Sextet plays with two aspects of music. First, it tries to overcome a natural acoustic limitations of percussion instruments. To overcome the note duration limitation (percussion instruments only produce notes of short duration), ReichEMPLOYS bowed vibraphones, where the vibraphone is not struck with a mallet, but the bars are bowed with a bass bow. A similar limitation in the keyboard section is countered by the use of the synthesizers. To overcome the range limitation (mallet instruments don't have a true bassREGISTER family member), the bass drum is employed, with doubling from the pianos or synthesizers.
Second, the piece plays with ambiguity. In the third movement, a basic 12-beat pattern is ambiguous between a division into three and into four. In other parts of the piece, the line that was the melody becomes the accompaniment, even though the actual notes do not change.
The piece was co-commissioned by the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians and the French government. An incomplete version premiered in December 1984, in Paris. It was reworked in early 1985 and received its American premiere in New York on October 31, 1985 during the Next Wave Festival at theBrooklyn Academy of Music as the stage music for Laura Dean's Impact. It then was recorded by Steve Reich's ensemble on Nonesuch Records in 1986.