Steve Reich composes music for humans, and good music at that. You could, however, be forgiven for thinking that there is something mechanical to his work. Phasing, the technique most commonly associated with Reich, involves the same sequence being played at gradually—and slightly—divergent speeds. You can best imagine it as two tape machines that have fallen out of sync and, by the end of a composition, have found each other once again.
In that vein, here is Reich’s Piano Phase as performed on two Game Boy Micros by chiptunes artist Pselodux:
This is, on the one hand, a profoundly mechanical affair. Since Reich’s compositions are built on very simple sequences, they lend themselves to this sort of technological reinterpretation. Who needs a piano when you can fit the whole phase on a music box’s embossed metal drum? Heck, you could probably fit it on there twice. In that respect, the Game Boy rendition of Piano Phase, like the app for Reich’s Clapping Music, gets at the mechanical nature of the underlying composition.
Piano Phase and Pselodux’ interpretation of it is, nevertheless, a profoundly human endeavor. Orchestra’s are often likened to finely tuned machines, but Reich’s work takes that torturous metaphor to its logical conclusion. Pieces like Drumming and Piano Phase are often performed without conductors or set lengths as the musicians, in an act of impressive synchronicity, all move to the next phase in unison. If the coordination required to perform at the highest level is mechanical, the underlying pursuit is human. The same holds true of Pselodux’ work here, which uses technology as a canvas for human obsessions. His version of Piano Phase may stand out because of its unique, digital instrumentation, but that fact should not erase the human pressing the buttons.