I admit that my love of this work is somewhat extra-musical. This work was the first ever experience I had with both musique concrète and Steve Reich, and every time I hear it I remember that first time I heard it in fourth-semester music theory and how eye-opening it was for me to hear something that, then to me, had been so new. It was my gateway to contemporary “serious” music and I fell in love with it. (That was a rather memorable day as I also listened to Reich’s similar work, Come Out.)
On a musical level, I love how the birds taking flight in Part 1 slowly morph from just an audio artifact to a steady percussive instrument to accompany the entirety of the first part. I also absolutely adore how Reich has created an audible “choir” effect via his phasing and looping choices that reinforces the evangelist aspect of the spoken text in a very artful way. From a less-musical angle, Reich has also abstracted the words in such a way that we are less concerned with the text (though it was presented in its entirety at the start of both parts) and more interested in the aural textures created. What is so elegant about this is how this evolution of loss-of-meaning is paced. Reich has, in essence, musically presented a very gradual descent into meaninglessness.
This is particularly prevalent in the second part, where Reich opts for a more “processed” sound than the more overt phasing of the initial section. The second section builds into a cacophonous storm, musically outlining the increased energy of Brother Walter as he became more frenetic in his preaching. He also overtly plays with the panning in this part and creates an artificial spatial quality to the sounds near the end. The work ends in the only way one could perceivably end meaningless mass of sound: slowly fading to silence.