Masterpieces of Minimalism

Masterpieces of Minimalism

Masterpieces of Minimalism


George Grella

Illustration by

Jess Ebsworth

October 10, 2022

Its simple to consider minimalism as solely the music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, however the phrase additionally encompasses portray and sculpture and architectureand past. Visible artists like Sol Lewitt and Donald Judd used easy supplies and configurations; theater director Robert Wilson designed stagings with gradual actions in austere settings, whereas musicians from Morton Feldman to Arvo Prt labored with the naked minimal of plain phrases and rhythms. Paradoxically, minimalist works throughout all mediums are sometimes maximal in bodily measurement and scope, and length. Obscuring definition and elegance, Judd, Reich, and others lengthy objected to the time period itself.

Minimalism was by no means an ideology, and it emerged virtually spontaneouslyone of these mysterious, complicated cultural shiftsin the center of the Twentieth century. It turned, after the actual fact, a necessary a part of the historical past of classical music. However not solely did the classical music world reject it for greater than a decade, the type itself started each contained in the classical custom (Glass and Reich) and out of doors it (La Monte Younger and Terry Riley). In a technique or one other, every of those 4 foundational composers have been impressed by non-Western musical and philosophical concepts. Working from totally different private aesthetics and musical backgrounds, they ended up sharing a elementary idea of prolonged repetition whereas utilizing it in vastly totally different kinds.

And what kinds! Minimalism has been one of the vital highly effective forces in all of music during the last 50 years. Glass has scored Koyanisqaatsi (1982), Candyman (1992), and different movies and produced albums for the new-wave band Polyrock; the Orb sampled Reichs Electrical Counterpoint for Little Fluffy Clouds; Reich and Glass and Meredith Monk have been handled to remix albums; Terry Rileys In C is performed by each sort of ensemble possible around the globe; and on Metallic Machine Music, Lou Reed acknowledged La Monte Youngs drone ideas. Not solely are these composers nonetheless energetic, however the next post-minimalist generations of musicians proceed to increase the type.

The very best clarification of minimalism nonetheless belongs to Reich and his brief essay Music as a Gradual Course of, printed in Supply journal. Reich wrote that the method itself decided note-to-note occasions, which in flip created construction; that he needed to listen to the method taking place in music, and that the expertise needs to be like putting your toes within the sand by the oceans edge and watching, feeling, and listening to the waves step by step bury them. The waves might be sturdy or light, they’ll are available fast sequence or at a leisurely tempo, however the concept of course of is similar every time with every bit of music. And course of is the factor; minimalist music (earlier than Glass and Reich moved towards opera and textual content items) isnt about something and has no particular aim apart from to start out and cease and fill the area in between with experiences.

Here’s a choice of some masterpieces of minimalismsome well-known, some obscureavailable on Bandcamp.

S Percussion
Steve Reich: Drumming

The method that Steve Reich used within the first main stage of his profession was a way he known as phasing: taking two totally different patterns of music and shifting them out and in of part with one another. This culminated in what’s arguably nonetheless his magnum opus, Drumming, a 75-80 minute work for percussion, singers/whistlers, and piccolo. Beginning with the only attainable beat, the gamers add devices and rhythms, one concept surpassing one other, just like the waves in Reichs metaphorical ocean. The preliminary starkness grows to be sonically lush and shining. That is process-as-life: plant the seeds, see the climate change, bask within the abundance.

Philip Glass
Music in Twelve Components

Like Reich, Philip Glasss definitive demonstration of his type and course of got here comparatively early in his profession, properly earlier than his fame. Music in Twelve Components is among the most maximal minimalist worksa full efficiency can take greater than 4 hoursand got here from a time when, like Reich, Glass had solely his hand-picked ensemble to work with. Along with his thoughts on the legacies of composers like Mozart and Bruckner, this piece is a mesmerizing exploration of gradual transformation utilizing the standard instruments of counterpoint and concord. Some components are gradual; some are frenetic; all have that particular Glass sound that mixes organ, reeds, flutes, and voice and compresses each half right into a Sol Lewitt-like floor.

