The term "essential" gets thrown about too much. And heck, the claim that certain words get thrown about too much gets thrown about too much. But here is a collection that really *is* essential to understanding the nature of a whole shift not just in classical music, but in popular music and indeed in popular culture. So many of Reich's ideas and concepts have become so deeply embedded in current classical music, film scoring (any number of examples, but think about Tangerine Dream's score for "Risky Business" and Hans Zimmer's score for "Thin Red Line," for starters), electronic music and even the visual arts.
This box set gives the listener all of Reich's major works. I can't even attempt to describe them individually, but every one of these 10 CDs is compelling. For the totally uninitiated, take out "Music for 18 Musicians" (presented here in a crystalline new recording) to get an idea of what the core of this guy is all about. From there, you might want to listen to "Different Trains," "Electric Counterpoint" and "Six Marimbas" to get an idea of the pointillistic pulse minimalism that Reich contributed to the world. The earlier material is the more challenging, exploring the subtleties of rythym, phase relationships between sounds and shifting timings. Among these, the new recording of "Four Organs" is just outstanding.
Reich's works, along with the early works of Terry Riley and Philip Glass, form the foundation of an enormous edifice that has grown of music that attempts to return to its essential and hypnotic roots. With this box set, one of those pylons becomes clear.