Minimal music

Minimal music is a form of art music that employs limited or minimal musical materials. In the Western art music tradition the American composers La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass are credited with being among the first to develop compositional techniques that exploit a minimal approach. It originated in the New York Downtown scene of the 1960s and was initially viewed as a form of experimental music called the New York Hypnotic School. As an aesthetic, it is marked by a non-narrative, non-teleological, and non-representational conception of a work in progress, and represents a new approach to the activity of listening to music by focusing on the internal processes of the music, which lack goals or motion toward those goals. Prominent features of the technique include consonant harmony, steady pulse (if not immobile drones), stasis or gradual transformation, and often reiteration of musical phrases or smaller units such as figures, motifs, and cells. It may include features such as additive process and phase shifting which leads to what has been termed phase music. Minimal compositions that rely heavily on process techniques that follow strict rules are usually described using the term process music.

The movement originally involved dozens of composers, although only five (Young, Riley, Reich, Glass, and later John Adams) emerged to become publicly associated with American minimal music. In Europe, the music of Louis Andriessen, Karel Goeyvaerts, Michael Nyman, Howard Skempton, Gavin Bryars, Steve Martland, Henryk Górecki, Arvo Pärt and John Tavener exhibits minimalist traits.

It is unclear where the term minimal music originates. Steve Reich has suggested that it is attributable to Michael Nyman, an assertion that two scholars, Jonathan Bernard and Dan Warburton, have also made in writing. Philip Glass believes Tom Johnson coined the phrase.

The exact characterization of this style of music is as difficult as a demarcation against a post-minimalism because of the great stylistic variety. There are a number of stylistic features:

repetitive structures that arise, among other things, through the juxtaposition and constant repetition of the smallest motivic (melodic, rhythmic or harmonic) cells or “patterns”
stable harmony, tonal musical language with many consonances
Additive and subtractive processes: By adding or removing individual notes of the motivic cells, they are changed in their rhythmic structure.
Phase shifts, overlays, shift of emphasis of the motivic cells in different voices create a sound carpet
Continuity and avoidance of stress build-up.
Tone color and density are little changed.
It gives the impression of hearing fragments from a permanent musical continuum.
Extended concept of time: New dimensions in the duration of the pieces – from a few seconds or minutes to hours, days, weeks
positive function of forgetting
In comparison to art music Minimal Music has a rather low harmonic complexity: Minimal Music usually moves in the context of a modal tonality and uses dissonances only very sparingly. The rhythmic element (often polyrhythmic) is strongly emphasized in Minimal Music, it is highly repetitive: A simple basic pattern (Pattern) is repeated over longer periods of time with only slight, often barely perceptible variations, the piece then results from the simple juxtaposition of the variations. If a pattern is played at slightly different velocities at the same time, the effect of phase shifting (phasing) occurs.

Minimal Music has gained considerable popularity as a contemporary music outside of pop music (with which there are some interactions), though not necessarily in the audience of traditional classical music.

Brief history
The word “minimal” was perhaps first used in relation to music in 1968 by Michael Nyman, who “deduced a recipe for the successful ‘minimal-music’ happening from the entertainment presented by Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik at the ICA”, which included a performance of Springen by Henning Christiansen and a number of unidentified performance-art pieces. Nyman later expanded his definition of minimal 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 many 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.

Already in 1965 the art historian Barbara Rose had named La Monte Young’s Dream Music, Morton Feldman’s characteristically soft dynamics, and various unnamed composers “all, to a greater or lesser degree, indebted to John Cage” as examples of “minimal art”, but did not specifically use the expression “minimal music”.

The most prominent minimalist composers are John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young. Others who have been associated with this compositional approach include Michael Nyman, Howard Skempton, John White, Dave Smith and Michael Parsons. Among African-American composers, the minimalist aesthetic was embraced by figures such as jazz musician John Lewis and multidisciplinary artist Julius Eastman.

The early compositions of Glass and Reich are somewhat austere, with little embellishment on the principal theme. These are works for small instrumental ensembles, of which the composers were often members. In Glass’s case, these ensembles comprise organs, winds—particularly saxophones—and vocalists, while Reich’s works have more emphasis on mallet and percussion instruments. Most of Adams’s works are written for more traditional classical instrumentation, including full orchestra, string quartet, and 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 Nauman, and the filmmaker Michael Snow (as performers, in Reich’s case).

