Listening Log- [Pt. II – Proj. 3] Steve Reich’s ‘Clapping Music’

Steve Reich’s minimalist piece ‘Clapping Music’ (1972)

The first time I heard Steve Reich’s ‘Clapping Music’ I was struck by how similar it was to the use of ‘Palmas’ (handclaps) in a Buleria (type of Flamenco song). The claps in a Buleria are performed by two groups of ‘clappers’ who do a 12/8 rhythm. One group then shifts the rhythm to a different beat creating a syncopated rhythm against the first group.

I only found out after researching ‘Clapping Music’ that Steve Reich had attended a Flamenco performance the night before writing it and that it is entirely based on the same idea. He used a standard African 12/8 bell pattern for clapping rhythm no.1 and then started shifting clapping rhythm no.2 one 8th note every eight bars, creating new ‘combination rhythms’ as he came full circle. Since the rhythm retains the same time signature and the tempo remains steady, I don’t actually perceive any particular phasing effects or loss of rhythmic cohesion. I find it relatively easy to stay with the rhythms since everything remains ‘in time’ and there are no real polyrhythms involved like there might have been in actual African music (where the two different rhythms would have been played in different time signatures). The piece is in fact a simplification of some of the rhythmical components of flamenco and therefore quite easy to digest if you are used to listening to music other from other cultures. I actually struggle to see the significance of ‘Clapping Music’ and would even go as far as to say that Steve Reich is in my opinion guilty of a bit of cultural appropriation here, without necessarily adding anything individual or developing the concept. I should point out that I like and admire a lot of Reich’s music but ‘Clapping Music’, although clever, is to my ears a bit of a rip off.