Bang on a Can
In C

Reich and Glass have been by no means removed from the classical custom, whereas Terry Riley and La Monte Younger have been very a lot outsiders. In C isn’t just minimalist in type however avant-garde in how its organized. Any variety of musicians can play it, and the devices dont matter; it has been performed by orchestras, rock teams, artist collective Brooklyn Raga Large, and on modular synthesizers. Primarily based round a repeated C notice, every musician has the identical set of 53 brief phrases that they play any variety of occasions, although in a prescribed order (they’ll select to skip any). It premiered on the vital San Francisco Tape Music Heart, performed by an ensemble that included Reich and Jon Gibson, a long-time member of Glass ensemble. It was additionally recorded and launched on Columbia Data in 1968 and was a preferred success, making it not simply an vital work however a necessary artifact of minimalism in common tradition.

La Monte Younger
The Effectively-Tuned Piano within the Magenta Lights 87 V 10 6:43:00 PM 87 V 11 1:07:45 AM NYC

Younger labored from a really totally different concept of minimalism and course of music, however one nonetheless linked to the general motion within the arts. The place Reich, Glass, and Riley typically use a fast pulse and plenty of exercise, Younger slows issues down and opens up area for improvisation. The music is, in vital methods, a path by which the performer and listener discover some sort of enlightenment or contact a mystical expertise. Balancing repeated items and freedom, that is once more maximalist music. A efficiency can last as long as six hours, with artist Marian Zazeela enhancing the occasion along with her work The Magenta Lights. A really particular and important characteristic is that the piano is tuned to a variation on simply intonation, primarily based on the pure overtone collection (Younger has additionally adjusted the tuning by the years), giving the piano a sensual glow that helps separate the listener from the on a regular basis world.

Nicolas Horvath
Tom Johnson: An Hour for Piano

Tom Johnson is a composer who additionally spent a dozen years as a music critic for The Village Voice, the place he not solely heard minimalist music because it was starting however was one of many first to use the phrase minimalism to what he was encounteringhe additionally gladly used it to explain his personal work. He bases his personal course of in rigorous logic, like in his The Chord Catalogue, which accurately catalogs attainable chord configurations on the piano, and has collaborated with a number of mathematicians. An Hour For Piano is simply thatan hour of music on the piano. The repeated, easy melodies and left-hand counterpoint transfer out and in of minor and main keyslovely, mesmerizing, and satisfyingand Johnsons personal liner notice to the listener is a prose model of his music, circling again on itself, returning the identical concept in a barely various context, lulling and charming the thoughts.

R. Andrew Lee
Dennis Johnson: November

Few concepts come out of nowhere. La Monte Younger went to UCLA, the place he was buddies with Dennis Johnson, who wrote November, a bit that was Youngs acknowledged inspiration for The Effectively-Tuned Piano. The piece was unknown for many years; Johnson made a cassette recording in 1962 after which deserted music and have become a mathematician. Composer and musicologist (and in addition a one-time Village Voice critic) Kyle Gann used that cassette and 6 pages of the rating to create a full realization, first recorded right here by R. Andrew Lee. November has a equally measured tempo, sense of magnificence, and length to The Effectively-Tuned Piano, however is pure course of music; all about how one easy concept transforms slowly by time into one other after which builds. It has a number of the sonic qualities of Satie, although a really totally different expressive high quality and a full hear might be emotionally wrenching and cleaning.

Wild Up
Keep On It

Julius Eastman is one other musician whose work was primarily misplaced for many years. He was an vital determine within the new music scene in New York as a composer, performer, and conductora dwelling bridge between the excessive modernism of classical music, the revolutionaries of minimalism, and the downtown scene that was bringing collectively pop, rock, jazz, funk, and punk, typically utilizing minimalism because the frequent thread. He by no means had sufficient skilled alternatives and suffered from what appeared to be, on the very least, extreme melancholy compounded by drug use. He was evicted from his condo and lived in Tompkins Sq. Park for a time earlier than dying on the age of 49, alone, in a hospital in Buffalo. What he left behind was music that was typically political however all the time stuffed with explosive power, and like his friends (particularly Riley), used small musical concepts that the musicians pursued by to the top. This efficiency of the exuberant Keep On It has all the enjoyment contained in Eastmans work, tinged with a deeply poignant conclusion.

