Like any self respecting music producer, you can’t help but be fascinated and influenced by the influence Steve Reich has had not only on contemporary classical music and minimalism but his ripples are felt through electronic dance music too.
Reich’s career has been eulogised elsewhere far better than anything I could contribute, but in short, a great deal of his output concerns with simple rhythmic devices processed in clever ways to superimpose new rhythms on top of each other. Actually that’s doing him a disservice and his incredible use of harmony and orchestration can be heard in many of his works (my personal favourite The Desert Music, for example) and his compositions even border on audio processing techniques such as It’s Gonna Rain and Pendulum Music.
What I want to look at today is his 1972 work for (at least) two musicians, Clapping Music. It evolved from Steve’s desire to write something that did not require any instruments or equipment and inspired by the Flamenco music of Spain. This is a simple rhythmic figure in 3/2 time that is repeated throughout by one performer. The other starts off in time then gradually shifts the placement of beat one by an eighth note at a time. This is a technique Reich called Phasing.
Below is a video by Vulfpeck which visually demonstrates the concept neatly.
So, with that under our belt, I wanted to experiment with the concept myself, using Queens of the Stone Age’s 2000 opener from their Rated R album Feel Good Hit of the Summer. The beauty of this track is the driving bass/guitar ostinato that pulses throughout the song.
I took the first two bars of distorted bass guitar, added it to Ableton Live and proceeded to warp it. I’m working at 154 bpm but the original is slightly faster in places.
The pattern is relatively simple, and while it’s not the same as Clapping Music, I always ending up humming this whenever I hear Reich’s composition and vice versa. The riff just hangs on this low Bb, later joined by the guitar and snare drum.
Here’s Kontakt with some Logic pedalboard and amp sim. I’ve bounced it four times with the metronome so you can hear the downbeats clearly:
If you compare that to Clapping Music, it’s clear to see the resemblance as the pattern is identical for the first six beats, with FGHOTS adding a two beat tag on to Clapping Music. Hard to know if this was an influence during the writing process but I’d hazard a guess that it wasn’t and it’s just a very natural sounding rhythm to us.
I recorded some claps through the pin-hole mic on my mac, so excuse their lo-fi nature. Again this is bounced four times with the click track. Remember we’re in 3/2, not 4/4 now:
I’m reliably informed that this is a pattern not dissimilar to a popular Ghanian bell pattern called Atsiagbekor. You can read more about it here.
The timing was already pretty good but to ensure this sounds as tight as possible it was worth avoiding any doubt. I then copied the track and panned each instance hard left and hard right respectively. On the track panned to the right I copied the clip another 15 times, each time moving the start marker another ⅛ further through the loop.
With each loop colour coded I entered the clip’s Launch Box and added a follow action – each clip would be played four times (2 bars x 4 = 8 bars) then proceed to the next clip in the list. The original Clapping Music plays each figure 8 times but I felt that was a little overkill.
It starts off sounding like a ping-pong delay but once you catch the down beats you can appreciate the new rhythms being superimposed over each other.
I am going to go into detail as to what can be done with the Launch Box and in particular Follow Actions in a later article, but for now you can imagine them like instructions telling clips how to behave, how long to play for and what to do next, including some interesting pseudo-random and chance based possibilities.
If you want to read more about them I would suggest checking the Ableton Live manual out.
To improve on this, something cleaner and more gated/staccato would work better (hence why hand claps sound good) but this has satisfied my need to to this.
With that I was ready to go. The results are below:
All of the rhythms in the video are below:
It’s just occurred to me that (as ever) the excellent Adam Neely has thrown his hat into the ring with this Max Martin Steve/Reich hybrid. Check it out below: