Minimalist music

Minimalist music

Minimalist music is an originally American genre of experimental or Downtown music named in the 1960s based mostly in consonant harmony, steady pulse (if not immobile drones), stasis and slow transformation, and often reiteration of musical phrases or smaller units such as figures, motifs, and cells. Starting in the early 1960s as a scruffy underground scene in San Francisco alternative spaces and New York lofts, minimalism spread to become the most popular experimental music style of the late 20th century. The movement originally involved dozens of composers, although only four—Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and, less visibly if more seminally, La Monte Young—emerged to become publicly associated with it in America. In Europe, its chief exponents were Louis Andriessen, Karel Goeyvaerts, Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, Steve Martland, Henryk Górecki, Arvo Pärt, and John Tavener. The term "minimalist music" was derived around 1970 by Michael Nyman from the concept of minimalism, which was earlier applied to the visual arts. [Bernard 1993, 86–87.] For some of the music, especially that which transforms itself according to strict rules, the term "process music" has also been used.

Brief history

title=The Other Side
description=From the Gattaca soundtrack by Michael Nyman
The word "minimalism" was first used in relation to music in 1968 by Michael Nyman in a review of Cornelius Cardew's piece "The Great Digest". Nyman later expanded his definition of minimalism in music in his 1974 book "Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond". Tom Johnson, one of the few composers to self-identify as minimalist, also claims to have been first to use the word as new music critic for "The Village Voice". He describes "minimalism":

The idea of minimalism is much larger than most people realize. It includes, by definition, any music that works with limited or minimal materials: pieces that use only a few notes, pieces that use only a few words of text, or pieces written for very limited instruments, such as antique cymbals, bicycle wheels, or whiskey glasses. It includes pieces that sustain one basic electronic rumble for a long time. It includes pieces made exclusively from recordings of rivers and streams. It includes pieces that move in endless circles. It includes pieces that set up an unmoving wall of saxophone sound. It includes pieces that take a very long time to move gradually from one kind of music to another kind. It includes pieces that permit all possible pitches, as long as they fall between C and D. It includes pieces that slow the tempo down to two or three notes per minute. [Johnson 1989, 5.]

The most prominent minimalist composers are John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young. Listen
filename=Philip Glass-Naqoyqatsi.ogg
title=Music by Philip Glass
description=From Naqoyqatsi by Philip Glass
The early compositions of Glass and Reich tended to be very austere, with little embellishment on the principal theme, and written for small instrumental ensembles (of which the composers were members), made up, in Glass's case, of organs, winds—particularly saxophones—and vocalists, in Reich's case with more emphasis on mallet and percussion instruments. (These works are scored for any combination of such instruments: one piece by Reich, the aptly named "Six Pianos", is scored just so.) Adams' works have most often been written for more traditional classical forces: orchestra, string quartet, even solo piano.

The music of Reich and Glass drew early sponsorship from art galleries and museums, presented in conjunction with visual-art minimalists like Robert Morris, in Glass's case, and Richard Serra, Bruce Naumann, and the filmmaker Richard Snow, in Reich's. [Bernard 1993, 87 and 126.]

Early development

Musical minimalism had its origins in both conceptualism and twelve-tone music.

In 1960, Terry Riley wrote a string quartet in pure, uninflected C major. In 1963 Riley made two electronic works using tape delay, "Mescalin Mix" and "The Gift", which injected into minimalism the idea of repetition. Next, Riley's 1964 masterpiece In C made persuasively engaging textures from repeated phrases in performance. The work is scored for any group of instruments. In 1965 and 1966 Steve Reich produced three works—"It's Gonna Rain" and "Come Out" for tape, and "Piano Phase" for live performers—that introduced the idea of phase-shifting, i.e., allowing two nearly identical phrases or sound samples at slightly differing lengths or speeds to repeat and slowly go out of phase with each other. Starting in 1968 with "1 + 1", Philip Glass wrote a series of works that incorporated additive process (form based on sequences such as 1, 1 2, 1 2 3, 1 2 3 4) into the repertoire of minimalist techniques; these works included "Two Pages", "Music in Fifths", "Music in Contrary Motion", and others. By this point, the minimalist style was in full swing.

Minimalist style in music

Peter Schickele, in an episode of "Schickele Mix" dedicated to minimalism, traced its origins to ostinati in the work of Johann Sebastian Bach and Henry Purcell.

Some of these traits have precedents in the history of European music—Richard Wagner, for instance, opened his opera Das Rheingold with several minutes of static tonality on an E-flat chord, with a linear crescendo of figurations.

