When It Rains, It Pours (“It’s Gonna Rain”)

I was sitting across from Mike at the Metropolitan last night.  ”When it rains, it pours,” I told him.

In 1964 in San Francisco’s Union Square, Pentecostal preacher Brother Walter delivered an intense sermon about the end of the world. He told the story of Noah’s Ark, in which God, saddened by the wickedness and sin of mankind, decided to send a great flood to destroy all life on earth.

Musician Steve Reich happened upon this sermon, and he recorded it. The result was a musical composition nearly 18 minutes in length.

Jason Gross from the online music magazine Perfect Sound Forever interviewed Reich in April 2000. Below is what Reich had to say about “It’s Gonna Rain”.

“It’s Gonna Rain” is about the end of the world.  In those days, the voice was recorded in ’64, you had the Cuban Missle Crisis and so it was very much a part of many peoples’ thinking at that time.  We were at the point where we could all turn into so much radioactive ash at any given time.  So while this guy is preaching about Noah, it’s not something abstract that has nothing to do with what’s going on in your life.

It was also a time that was fairly difficult for me personally.  So “It’s Gonna Rain,” especially the second half of it, is very bleak.  You’re literally hearing the world come apart.  Technically, it’s been said many times, the discovery of the phasing process was within that piece.  It happened with those two little Wollensack tape recorders I had.  I made identical loops and I thought I would line them up in a particular relationship.  Mainly with “it’s gonna fall” on top of “rain” with the two channel result being “it’s gonna… it’s gonna… rain… rain…” with 180 degrees separation.

I put on headphones (which were stereo with each ear with a separate plug going into the two machines).  By chance, two machines were lined up in unison.  So what I heard was this unison sound sort of swimming in my head, spatially moving back and forth.  It finally moved over to the left, which meant that the machine on the left was slightly faster passing in speed than the machine on the right.  So the apparent phenomenon in your head is the sound moving to the left, moves down your left shoulder and then across the floor!  Then after a while, it comes into an imitation and then finally after four or five minutes, you hear “it’s gonna… it’s gonna… rain… rain…”

By the time it got that far, I though to myself “this is unbelievable.”  Instead of a particular relationship, here is a whole way of making music, going from unison through all these contrapuntal relationships, all the way back to unison.  All the possible relationships, rational and irrational, are there.  So I immediately decided to experiment with just how fast that process should happen.  Then in the second half of the piece, it got much more complicated, going from two then to four then to eight voices and never coming back together again, which is more in keeping with the text.

In the first half of “It’s Gonna Rain”, Brother Walter tells how Noah was mocked for his absurdity in preaching and building the ark:

It’s gonna rain after a while, for forty days and forty nights.  And the people didn’t believe him, and they began to laugh at him.  And they began to mock him, and they began to say, “It ain’t gonna rain!”

When the second half begins, Noah has boarded the ark and the door has been sealed.  Brother Walter is increasingly frantic.  (This is reflected by Reich’s manipulations of the tape):

They didn’t believe that it was gonna rain, but glory to God!  Hallelujah!… But sho’ ‘nuff, it began to rain.  Hallelujah!  They began to knock up on the door, but it was too late.  The bible tell me they knocked up on the door until the skin came off their hands!  My Lord, my Lord, I say until the skin came off their hands!  They cried.  I can just hear their cry now.  I can hear them say “Oh no!  Will you just open the door?”  But Noah couldn’t open the door.  It had been sealed by the hand of God.  Glory to God!

By the end of the song, the text is undecipherable and drowned by flood of noise, which slowly fades into silence.

You can listen to “It’s Gonna Rain (Part I)” and “It’s Gonna Rain (Part II)” by clicking here (tracks 3 and 4).

Or you can listen by clicking here. (Rhapsody give you your first 25 downloads free.)

One Response to “When It Rains, It Pours (“It’s Gonna Rain”)”

  1. February 13th, 2004 (Entry # 1) | Keep My Words Says:

    [...] third page or so had a quote at the top center.  We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams and The voice is a wild thing, it can’t be bred in [...]

Leave a Reply