V/A ~ CLAP. An anatomy of applause

CLAP is the sort of anthology that should come with a book, as the topic is so fertile and easy to understand and yet so infrequently covered.  Why do we clap?  What are the differences between various forms of applause?  What do amplitude, tempo, variation and duration tell us about ourselves and our reactions to events?  Fortunately the album includes copious liner notes, a starting point for further discussion.

Andrea Stillacci and Unsounds invited a host of sound artists to choose a sample of applause and to write a composition around it ~ no other rules.  The artists display a cornucopia of approaches.

Andy Moor’s “Perseverance” is the most accessible piece, drawing the audience into the project.  The track is a rhythmic reordering of the NASA crew as it reacts to a rover landing on Mars.  Updates and announcements produce a level of tension and the landing an explosion of relief.  In contrast, filament-thin sonics are laid atop “27 April 2018” as Ji Youn Kang reflects on the meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea, noting that no progress has been made since.  By muffling the applause, the artist diminishes the initial impact, mirroring the diminishing of expectations.

The briefest piece, Moor Mother’s “Clap Piece,” juxtaposes orchestra and church, the tolling of bells set against the tuning of strings amid a bustle of conversation.  When something is considered holy, should the applause be restrained, or might it still be exuberant?  Eraldo Bernocchi’s approach to “The Solitude of Pens” is more obscured: only the sound waves are applause are used, rather than the clapping.  Even the percussion is culled from waves.  The object is to dissect the mood present when Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring universal education to Pakistan.  Like Moor’s piece, one may even dance while listening, a rescued jubilation.

The oldest recording venue here is the 4th century theatre at Epidaurus.  On “Epefimismós,” Fani Konstantinidou mingles years of Greek recordings to spread layers of applause like sheets of rain, appreciations passed through the ages, a cumulative effect.  This is followed by two of the album’s most emotional pieces.  Yannis Kyriakides folds the voice of Maria Callas’ “Farewell Concert” into “one ecstatic space” with her audience, the singer’s notes wobbling with emotion and time, the attendees knowing they will never hear her again in this way.  Scanner recalls “The Fall, The Freedom,” the unbridled ecstasy as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.  The piece is meant as an encouragement; if such things happened before, they might happen again.

There’s an unusual contrast when one claps for a distressing performance.  Maurizio Bianchi captures this disconnect on “M.B. Claps,” pairing his own initials with those of Madame Butterfly.  (Spoiler alert: the story does not end well.)  In like manner, Terence Hannum filters the sound of applause at a funeral, something one rarely hears, but was present when Pier Paolo Pasolini was put to rest, the applause more powerful because it is unexpected.  Here the applause becomes a drone, a steady witness.  Barbara Ellison starts in like fashion, the tone of “Plauditory Phantoms #01” akin to a flowing river until synchronized clapping emerges, a common phenomenon that Ellison sets against the asynchronous so that each may be examined.

Massimo Pupillo’s “De Profundis for Punk Rock” is another drone, its roots in the applause for The Ramones’ “It’s Alive” at the Rainbow Theatre, London in 1977.  The artist is overcome by emotion, remembering the power of live shows while wondering if they will ever return.  Thankfully, they have.  Pupillo’s piece is a reminder that the pandemic reduced the global amount of communal applause: a loss many may never have noticed, but a loss nevertheless, one that CLAP: An Anatomy of Applause brings to the fore.  While one may clap alone, the experience of mass applause binds humans together, in grief and in joy.  (Richard Allen)


  1. Andrea Stillacci

    Thanks a lot Richard for your time and words. You really understood the intentions and meanings behind this project. Bestest.

  2. Thank you for the great words. Maybe you’d like to mention that the album is now available for on unsounds records: http://www.unsounds.com

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