Steve Reich’s Clapping Music

Clap clap clapping

Since I don’t have a lot to say about BREAKSOUT right now (it’s just slowly ticking along while I do other stuff like plan teaching), I thought I would mention that Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, an app/’game’ (sadly only available on iOS) is pretty great.

In brief, the app gives you the chance to learn a classic work by Steve Reich which operates by two ‘players’ starting by clapping (tapping) a matching rhythm and then one of the ‘players’ gradually shifting out of rhythm with the other by a beat each time, creating many beautiful and interesting other patterns and rhythms as a result, before eventually going back into time. This is an example of it being done (rather fast!).

That’s pretty much all there is to the app – you can practice specific rhythm-shifts while you get used to the weird feeling of going out of synch with the original pattern. And then you can have a go at completing the entire piece at three different tempos. Like many extremely difficult games (think Super Hexagon), you start off by declaring the task entirely impossible, perhaps mutter something about ‘not having rhythm’ to yourself.

But the task is compellingly simple – you just have to tap a simple pattern out after all – and you find you keep trying. And then suddenly at some point you tap your way through the whole piece, creating and enjoying all those strange ‘other’ rhythms that seemed so out of reach.

The big question for me, having at least managed to play through at the easier two levels, is whether I ‘understand’ the piece rhythmically, or only in a rote sense. I’m not convinced I really feel the rhythm, so to speak, so much as know how to click into different patterns at the right time (as indicated by the interface). I suspect there’s at least another level or two of understanding and ‘feel’ that can be reaching. I’d dearly like to feel as though my tapping/clapping was more clearly knowing of this idea of shifting the beat, rather than simply learning 12 unique patterns and triggering them.

I’ll get there. Cue the applause.

10 August 2015
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