Blood and Echoes: The Story of Come Out, Steve Reich’s Civil Rights Era Masterpiece

“On a spring day in 1964, police in Harlem’s 32nd precinct tried to beat a confession out of two black teenagers for a crime they did not commit. The young men, Wallace Baker and Daniel Hamm, were repeatedly bludgeoned with billy clubs while in custody, beaten with such force that they were taken to a nearby hospital for X-rays. In an interview at the nearby Friendship Baptist Church a few days after the incident, the 18-year-old Hamm recounted being brutalized in shifts by six to 12 officers over the course of the night, along with the fact that ‘they got so tired beating us they just came in and started spitting on us.’ But even after hours of abuse, the cops weren’t about to allow Hamm to be admitted for treatment, since he was not visibly bleeding. Thinking fast, Hamm reached down to one of the swollen knots on his legs where the blood had clotted beneath his skin: ‘I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.’ Those 20 words, spoken by a young man who would unjustly remain in prison for nine years, still land like a truncheon. And utilizing just that one sentence, composer Steve Reich made one of the most visceral pieces of music of the 20th century. This month marks the 50th anniversary of Come Out, which made its live debut on April 17, 1966. In a small way, the piece helped bring about justice for Hamm and other victims of police brutality. It also established the heretofore-unknown Reich as one of the most adventurous modern American composers and became a touchstone of avant-garde and electronic music of all calibers. And now, with the increased scrutiny being brought to bear on police brutality in minority communities, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the vast American carceral state, Hamm’s voice echoes through other names that have recently come into our consciousness: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland. As looped by Reich, the phrase ‘come out to show them’ anticipates powerful hashtags like #ICantBreathe and #SayHerName. For better and worse, the story of Come Out—its unlikely genesis and its aftermath—still resonates. …”
Pitchfork (Video)
W – It’s Gonna Rain
W – Come Out

Steve Reich, with a phase-shifting pulse gate, photographed in New York in 1969.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Black Power, Civil Rights Mov., Music and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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