Clickbait, Indeed

ClickOne of my student composers was talking today about wanting to write a really simple unpitched percussion piece. I told him about Mary Ellen Childs’s piece Click, for three people playing merely claves in incredibly detailed choreography, which was one of the wildest and most enjoyable performances I ever reviewed for the Village Voice. We looked, and naturally it’s on Vimeo. It’s a total classic, a postminimalist paradigm, up there with Piano Phase and Music in Fifths.


  1. says

    Spectacular piece, and visually mesmerizing – esp. the guy in the middle. Do you know if the movement is indicated in the score, and if so, how?

    KG replies: Never seen the score. Can’t even imagine how she conceptualized it.

    • Michael Holland says

      Mary Ellen’s repertoire for CRASH is generally created as part of a group process. It’s not the result of the composer sitting alone at a desk. The more physical something is, the more it is the product of much experimentation, with gestures, rhythms, particular postures or movements being toyed with and put through myriad variations. Over the course of days, weeks, or longer, parts that work are kept, others discarded. With Click, a composite rhythm will appear in the score accompanied by a description of the action and a short descriptor like “windshield wiper,” to quickly convey the visual impression. With other works, like drum roll, the process is similar but tailored to the nature of the piece. I played with CRASH for many years and continue to work with Mary Ellen on new projects. These are great folks and we stay in touch. (Oh, and MEC is a fabulous chef.)

      KG replies: Thanks for letting us know.

  2. says

    This is terrific. I’d love to read your original review of it.

    KG replies: Susan, I looked around, and I reviewed Mary Ellen several times, all of them before 1997, when the Voice started saving their articles online. It would be a research project to find it at this point. I wish I had grad student assistants. But here’s what I once wrote in Chamber Music magazine:

    “When I was young I had this idea that anyone who was truly musical ought to be able, stranded on a desert island, to make enchanting music with nothing more than two sticks. Whatever the value of the idea, it’s a test that Mary Ellen Childs would pass with flying colors. In fact, the most amazing work of hers I’ve ever witnessed live was exactly that – or rather, it was performed by three people each with nothing more than two wood blocks. The piece was called simply Click, and while I can’t possibly do it justice in description, I’ll try to give you the flavor.
    “Three people stand facing the audience, holding a wood block in each hand. In quick rhythmic unison, they start tapping one wood block with the other. In perfect synchronicity, they begin alternating taps on their own wood block with taps on the right-hand wood block of the person to their left. The left hands of performers 1 and 2 shoot up in the air and tap wood blocks over their heads, then 2 and 3. Never breaking rhythm, they turn toward each other; the middle person holds out his wood blocks as the other two alternate tapping on the top and underneath, tapping now the wood block nearest them and then the other one. All this goes on for ten minutes, a complex and mercurial choreography memorized, with a perpetual motion of 16th notes in continual split-second timing. It’s too quick for them to even watch what they’re doing. The hands shoot up and, as in an expert trapeze act, the other person’s wood block has to be there at that microsecond. When I saw Click at Experimental Intermedia in New York, the entire audience cheered, whooped, and whistled afterward.”

    • says

      Kyle, so pleased you found this and took the time to post it. You describe it very well, indeed, but then that comes as no surprise. It is remarkable to watch, as well as to listen to Click. And I think I may love most of all that you had an idea very much akin to the piece when you were young!

      KG replies: No no, one of my students had a similar idea.