I’m in my kitchen tonight listening to Radio 3 Live in Concert and messing about on the internet. One of my favourite ways to pass an evening.
Tonight’s programme is an evening of music by the master of minimalism, Steve Reich. The highlight is a world premiere of of his new piece, Radio Rewrite, inspired by the music of Radiohead. To begin the programme, Reich himself took to the stage to perform Clapping Music, a piece written in 1972 for two performers.
Reich, shown on the right, performs Clapping Music (1972) with percussionist and professor Russell Hartenberger.
Steve Reich went to Ghana in 1971 to study African drumming and began to experiment with the African bell pattern. Instead of phasing, one performer claps a basic rhythm, a variation of the fundamental African bell pattern in 12/8 time, for the entirety of the piece. The other claps the same pattern, but after every 8 or 12 bars s/he shifts by one eighth note to the right. The two performers continue this until the second performer has shifted 12 eighth notes and is hence playing the pattern in unison with the first performer again (as at the beginning), some 144 bars later. The variation of the African bell pattern is minimal; it contains just one additional beat. However, this minimal addition results in a much more interesting piece from the point of view of the variation of syncopation as the piece progresses.
The next video is of Baka people from the Cameroon playing water drums. Water drums consist of hitting, pressing, moving and stirring water with the hands or other parts of the body by repeating indefinitely (with possible micro-variations) different rhythmic patterns which, once they are combined together, create a continuous, regular base. Called likuende by Cameroonian Baka and èkonda by Gabonese Baka, water drums are a kind of musical and recreational activity primarily, if not exclusively, performed by women in streams and ponds of the rainforest. Standing in water up to their waists, women bend forward and “play” water with both straight and circular movements of their forearms, therefore producing the above-mentioned rhythmic patterns.
A musical digression. The first time I heard the Baka water drumming, it reminded me of the intro to La Femme d’Argent by Air. At first there is running water and the opening beat sounds just like the one played by the Baka women.
You can listen again to tonight’s concert on BBC Radio 3 here.