Early development
The music of Moondog of the 1940s and 1950s, which was based on counterpoint developing statically over steady pulses in often unusual time signatures influenced both Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Glass has written that he and Reich took Moondog’s work “very seriously and understood and appreciated it much more than what we were exposed to at Juilliard”.

One of the first minimalist compositions was November by Dennis Johnson, written in 1959. A work for solo piano that lasted around six hours, it demonstrated many features that would come to be associated with minimalism, such as diatonic tonality, phrase repetition, additive process, and duration. La Monte Young credits this piece as the inspiration for his own magnum opus, The Well-Tuned Piano.

In 1960, Terry Riley wrote a string quartet in pure, uninflected C major.[clarification needed] In 1963, Riley made two electronic works using tape delay, Mescalin Mix and The Gift, which injected the idea of repetition into minimalism. In 1964, Riley’s In C made persuasively engaging textures from layered performance of repeated melodic phrases. The work is scored for any group of instruments and/or voices. 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, or allowing two identical phrases or sound samples played at slightly differing 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. Glass was influenced by Ravi Shankar and Indian music from the time he was assigned a film score transcription of music by Ravi Shankar into western notation. He realized that in the West time is divided like a slice of bread; Indian and other cultures take small units and string them together.

According to Richard E. Rodda, “‘Minimalist’ music is based upon the repetition of slowly changing common chords [chords that are diatonic to more than one key, or else triads, either just major, or major and minor—see: common tone] in steady rhythms, often overlaid with a lyrical melody in long, arching phrases… utilizes repetitive melodic patterns, consonant harmonies, motoric rhythms, and a deliberate striving for aural beauty.” Timothy Johnson holds that, as a style, minimal music is primarily continuous in form, without disjunct sections. A direct consequence of this is an uninterrupted texture made up from interlocking rhythmic patterns and pulses. It is in addition marked by the use of bright timbres and an energetic manner. Its harmonic sonorities are distinctively simple, usually diatonic, often consist of familiar triads and seventh chords, and are presented in a slow harmonic rhythm. Johnson disagrees with Rodda, however, in finding that minimal music’s most distinctive feature is the complete absence of extended melodic lines. Instead, there are only brief melodic segments, thrusting the organization, combination, and individual characteristics of short, repetitive rhythmic patterns into the foreground.

In popular music
Minimal music has had some influence on developments in popular music. The experimental rock act The Velvet Underground had a connection with the New York down-town scene from which minimal music emerged, rooted in the close working relationship of John Cale and La Monte Young, the latter influencing Cale’s work with the band. Terry Riley’s album A Rainbow in Curved Air (1969) was released during the era of psychedelia and flower power, becoming the first minimalist work to have crossover success, appealing to rock and jazz audiences. Music theorist Daniel Harrison coined the Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile (1967) an experimental work of “protominimal rock”, elaborating: “[The album] can almost be considered a work of art music in the Western classical tradition, and its innovations in the musical language of rock can be compared to those that introduced atonal and other nontraditional techniques into that classical tradition.” The development of specific experimental rock genres such as krautrock, space rock (from the 1980s), noise rock, and post-rock was influenced by minimal music.

Sherburne (2006) has suggested that noted similarities between minimal forms of electronic dance music and American minimal music could easily be accidental. Much of the music technology used in dance music has traditionally been designed to suit loop-based compositional methods, which may explain why certain stylistic features of styles such as minimal techno sound similar to minimal art music. One group who clearly did have an awareness of the American minimal tradition is the British Ambient act The Orb. Their 1990 production “Little Fluffy Clouds” features a sample from Steve Reich’s work Electric Counterpoint (1987). Further acknowledgement of Steve Reich’s possible influence on electronic dance music came with the release in 1999 of the Reich Remixed tribute album which featured reinterpretations by artists such as DJ Spooky, Mantronik, Ken Ishii, and Coldcut, among others.

Surprisingly, Anton Webern, a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg and a member of the Second Vienna School, also influences the minimalist movement. In particular on La Monte Young, who cites the static sections of the Six Bagatelles for String Quartet (1913) and the Symphony, op. (1928) as works having strongly helped make the transition from serialism and minimalism. The fact that Webern is also a major influence in the post-serialism that develops at the same time in Europe, but with radically different musical conceptions, is sometimes identified as “paradoxical” by musicologists.