Consonant harmony is a much noted feature: it means the use of intervals which in a tonal context would be considered to be "stable", that is the form to which other chords are resolved by voice leading. In minimalism this function of stability is ignored.Fact|date=May 2008

Another trait of the minimalist movement established at an early point in time is the use of "phase" in consonant context to provide variety.Fact|date=May 2008 A famous example is Terry Riley's "In C" which gives musicians fragments of music which they are to play at their own pace until they stop. The resulting texture varies with the different choices that performers make.

This means that the "texture" of much minimalist music is based on canonic imitation, exact repetitions of the same material, offset in time. Famous pieces that use this technique are the "number" section of Glass' "Einstein on the Beach" and Adams' "Shaker Loops".

Over time minimalist composers adopted more and more chromatic material for repetition, for example Philip Glass's "Symphony No. 2", and the operas of John Adams. There was also an increasing movement to incorporate found sounds, tape, electric or electronic sources of music.Fact|date=May 2008 Minimalism in classical music often cross-fertilizes with popular experimental music, such as the work of Brian Eno and Mike Oldfield, as well as electronica and house, where DJs layer different recordings on top of each other without regard for their source.Fact|date=May 2008

The development of minimalist music proceeds as a movement which was consciously aware of its being a post-serialist movement in music, drawing from the use of silence and layering in Cage, but seeking a more melodic basis for its materials.Fact|date=May 2008

These traits were also the feature of composers who rejected 20th-century chromatic harmony for other reasons, often liturgical or religious. These composers often went back to Medieval and early Renaissance harmony and practice more deliberately, producing works which had more formally worked-out canonic imitation in a modal rather than tonal context. An early exponent here was the American Alan Hovhaness (in his works of the 1940s and 1950s), and more recently Arvo Pärt has done similar things in his work.Fact|date=May 2008

Minimalism is sometimes associatedweasel-inline|date=May 2008 with an ideology that justifies the moving away from the greater complexity of modernism by arguing from the point of view of postmodernism. Specifically, postmodernism statesweasel-inline|date=May 2008 that progress in music is illusory, and therefore there is no need to have ever more advanced and complex systems of composing, that the purpose of minimalist music is repose, rather than "western" style development, and that minimalism embodies more "eastern" values of meditation, trance and concentration.Fact|date=May 2008 Philip Glass specifically argues that there has been a disintegration of the concept of "high" and "low" music, and that music of this movement is important because it allows incorporation of, and dialog with, popular styles in a way that previous music did not.Citequote|date=May 2008 These arguments are far from universal among listeners, composers and performers of minimalist music, but are commonly citedweasel-inline|date=May 2008 in the struggles for performance, attention and acceptance of minimalist music.

Minimalist music is frequently used in movie scores and other media to provide a backdrop or mood for a particular scene or opening, or as an episode in a score.Fact|date=May 2008 It has been adopted for sections of work by composers from other styles, including the late work of Lukas Foss.Fact|date=May 2008

There is a branch of British minimalism called systems music in which the note-to-note procedure is determined numerically The term was used informally as a term for all minimalism in the 1980s (due to Michael Nyman's popularity).Fact|date=May 2008

Critical reception of minimalism

Ian MacDonald sums up a common, classical-music traditionalist view that minimalism is the 'passionless, sexless and emotionally blank soundtrack of the Machine Age, its utopian selfishness no more than an expression of human passivity in the face of mass-production and The Bomb'. [MacDonald 2003,Fact|date=March 2008 .] A pulse-rhythm is an artificial substitute for the energy of conviction and its 'effects' due not to any effort from artist or audience, but to a negative process of deliberate self-denial. As a music without focus or hierarchy, it is also without goal or struggle, as inert as the pre-planned corporate lifestyle for which it is the perfect accompaniment.

On the other hand, Kyle Gann, himself a minimalist composer, has argued that minimalism represented a predictable return to simplicity after the development of an earlier style had run its course to an extreme and unsurpassable complexity. [Gann 1997, 184–85] Parallels include the advent of the simple Baroque continuo style following elaborate Renaissance polyphony and the simple early classical symphony following Bach’s monumental advances in Baroque counterpoint. In addition, critics have often overstated the simplicity of even early minimalism. Michael Nyman has pointed out that much of the charm of Steve Reich’s early music had to do with perceptual phenomena that were not actually played, but resulted from subtleties in the phase-shifting process. [Nyman 1974, 133-4]

Gann has further argued that the development of music represented by serialism was a one-sided development that focused on analytical elements and structural innovations often easier to identify in the score than to hear. In Gann's further analysis, during the 1980s minimalism evolved into less strict, more complex styles such as postminimalism and totalism, breaking out of the strongly framed repetition and stasis of early minimalism, and enriching it with a confluence of other rhythmic and structural influences. [ [ Gann 2001] .]

