Violin Phase

Violin Phase

Jeremy Bell

Violin Phase is a work for 4 Violins that repeats a single motive at a constant tempo while other instruments gradually speed up, displacing the motive by a certain number of beats.  This technique, which is popular among minimalist composers, particularly Steve Reich, is a unique way of generating new material from a single idea.  As the parts lock back into the same tempo, the listener will hear new musical lines as the synthesis of the displaced motives create new melodies.


The number of repeats is approximate and is at the players’ discretion.  Given the construction of the piece, the purpose of the range of repetitions is not to worry about the number of repeats and when to enter but to provide a general idea for the length of each cycle.  Each occurrence of a new cycle will be cued by the resynchronization of the phasing instrument or the entrance of a new part.



Phasing is a technique popularized by the composer Steve Reich.  By keeping one instrument at a static tempo while another gradually accelerates, phasing shifts the two parts out of unison, creating what sounds like an echo, until the accelerating part finally matches to the same tempo but displaced by a metric unit.  In the case of Violin Phase, the shift will occur at the level of the 8th note, which is the smallest unit.  In several instances, the player will be directed to shift by two 8th notes within the directed repetition range. These are notated within the score.


Careful attention also should be given to the accents within each repeated cell.  As phasing occurs, new melodic and rhythmic material is generated.  These accents are specifically placed to bring out the new material that is created.  The crescendoes and diminuendoes that are notated occur throughout the entire repeated cell rather than over a single measure.  Each one will be done very gradually and does not necessarily have to begin immediately with the first play through of a cell by may be begin half-way through.  Since the number of repeats is arbitrary, there is no need to worry about playing the dynamic level as soon as a new cell is played.  By the time that the next repeated cell is introduced, however, the player should be within one to two repetitions of the notated dynamic marking.


Using the same rehearsal technique as described in Steve Reich’s Piano Phase, a recommended method for practicing this piece is to wait to attempt phasing and instead try to enter directly on the downbeat of the measure following the phasing cell to listen to the relationship of the instruments as they are displaced from each other.  This technique reinforces the ear of the performer to be able to hear the displacement of two parts and recognize when the acceleration section of the phasing process has finally completed.  Consistent rehearsal of this piece in small increments over a period of several weeks will help to produce smooth phasing and eliminate the tendency to speed up too quickly.  The goal is to accelerate gradually, and be consistent and smooth during the performance.

Copyright © 2018 by Jeremy Bell