Piano Duo Jeroen en Sandra van Veen
Canto Ostinato

Minimalism started in America however turned a global type that was tailored and superior by musicians like Michael Nyman and Louis Andriessen. In 1976, 5 years after Reich completed Drumming, Simeon ten Holt accomplished Canto Ostinato, one of many best minimalist compositions. It may be performed by any variety of devices, so long as they’ll play chords (its often performed on keyboard devices or tuned percussion). Like a number of different works already talked about, it makes use of a lot of small items of music that the gamers can repeat any variety of occasions (there are additionally a number of particular bridges used for transitions). At a gradual tempo, a efficiency can final from an hour or so as much as, conceivably, a full day. These theoretical particulars are the least of it; that is an astonishingly lovely and lyrical piece of music, with an irresistible circulate and shifting tonal harmonies that resolve into nice vistas, like gliding by countless fields of sunflowers.

Laurie Anderson
O Superman

Laurie Anderson ought to by no means have been well-known. An artwork world determine and experimental musician, her minimalist and irreverent O Superman by some means discovered its approach onto repeated airplay on BBC radioan unlikely end result for a bit written off the again of an aria from a Nineteenth-century opera. But the allure and luminosity of the music are there for everybody, and it reveals how minimalism pares down music to the fundamentals of a beatrhythm, repetition, and adjustments by timethen builds them again up. These components attraction throughout the globeno marvel then that minimalism spans eras and genres.

Elodie Lauten
Variations on the Orange Cycle

If minimalism has a barely hazy definition, so does post-minimalism. Apart from coming after minimalism, what’s it? O Superman is one marker, with minimalist repetition and course of put into a special contexta tune, say, or an improvisation, one part of a bigger piece. One other truthful approach to have a look at post-minimalism is the second technology of minimalist composers studying from the earlier one and including their very own private touches. Each are methods to hear to a different sadly obscure composer who died too early. Elodie Lauten made vital works for the stage, like The Loss of life of Don Juan, and in addition the keyboard, the place her music has a contact of each Riley and Younger in its mixture of repeated concepts and improvisation. Variations on the Orange Cycle started as an improvisation, recorded and transcribed for others to play. Its meditative, bluesy, and reins in free passages with the insistent name of a single, repeated notice.

Yo Shakespeare

The usual-bearers of post-minimalism are Bang on a Can composers Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe. Every has produced actual masterpieces of the period, and Yo Shakespeare is among the most vital, with shifting slabs of complicated rhythms that, in the event that they werent from a composer, can be known as rock music. The buildings are mind-blowing and the perspective is ass-kicking, up to date classical music that offers away nothing by way of complexity however is for everybody. This can be a virtuosic efficiency from Icebreaker, a part of an album that’s an absolute basic of Twentieth-century music and that features items from Andriessen, Gavin Bryars, and Langs haunting Sluggish Motion.

Galen Brown
God Is A Killer

Galen Brown needs to be higher identified. Hes a considerate composer who has written an vital paper on minimalist and post-minimalist music, and he makes use of the gripping and propulsive really feel of minimalism to painting open-eyed views of fraught conditions on this planet, like within the existential drama of And Carthage Should Be Destroyed. He is also adept with music manufacturing expertise and makes use of it the identical approach that rock and pop producers do. Nowhere is that this higher heard than this beautiful, chilling, shifting piece for piano with a taped, fiery Christian sermon that’s synched and Auto-Tuned to the rhythms and harmonies of the rating. There are only a few issues that may forcefully categorical each conflicting and ambiguous feelings like music, and there are few items of music which can be as powerfully conflicting and hypnotically ambiguous, and complicated as God Is A Killer.

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