Minimalist composers

Notable minimalist composers include:
*Louis Andriessen (born in the Netherlands)
*David Behrman (born in Austria)
*Barbara Benary (born in the US)
*David Borden (born in the US; and his ensemble Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company)
*Gavin Bryars (born in the UK)
*Joseph Byrd (born in the US)
*Tony Conrad (born in the US)
*Julius Eastman (born and died in the US)
*Ludovico Einaudi (born in Italy)
*Brian Eno (born in the UK)
*Frans Geysen (born in Belgium)
*Jon Gibson (born in the US)
*Philip Glass (born in the US)
*Karel Goeyvaerts (born and died in Belgium)
*Christopher Hobbs (born in the UK)
*Terry Jennings (born and died in the US)
*Douglas Leedy (born in the US)
*Richard Maxfield (born and died in the US)
*Angus MacLise (born in the US, died in Kathmandu)
*Robert Moran (born in the US)
*Phill Niblock (born in the US)
*Michael Nyman (born in the UK)
*Pauline Oliveros (born in the US)
*Mike Oldfield (born in the UK)
*Charlemagne Palestine (born in the US)
*Steve Reich (born in the US)
*Terry Riley (born in the US)
*Howard Skempton (born in the UK)
*Dave Smith (born in the UK)
*Ann Southam (born in Canada)
*Yoshi Wada (born in Japan)
*John White (born in the UK)
*La Monte Young (born in the US)

Other more current minimalists include:
**Nigel Westlake
**Robert Davidson
**Wim Mertens
**Peter Hannan
**Spencer Krug
**Dan Boekner
**Arvo Pärt
**Erkki Salmenhaara
**Yann Tiersen
**Asmus Tietchens
**Peter Michael Hamel
**Hauke Harder
**Matthias Maute
**Hans Otte
**Norbert Walter Peters
**Ernstalbrecht Stiebler
**Harald Weiss
**Walter Zimmermann
**Zoltán Jeney
**László Melis
**László Sáry
**László Vidovszky
**Fulvio Caldini
**Ludovico Einaudi
**Giovanni Sollima
**Jo Kondo
**Yoshi Wada (based in the United States)
**Armands Strazds
**Simeon ten Holt
**Zygmunt Krauze
**Tomasz Sikorski
**Ernesto Rodrigues
*Serbia and Montenegro
**Vladimir Tošić
*United Kingdom
**Joe Cutler
**Bob Dickinson
**Graham Fitkin
**Orlando Gough
**Steve Martland
**Andrew Poppy
**Daniel Patrick Quinn
**Malcolm Rycraft
*United States
**John Adams
**John Luther Adams
**Glenn Branca
**Harold Budd
**Rhys Chatham (based in France)
**Philip Corner (based in Italy)
**Kurt Doles
**Arnold Dreyblatt (based in Germany)
**Paul A. Epstein
**Daniel Goode
**Tom Johnson (based in France)
**Ingram Marshall
**Meredith Monk
**Tim Risher
**Frederic Rzewski
**Wayne Siegel (based in Denmark)

A number of composers showing a distinctly religious influence have been labeled the "mystic minimalists", or "holy minimalists":
*Henryk Górecki
*Alan Hovhaness (the earliest mystic minimalist)
*Hans Otte
*Arvo Pärt
*John Tavener
*Peteris Vasks
*Giya Kancheli