The American avant-garde
John Cage has a great influence in the birth years of minimalism. The most important composer of the avant-garde and experimental music in the United States, his ideas have repercussions, directly or indirectly, on the work of the minimalists. Some pieces of Cage may seem related to minimalism, including his first compositions, or the famous 4’33 ” dating from 1952, the most minimal composition, since composed only of silence. Cage is, however, very critical of minimalism, and his preferred technique is indeterminacy (or non-intentionality), that is, the use of randomness.In the works or in the process of composition itself, will be strongly rejected by the minimalist.

Non-Western music
In the 1950s and 1960s, Western Europe and the United States discovered non-Western music. These music generally based on modes will have an influence on all the minimalist composers.

Living on the West Coast, La Monte Young discovered Indian music in 1957 on the UCLA campus. He quotes Ali Akbar Khan (sarod) and Chatur Lal (tabla) as particularly outstanding. Indian music will have a decisive influence on Young, especially the discovery of tampoura, which he learns with Pandit Prân Nath. The role of the tampoura bumblebee fascinates Young, and pushes his interest towards long-lasting sounds. Young also recognizes the influence of Japanese music and in particular thegagaku. This influence is exercised in the play considered as the birth certificate of minimalism, Trio for Strings (1958).

Terry Riley discovers the non-Western music during his stay in Europe, particularly the Moroccan music and Indian music, via La Monte Young. He also collaborates with Prân Nath for the album Music from Mills (1986).

The jazz is of great importance to the minimalist. All recognize the influence, and in particular the modal jazz of John Coltrane, the free jazz and Ornette Coleman.

The improvisation is central to Terry Riley, as with La Monte Young. The latter is a saxophonist and has experience of jazz as an instrumentalist, practiced mainly during his high school and university years. In Los Angeles, he played in big bands and in small groups, especially with Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, and planned to devote to jazz. The influence of jazz is clearly visible in his works, especially his sopranino saxophone playingOr his interest in forms of improvisation. Riley is a pianist, and studied ragtime with Wally Rose, and plays for a living while studying at the university and during his stay in France. Riley is also impressed with John Coltrane, which inspired among others learning the soprano saxophone.

For Steve Reich, jazz is also a major influence. Reich is a drummer, and has played in jazz groups at High School and Cornell University. It was extremely influenced by John Coltrane, would see very often in concert, and cites Albums My Favorite Things and Africa / Brass as particularly significant. For Reich, it is unthinkable that his music has been possible without jazz, especially the rhythm, flexibility, and the melodic sense of jazz, which appears to it to be fundamental influences.

Unlike his colleagues, Philip Glass, more exclusively classical music training, did not see jazz as one of his influences, although he acknowledges having been fascinated by the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.

Influences and Position in New Music
Minimal Music incorporates influences from Asian (especially Indian and Indonesian, especially Gamelan) and African music (especially their polyrhythmic), the Notre Dame school of the 12th / 13th century. Century, (free) jazz and certain forms of rock (psychedelic rock). It largely ignores the conventions of composition, as they were in the western (ie essentially European) culture hitherto, especially the conventions of the avant-gardethe 1950s and early 1960s, especially those of the then dominant serial music. Therefore, it is often understood as an antithesis to serialism. It is often vehemently rejected by representatives of this direction, although, for example, La Monte Young theoretically refers to Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern. Often it is also characterized as postmodern music. Starting from Minimal Music, post-minimalism developed in the 1970s.

Influences on Popcultural Music
Many of today’s producers of minimal techno are also in the tradition of minimal music.

The guitarist Dylan Carlson transferred with Earth ideas of minimal music in the context of a rock band and thus founded the Drone Doom.

The minimalist movement
The minimalist movement appeared in the 1960s with the works of La Monte Young and Terry Riley, considered precursors. Steve Reich and Philip Glass will expand their ideas and propose compositional processes that will prove to be very successful.

However, minimalism concerns only part of the works of these composers, and we consider that minimalism as generally defined ends in the mid-1970s. From this date, the composers integrate in fact richer musical elements, more melody and harmony, even counterpoint. The addition of these elements, without deciding with their previous work, brings a clear evolution. Sometimes we talk about post-minimalism, especially for John Adams. Philip Glass explicitly said that for him, minimalism ends in 1974 because of its full involvement in the “musical theater” from that time.

Personalities, sometimes called “minimalist mystics”, such as Arvo Pärt, who appeared in the late 1970s, are not the direct heirs of American repetitives, but are also included under the banner of post-minimalism, or more generally postmodernism..

