[Pt. II – Proj. 3] ~ Exercise Exploring composition for percussion- Steve Reich’s ‘Clapping Music’

Exercise Exploring composition for percussion

Clapping Music is a simple example of the compositional technique Steve Reich uses in Drumming and other works. The two performers repeat a rhythmic ostinato but gradually move out of synchronisation with each other as the rhythms are subjected to phasing techniques.

Listen to Clapping Music and make notes on the piece. What are your views on the instruments used? Can you hear the rhythmic pattern clearly as the two parts come apart? If not, how soon does the identity of the rhythmic pattern become lost? What is the overall effect of the phasing? How successful do you think the piece is? Give reasons for your responses.

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 do a 12/8 rhythm that is then slightly shifted creating a syncopated rhythm against the first one. I only found out after researching ‘Clapping Music’ that 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 and then started shifting the rhythm one 8th note every eight bars, creating new rhythms as he came full circle. Since the rhythm retains the same time signature and the tempo is steady I don’t actually perceive and 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 in flamenco and therefore quite easy to digest if you are used to listening to other music than Western Art Music. I actually struggle to see the significance of ‘Clapping Music’ and would even go as far as to say there this is a bit of cultural appropriation without anything added or any individual development going on. I like a lot of Reich’s music but pleasant as ‘Clapping Music’ is to my ears I do feel that it is a bit of a rip off.