Kniespiel III

Still from Kniespiel III (1990) by Claus Blume
© Claus Blume, courtesy the artist

Kniespiel III is a classic among the sampling montages. Created shortly after the first mass-produced sampler for electronic music, Kniespiel III was an early attempt at transferring this music montage technique to video and utilizing the potential of video editing – in particular keying and multilayering – as a compositional tool.[1]

The subsequent composition is compiled, on the basis of a 4/4 beat, using samples taken from a very different piece of music, in this case a recording of a Schuhplattler group of Bavarian folk dancers who create rhythms by slapping their leather trousers and the soles of their shoes, clapping their hands, and hitting spoons against one another and against their bodies.

By breaking down the folk music recordings into individual samples, consisting of single slaps, steps, claps, and spoon-tremolos, as well as fragments of individual sounds of an accordion and yodels, Claus Blume provided the material for a new montage. Thus the stamp of the foot replaces the bass drum on the first beat of the bar while a clap replaces the snare on the third beat. The spoon-tremolos make up a continuous sixteenth to thirty-second note beat with the stress on each respective quarter. Other samples have been fed into this raster in such a way that rhythm variations are created that are reminiscent of two-step. The keying of the figure and the detailed recordings of feet, spoons, hands, etc. in front of a white background make the assembled sampling drumset visible. The sound generators are only visible as long as the sound that they produce is audible. Because music always consists of layers of simultaneously audible sounds, when assembling the image, Claus Blume attempted to create an appropriate spatial stacking of the visual elements connected to the sounds. The remarkable thing about this visualization and synchronization is the resulting new video aesthetic that has no equivalent in conventional music clips.

Claus Blume does not shy away from disclosing his source material and at the same time uses this as an opportunity to create a musical climax and cadence. After initially only the rhythm of the fragmented details of the sound generator have been assembled, Claus Blume shows – almost exactly in the middle of the piece – Bavarian folk dancers in full on a stage against a rural background. In this moment the sound is original and unedited. For a brief moment, the protagonists are effectively making the music themselves, only to be assembled immediately afterwards as sampling material to create a structured beat. The sounds of the accordion and yodelers, only briefly audible prior to this revelation can now be heard (and seen) in longer samples, which makes the beat from then on sound less technical and closer to the source material. Finally, Kniespiel III returns to the original recordings and shows the unedited dancing of the three musicians on stage. They yodel and all dance out of the frame to the left; cadence and punchline.

The sampler in the field of music is an instrument that makes it possible to save audio recordings digitally and make them immediately available and adjustable, activated at the touch of a button.