WTF?! Wednesdays: Sonic Youth, “Pendulum Music, for 3 or more microphones, amps & loudspeakers” (1999)

I am more familiar with composer Steve Reich’s percussion/phase work — Six Marimbas, Piano Phase, Drumming — than his more out there material. I’d never even heard of “Pendulum Music” until Sonic Youth created a version of it for their Goodbye 20th Century record. Setting aside Yoko Ono’s performance of “Voice Piece for Soprano,” “Pendulum Music, for 3 or more microphones, amps & loudspeakers” stands out as uniquely abrasive and creepy.

Reich’s conception was a piece of music that make the process transparent and removes performer’s role. The composition was related to Reich’s writing on minimalism, “Music As a Gradual Process.”

Two videos are embedded below. The first shows how the swinging microphones feed back as they pass over the amplifiers. The second is Sonic Youth’s version, which manages to be both creepy and funny. It sounds like some sort of multi-horned instrument from Whoville.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.