Clapping Music

February 4th, 2011
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Clapping Music (1972) was Steve Reich’s attempt to write a piece of music requiring nothing but the human body — two performers that hand-clap. His first attempt at translating phase technique from recorded tape loop to live performance was his 1967 Piano Phase for two pianos (which I performed on marimbas with Thad Anderson on my Master’s recital at UT in 2005). In Piano Phase, the performers repeat a rapid twelve-note melodic figure, initially in unison. As one player keeps tempo with robotic precision, the other speeds up very slightly until the two parts line up again, but one sixteenth-note apart. The second player then resumes the previous tempo. This cycle of speeding up and then locking in continues throughout the piece; the cycle comes full circle three times, the second and third cycles using shorter versions of the initial figure. Although Reich’s original intent was for Clapping Music to be a phase piece, he found that the idea of phasing was not appropriate for the simple ways in which to experiment with sound using the human body. Instead, he employed a shifting technique — still cyclic, like phasing. Reich states that the piece is “to have one performer remain fixed, repeating the same basic pattern throughout, while the second moves abruptly, after a number of repeats, from unison to one beat ahead, and so on, until he is back in unison with the first performer.” Clapping Music is intended for performance in a large space where the echoes and reverberations of the clapping create “a surrounding sensation of a series of variations of two different patterns with their downbeats coinciding.”

Program Note by Justin R. Stolarik

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