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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. For some of the music, especially that which transforms itself according to strict rules, the term "process music" has also been used.

Brief history

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 Learning. 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.


The most prominent minimalist composers are John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young.

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 case.

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 the idea of repetition into minimalism. 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.

Minimalism in pop music

Minimal music is also present in pop music. "Tomorrow Never Knows" by The Beatles is an early example of a piece of music written only in C, making a collage from a drone played on an Indian tambura, a modal tune, bluesy instrumental figures, tape loops, ADT, vocals played through Leslie speakers, distorted close-up miking of instruments, and a psychedelically mystical "outlook." Psychedelic rock acts of the 1960s and 70s used repetitive structures and droning techniques to express the hallucinations of LSD and other drugs in a musical language. Especially Velvet Underground had a close connection with minimal music, caused by the close working relationship of John Cale and LaMonte Young, who strongly influenced Cale as became present in his rockband. Another well-known minimal music example is Pink Floyd's album A Saucerful of Secrets, with the minimal pieces "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", "Careful with That Axe, Eugene", and "A Saucerful of Secrets".

The later progressive rock, experimental rock, art rock, krautrock and avant-prog genres also began exploring minimal music techniqus as a musical expression, The Soft Machine, King Crimson, Brian Eno. No Wave artists like Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca made musical pieces based on minimal music structures, like for instance Chatham's Guitar Trio (1977). In the 80s alternative rock, shoegaze, post rock and similar genres, some bands like Spacemen 3 Spiritualized, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky used minimal music as their fundamental song structures instead of the regular verse-chorus-verse patterns Another band mainly focused on drone and minimal music as well as noise is Experimental Audio Research

Following the minimal electronic music of Brian Eno and the krautrock band Tangerine Dream, the nineties electronic dance music was largely influenced by minimal music and based on instrumental repetitive structures. Genres like Trance, Minimal techno, ambient. Well-known examples are The Orb, Orbital and Aphex Twin.

Minimalist style in music

Leonard Meyer described minimalist music in 1994:
Because there is little sense of goal-directed motion, [minimalist] music does not seem to move from one place to another.
Within any musical segment there may be some sense of direction, but frequently the segments fail to lead to or imply one another.
They simply follow one another.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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'. 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. 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.

Gann has further argued that the modernist 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.

Minimalist composers

Notable composers

Notable minimalist composers include:

Contemporary composers

Other more current minimalists include:

Mystic minimalists

A number of composers showing a distinctly religious influence have been labeled the "mystic minimalists", or "holy minimalists":

Precedent composers

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 1949 Monotone Symphony (formally The Monotone-Silence Symphony, conceived 1947–1948) is an orchestral 40-minute piece whose first movement is an unvarying 20-minute drone and the second and last movement a 20-minute silence, predating by several years both the drone music works of La Monte Young and the "silent" 4'33" of John Cage.
  • 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.


See also



Notes

  1. Bernard 1993, 86–87.
  2. Johnson 1989, 5.
  3. Potter 2001; Schönberger 2001.
  4. Bernard 1993, 87 and 126.
  5. http://books.google.com/books?id=UVJDvitqIvIC&pg=PA134&dq=%22tomorrow+never+knows%22+tambura
  6. http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/tnk.shtml
  7. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/481546/psychedelic-rock
  8. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:aifqxqw5ldfe~T1
  9. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=77:4437
  10. http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,,271068,00.html
  11. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=77:2682
  12. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:jnfrxqqgldfe~T1
  13. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=77:2643
  14. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=77:11069
  15. Meyer 1994, 326.
  16. MacDonald 2003, .
  17. Gann 1997, 184–85
  18. Nyman 1974, 133–4
  19. Gann 2001.
  20. See sources and recordings at the Yves Klein article.
  21. La Monte Young, 2000, sourced at the Drone music article.


Sources

  • 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
  • Meyer, Leonard B. 1994. Music, the Arts, and Ideas: Patterns and Predictions in Twentieth-Century Culture, second edition. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-52143-5
  • 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.
  • Potter, Keith. 2001. "Minimalism". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers; New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music.
  • Schönberger, Elmer. 2001. "Andriessen: (4) Louis Andriessen". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers; New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music.
  • 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.


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