Dissertation Index

Author: Pymm, John M

Title: Narrative Trails in the Speech-Based Music of Steve Reich

Institution: University of Southampton

Begun: September 2009

Completed: July 2013


This thesis considers Steve Reich’s speech-based compositions between 1963 and 1988 in the light of their source materials. The collection comprises seven pieces: The Plastic Haircut (1964); Livelihood (1964); It’s Gonna Rain (1965); Come Out (1966); Buy Art, Buy Art (1967); My Name Is (1967), and Different Trains (1988). The sources for these pieces constitute a plethora of hitherto unexamined audio recordings, transcriptions of which are included in a separate volume of appendices.

The study presents a detailed transcription and consideration of these archival sources, culminating in a new narrative reading of each of Steve Reich’s speech-based pieces from the first three decades of his compositional output. Although some recordings now exist on-line, Reich’s decision in 2008 to transfer his private archive to the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, Switzerland, has opened up a much larger collection. This considerable body of source material allows a new understanding of the stories told by each of these seven pieces. Whilst firmly rejecting the notion that his music tells stories, Reich has accepted that the documentary nature of the recorded materials for his speech-based works marks them out as a special case. This invites scrutiny of the relationship between these recordings and the pieces themselves, shedding new light on the narrative trails that connect them.

Keywords: Steve Reich
Paul Sacher Stiftung


List of Tables

Glossary of Narrative Terms


Chapter 1: Mapping Reich’s Narrative Trails

Chapter 2: The Plastic Haircut and Livelihood

Chapter 3: It’s Gonna Rain

Chapter 4: Come Out

Chapter 5: Bye, Bye Art: 1967 And All That

Chapter 6: Different Trains

Chapter 7: Conclusions



Professor John Pymm

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