Post-minimalism and postmodernism
The musical postmodernism is an attitude of rejection against isolation and hermetic post-serialism, postmodern composers claiming miscegenation and the mixture forms a collage technique, borrowing, and the citation. Where post-serialism was to make a “clean slate of the past” in the words of Pierre Boulez, postmodernism takes it as a reference. Thus John Adams considers that his music does not feed on “… not only minimalism, but Alban Berg, Stravinsky, Rock’n Roll, Arabic music, Jewish, etc.”. By its return to melodic and tonal forms, the use of a repetitive language, the recourse to collage and quotation, in all these characteristics minimalism is the most radical current of postmodernism in its break with post-serialism.

Post-minimalism also concerns the minimalist composers of the first hour. After Drumming (1971), Reich adds instrumentation of his pieces, and developed its rhythmic and harmonic methods to more complexity. In the same way, Philip Glass began composing for “musical theater” and opera from 1974, with concerns that moved away from minimalism, particularly the use of harmony as for opera Einstein on the Beach (1976) which marks this evolution. The so post-minimalism minimalism stands out by being less radical and experimental.

The “mystical minimalist ‘
These composers are sometimes grouped and associated with the minimalist movement because of their use of certain principles of composition of this style (repetition, long held sounds, silences, a certain simplicity) and a Christian or spiritual religious influence openly claimed in their lives and in their compositions. Alan Hovhaness is sometimes seen as a forerunner of this trend, but it is mostly Estonian Arvo Pärt, Polish Henryk Górecki, and British John Tavener who are generally associated with the “mystical minimalists”. More broadly, Giya Kancheli and Sofia Goubaïdoulina are sometimes also retained in this branch of minimalism.

Pärt and Górecki’s works are characterized by the use of tonality, a simple musical material often used in a repetitive manner, and a composition influenced by medieval composers and Gregorian plainchant. Both, heavily influenced by the political and spiritual repression in their country under Communist rule, began composing in the 1960s in a style neoclassical before turning to serialism causing their censorship of the authorities. Pärt then turns to a music of silence and contemplation by composing Für Alina (1976), Fratres(1977), and Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), the founding works of this internal movement of minimalism, which will lay the foundations for a specific style that he calls tintinnabulum. This style is characterized by the simultaneous use of two voices, one arpeggio on a tonic triad known as “tintinnabulante” and the other based on a diatonic evolving bass. His work turns towards the almost exclusive writing of sacred music, most often choral, developing a “brightness of songs”. Górecki for his part makes his transition between serial music and sacred minimalism in 1976 especially with the writing of his Third Symphony, which will have a very high profile a few years later in Western Europe and the United States and its international reputation sitting.

Musical description
The set of works classified as minimalist music is far from having a unity of style or having quite identical musical characteristics. Although a classification is always reductive, it is generally accepted that the aesthetics of minimalist music is based on three characteristics:

a return to a “consonant” harmony (even tonal, or modal in some works);
the repetition of sentences, figures or musical cells with or without small gradual variations;
a regular heartbeat.
This, however, includes works with very different profiles, and the use of different musical techniques. Similarly, the works of so-called minimalist composers can not all be considered minimalist, especially the latest works by Steve Reich and Philip Glass, or the early (often non-musical) pieces of La Monte Young.

Between theory and intuition
The pioneers of minimalism Monte Young and Terry Riley experiment with a variety of compositional techniques. The Monte Young produces in particular a wide variety of works: pieces inspired by serialism and Webern, conceptual pieces close to John Cage, improvisation groups inspired by Indian music and jazz, pieces based on his formal research on the natural ranges. Terry Riley is much more empirical, he experiments with tapes, and uses improvisation a lot.

Musical Characteristics

A major concern among the minimalists is the pace. Most compositions have regular pulsation, and are constructed by entanglement of basic rhythmic units. These rhythmic considerations are particularly marked in Steve Reich and are realized through the technique of phase shift. Drumming (1971) marks the culmination of Reich’s fascination with rhythm, expressed by phasing. At Philip Glass, the work on rhythm is present from his first minimalist pieces using his additive process of composition, especially in the 1 + 1 (1968).

The rhythm is the first element systematically analyzed by the minimalist, before future re-integration of harmony and melody.

The first minimalist works are atonal, Young’s Trio for Strings (1958), Riley’s String Quartet (1960), although the extremely slow evolution and low density of notes give an illusion of tone, suppressing almost any movement. Even In C, which is generally regarded as the work of the return to the tonality, is not strictly tonal, but an atonal composition without indication of armor, even though the composition is largely diatonic.

