Tuesday, February 08, 2011


“Clapping Music” (1972) was minimalist musician Steve Reich's attempt to write a piece of music requiring nothing but the human body – the performance, the music itself, was composed entirely of two performers that hand-clap. According to Dr. Justin R. Stolarik, who can be seen performing “Clapping Music” in the video below, Reich’s first attempt at translating phase technique from recorded tape loop to live performance was his 1967 “Piano Phase,” written for two pianos. “In Piano Phase,” says Stolarik, “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.” In “Clapping Music” the precision and the imprecision of the human body are set in opposition, the rhythmic capability turning two hands (or four, actually) into the musical instruments themselves. Reich intended for the piece to be performed in a large space where the echoes and reverberations of the clapping would collaborate to create, as Stolarik describes it, "a surrounding sensation of a series of variations of two different patterns with their downbeats coinciding."

Dr. Stolarik's University of Texas at Austin DMA 2 Solo Percussion Recital, entitled "An Unconventional 20th Century Retrospective."

Which is a lot of fun, especially if you’re a very serious musicologist. But what’s even more fun is that now some madcap mash-up genius has taken the snazziest PC audio and image editing technology and put it to the kind of use that is guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of simple folk like you and me. Behold the awe-inspiring video below, in which Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music” has been expertly, brilliantly synchronized to a bit of cutting-edge film noir tough stuff from the eye of John Boorman and the hands, wrists and upper bodies of Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin. The movie is, of course, Point Blank, and this is Point Blank as you have never seen it before, a marriage of rhythmic theory, the percussive collision of images and insinuating, sexually charged violence. What’s curious about this, beyond its immediate appeal as an audio-visual stunt, is how well this kind of extremist editing strategy folds into Boorman’s own rather irreverent attitude toward the basic tenets of classic editing in his movie. So then, here’s a mash-up with style that is itself a sort of manic extension of the cool, jagged style of the original piece. And a great bit of fun too, February’s Funk Decimator for sure!


Many thanks to Patrick Robbins for starting my day off right and pointing me to this mesmerizing clip!


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