Other composers whose works have been described as precedents to minimalism include:
*Jakob van Domselaer, whose early-20th century experiments in translating the theories of Piet Mondrian's De Stijl movement into music represent an early precedent to minimalist music.
*Alexander Mosolov, whose orchestral composition "Iron Foundry" (1923) is made up of mechanical and repetitive patterns
*George Antheil, whose 1924 "Ballet Mecanique" is characterized by much use of motoric and repetitive patterns, as well as an instrumentation made up of multiple player pianos and mallet percussion
*Erik Satie, seen as a precursor of minimalism as in much of his music, for example his score for Francis Picabia's 1924 film "Entr'acte" which consists of phrases, many borrowed from bawdy popular songs, ordered seemingly arbitrarily and repetitiously, providing a rhythmic counterpoint to the film.
*Colin McPhee, whose "Tabuh-Tabuhan" for two pianos and orchestra (1936) features the use of motoric, repetitive, pentatonic patterns drawn from the music of Bali (and featuring a large section of tuned percussion)
*Carl Orff, who, particularly in his later theater works Antigone (1940-49) and Oedipus der Tyrann (1957-58), utilized instrumentations (six pianos and multiple xylophones, in imitation of gamelan music) and musical patterns (motoric, repetitive, triadic) reminiscent of the later music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass
*Yves Klein, whose 1947 "Monotone Symphony" consisted of a single sustained chord, predating similar works by La Monte Young by several years.
*Morton Feldman, whose works prominently feature some sort of repetition as well as a sparseness
*Alvin Lucier, whose acoustical experiments demand a stripped-down musical surface to bring out details in the phenomena
*Anton Webern whose economy of materials and sparse textures led many of the minimalists who were educated in serialism to turn to a reduction of means.


ee also

*List of minimalistic solo piano pieces
*Process music
*Repetitive music


* Bernard, Jonathan W. 1993. "The Minimalist Aesthetic in the Plastic Arts and in Music". "Perspectives of New Music" 31, no. 1 (Winter): 86–132.
* Bernard, Jonathan W. 2003. "Minimalism, Postminimalism, and the Resurgence of Tonality in Recent American Music". "American Music" 21, no. 1 (Spring): 112–33.
* Cope, David. 1997. "Techniques of the Contemporary Composer". New York, New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0028647378.
* Fink, Robert. 2005. "Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice". Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520240367 (cloth). ISBN 0520245504 (pbk).
* Gann, Kyle. 1997. "American Music in the Twentieth Century". Schirmer. ISBN 002864655X.
* Gann, Kyle. 1987. "Let X = X: Minimalism vs. Serialism." "Village Voice" (24 February): 76.
* Gann, Kyle. 2001. " [ Minimal Music, Maximal Impact: Minimalism's Immediate Legacy: Postminimalism] ". "New Music Box: The Web Magazine from the American Music Center" (November 1).
* Gann, Kyle. 2006. "Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice". Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520229827.
* Garland, Peter, and La Monte Young. 2001. "Jennings, Terry". "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians", edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
* Gotte, Ulli. 2000. "Minimal Music: Geschichte, Asthetik, Umfeld". Taschenbucher zur Musikwissenschaft, 138. Wilhelmshaven: Noetzel. ISBN 3795907772.
* Johnson, Timothy A. 1994. "Minimalism: Aesthetic, Style, or Technique? " "Musical Quarterly" 78, no. 4 (Winter): 742–73.
* Johnson, Tom. 1989. "The Voice of New Music: New York City 1972-1982 – A Collection of Articles Originally Published by the Village Voice". Eindhoven, Netherlands: Het Apollohuis. ISBN 90-71638-09-X.
*Linke, Ulrich. 1997. "Minimal Music: Dimensionen eines Begriffs". Folkwang-Texte Bd. 13. Essen: Die blaue Eule. ISBN 3892068119.
*Lovisa, Fabian R. 1996. "Minimal-music: Entwicklung, Komponisten, Werke". Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
* MacDonald, Ian. 2003. "The People's Music". London: Pimlico Publishing. ISBN 1844130932.
* Mertens, Wim. 1983. "American Minimal Music: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass". Translated by J. Hautekiet; preface by Michael Nyman. London: Kahn & Averill; New York: Alexander Broude. ISBN 0900707763
* Nyman, Michael. 1974. "Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond". London: Studio Vista ISBN 0289701821; reprinted 1999,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521653835.
*Potter, Keith. 2000. "Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass". Music in the Twentieth Century series. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052148250X.
*Schwarz, K. Robert. 1996. "Minimalists". 20th Century Composers Series. London: Phaidon. ISBN 0714833819.
*Strickland, Edward. 2000. "Minimalism: Origins". Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Corrected and somewhat revised version of the original 1993 hardback edition. ISBN 0253213886.
* Sweeney-Turner, Steve. 1995. "Weariness and Slackening in the Miserably Proliferating Field of Posts." "Musical Times" 136, no. 1833 (November): 599–601.

External links

* [ Art of the States: minimalist] minimalist works by American composers, including audio samples.
* [ Art and Music Since 1945: Introduction to Minimal Music] , from Ohio State University's Department of Art Education.
* [ Minimal Music, Maximal Impact] , by Kyle Gann, with a more comprehensive list of early minimalists.

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