The gradual abandonment of magnetic tapes in favor of acoustic instruments favors the development of harmony. In Steve Reich, from Piano Phase, a tonal or modal profile is established at the beginning of the work, but remains ambiguous. The resulting process diatonicism phasing is not chosen a priori, but rather is required by experience.

Registry and dynamics
In Young and Riley, bass plays a drone role, inspired by Indian music. At Steve Reich, there is no bass, and heights in general belong to the middle register (Piano Phase does not have rating below Mi 4, Phase Patterns below C 4). The lack of low product ambiguities Reich seeks to maintain, while not knowing precisely define. Similarly, minimalists do not use extensive gameplay at all, which is very present in other contemporary music styles.

The shades generally vary very little, if at all. The sound level is often very high, for example in some pieces of La Monte Young, and Glass, where we perceive the influence of rock.

Affordable listening, repetitive music seems falsely easy to perform. Reich’s dephasing processes require a great deal of concentration on the part of the instrumentalists. Similarly, Glass reports that several conductors came unprepared rehearsals realized too late the difficulty of his scores 51. In the absence of the composer’s scores are not always easy to decipher for interpreters, requiring inventiveness at the lack of information or their little clarity.

Links with visual arts

Dance, which by nature has always been closely linked to the musical creations of its time, does not escape the influence of minimalist music, especially around the notion and use of repetition. In a way, the origin of the impact of minimalist music on dance dates back to John Cage’s collaboration with American choreographer Merce Cunningham in the early 1950s when modern dance began. Through him, Cunningham also met Morton Feldman who composed for him music for his innovative choreography as Melodie untitled for Merce Cunningham in 1968. In addition, a group including dancers Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown and composers Terry Riley and La Monte Young formed around Anna Halprin between 1960 and 1962 to perform performances including the Judson Church in New York. However, this is Trisha Brown who further explore the principle of repetition and successive accumulation of choreographic movements during this period of modern dance. Meredith Monk, who is also a dancer, later joins this group where she can combine both her musical research and her choreographic creations in performances oriented towards a more refined movement and a certain spiritual trance.

Plastic arts
Minimalist composers have maintained close relationships with artists, particularly those of the current minimalist and the conceptual art. Steve Reich and Philip Glass had very good friendships with Richard Serra, Sol Le Witt, Bruce Nauman, Michael Snow, or Nancy Graves. Reich writes his essay Music as a Gradual Process (1968) which will be included in the catalog of a major exhibition on minimalism alongside his plastic friends at the Whitney Museumin 1969 and during which he gives, with Glass, concerts. In addition, a work such as Reich’s Pendulum Music, in which Serra, Nauman, and Snow participate as executors, is more about performance than music. Steve Reich recognize a “common position” between the artists and their creations, characterized by the appearance “geometric and metaphorical” of their work but no direct reciprocal influences. He says, “We were just swimming in the same soup.” In 1977, some artists participated in a sale of their works to bail out debts resulting from the installation of Einstein on the Beach of Glass. Finally, Glass was Richard Serra’s full-time personal assistant in 1969. Glass does not make a direct link between his work as a musician and the works of his friends artists.

Recognition and popularity
Minimalism was born as an experimental stream and developed outside the traditional world of classical music. The first concerts are given mainly in art galleries or museums, and must be organized by the composers themselves. It is especially the recordings that will allow a wide diffusion of minimalist music, including to Europe, where the reception is rather good. Moreover, it is Europe that will provide minimalist their first major signs of recognition, with a command of the French state to Philip Glass, and a discography success with unrestricted hearing for lovers of contemporary music, with theby Steve Reich, for the German label Edition of Contemporary Music.

Criticism and Analysis
Extremely strong critics have expressed themselves towards minimalism, mainly from composers or musicologists close to the avant – garde, or philosophers. The American composer Elliott Carter has repeatedly expressed its strong rejection of minimalism and more generally of repetition in music, considered the composer’s death. It is particularly an analogy with advertising, unsolicited, intrusive and repeated ad nauseum. The fascist qualifierwas even used explicitly, as well as the comparison of the use of repetition as a brainwashing method as practiced in advertising or the speeches of Hitler.

Criticism of minimalism is sometimes confused with that of postmodernism. The avant-garde composer Brian Ferneyhough rejects postmodernism, critical and especially John Adams, in which he denounced an absence of ethics related to the non-inclusion of musical culture.

Source from Wikipedia