpected.
  • This piece has a rhythmic counterpoint being every part has a different rhythm and note.
  • Unpredictable changes to key and time signature.
  • Changing of keys become more frequent, building tension.
  • Big crescendo at end to build tension.
  • Structure is ABA with Coda at the end.
Russell Meyers,
Jul 13, 2011, 6:16 AM