Michael Nyman cleans up with washing machine symphony

The celebrated composer describes the commission from washing machine makers Samsung as 'unusual, bonkers and challenging'


Michael Nyman, the composer best known for his minimalist orchestral contributions to films such as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, The Draughtsman's Contract and The Piano, brings his offbeat genius to a different sort of film next week.

Washing Machine – The Movie premieres at the Cineworld cinema in Lonson's Leicester Square on December 5. As the title suggests, the film is a single locked-off shot of the complete wash, rinse and spin cycle of a Samsung QuickDrive washing machine.

Whether you interpret it as part of the new movement for peaceful, contemplative ‘slow cinema’ or a shameless grab for column inches by Samsung’s PR team depends largely on your own preferences.

For Nyman’s part, he sees the work as a belated sequel to Handel’s Water Music. He told The Guardian: “The idea of this intrigued me … putting a score to something so visually repetitive and prosaic. As a film composer you are frequently taking a cue from the drama on screen or interpreting it sonically, but here the challenge was to offset the mundanity and also enhance the hypnotic appeal.”

“I have written a lot of music to manufacturing processes, but this is the most elaborate mechanical, mechanistic film I’ve been involved with. I’m interested in the mechanical process, the way that I create musical cycles which are based on repetition and variation and the correlation between that music and what happens in a washing machine process.

“I really want the music to be heard and I want the music to be loud, so I think with this project it’s man over machine.”

In the interest of balance, though, the East End-born secular Jewish composer concedes that the piece is also “the most unusual, bonkers and challenging request I have had in many years”.

For curious listeners who won’t be able to make it to Leicester Square on December 5, Washing Machine – The Movie will be available to view worldwide via YouTube later this month.

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