Minimal Music

 

  • MINIMAL MUSIC - INTRODUCTION

    Minimal Music is alongside pop and baroque, thebiggest inspiration for my music. Although the term Minimal Music is considered by virtuallyall composers as inadequate, it is probably here to stay. Philip Glass, for example, talks aboutmusic with repetitive structures instead ofMinimal Music

    Below you'll find an overview of the most important pieces of Minimal Music, followed by some newer pieces by composers who you really want to check out.

      

     

    Minimal Music

    MINIMAL MUSIC - THE BEGINNING

    In the mid sixties, a number of composers made a radical break with the - at that time - verycomplex avant garde. Just as the Spanish architect Gaudi, they returned to the old meaningof the word original back to theorigins, back to the roots, back to the source.

    The grandfather of this movement is the composer La Mounte Young. In 1960 hewrote the primal piece of Minimal Music : Composition 1960 no 7. It is a piececonsisting of two notes that sound together for a long timeYou will hear nothing but the diphthong that is held for a long time. There appears to have been a performance which lasted 24 hours.

     

     

     

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    The three main composers who followed La Mounte Young to a new musical base,were Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. They are the founders of amovement that quickly became known as Minimal Music. It was a term that, likeImpressionism, was taken from the visual arts. Painters such as Frank Stella andRobert Rauschenberg were already known as Minimalists.

     

    All compositions in this new musical movement from the sixties have in common that they are written with a minimum of resources. Each musical element, such asharmony, rhythm, dynamics, or instrumentation, remains the same for the duration of the whole piece, or changes only very gradually. In addition, the maincompositional technique is the continuous repetition.

     

    The use of repetition was not new. In traditional Western music repetition is widely used for a long time as part of a musical development, preferably as adramatic development to a big climax. The Minimal Music breaks with this. Thesecomposers aren't out to build a climax. It also is not about building musical tension and relaxation. There are no contrasts of loud and soft, there are nocontrasts in fast and slow, and there are no contrasts in bombastic or lyrical. After the continuous change in the avant-garde music from the fifties, these composersstrive for a perfect stasis within their music.

    Another feature of the early Minimal Music is the relationship with non-Western music and pop music. Both Riley, Reich and Glass were most strongly affected by influences as Indian raga music, Balinese Gamelan and West African drum music.In addition, the simplicity and the rhythms of jazz and pop music had great influence on these composers.

     

     

    Minimal Music

    MINIMAL MUSIC – TERRY RILEY

    The first essential in thecomposition Minimal Musicwas the piece In C from 1964 by the Americancomposer Terry Riley. The title alone - In C - was a statement. In a period when virtually only atonalmusic was composed, it was very revolutionary to name a piece In C. It was revolutionary to write acomposition which againhad a distinct root.

    In C consists of fifty very short musical motifs. The piece can be carried out with any number of musicians and in any combination of instruments. The musicians have a lot of freedom. Eachmusician can decide for himself when he begins the first motif and how often he repeats it. Then he pauses or he goes straight to the second motif that he playsagain as long as he wants. Because the musicians all take different decisions on the number of repetitions of each motif, they all go at different speeds throughthe piece, resulting in a rolling wave of motives. The performance can take half anhour to up to three hours.

     

    With In C Terry Riley produced his greatest achievement. It is especially thecomposers Steve Reich and Philip Glass both of them Americans, who found alarge audience over the years for their Minimal Music.

     

     

    Minimal Music

    MINIMAL MUSIC - STEVE REICH

     

    Steve Reich was born in 1936 in New York. After studying at the Juilliard School,he studied African music. He also experimented with recorded music on tape recorders. He was particularly interested in making short tape loops so he couldplay musical loops. One day he made two identical loops which he played out simultaneously on two tape recorders. Because one recorder played a fractionfaster than the other, the two fragments were drifting apart, resulting in shifting patterns. Reich was fascinated by this process, and incorperated it, together with influences of African rhythms in his compositions.

     

    An example of this is Piano Phase from 1968. The whole piece consists of a single,repeating bar. The composition is performed by two pianists. The first pianistkeeps the pace right. The second pianist speeds up a tiny bit, as if he were one of the tape recorders. It accelerates continuing until his rhythm again coincides with the first pianist. If all goes well, the pianists play again in the same rhythm, onlythey are shifted one note from another. The second pianist accelerates again untilhe has moved two notes compared to the first pianist. This process continues untilboth pianists are at the same pace again, playing exactly the same notes.


    In 1974 Reich began what would become his most characteristic work, Music for 18 Musicians. In this piece of music many new ideas popped up, even though it refers to earlier work. This was Reich's first attempt at writing for larger ensembles.

      

     

    MINIMAL MUSIC - PHILIP GLASS

    Philip Glass was born in 1937, a year later than Steve Reich. Almost simultaneously with Steve Reich he developed a musical language based on a minimum of resources. The early works of Glass consist of the repetition of short motifs, to which gradually notes were added or removed. A good example is his composition Two Pages from 1968.

     

    Philip Glass developed this simple language very systematically. His first music was monophonic. Gradually he added more voices to it, he added harmony anddifferent instrumental colors. In 1974 he composed Music in 12 Parts, a four-hourpiece, composed of 12 parts, written for 12 instruments. This composition can be considered as the sum of all the compositional techniques that Glass had used in the years before. A journalist called the piece The Art of Repetition, referring toBach's famous The Art of Fugue.

     

    Both Music for 18 Musicians and Music in 12 Parts, can be actually no longerconsidered as Minimal Music. It is true that the musical language is based on the repetition of short motifs, but otherwise there is nothing minimal in this music.For example, the length of the pieces is enormous. Music in 12 Parts lasts almost four hours. Also, many other elements, which were not used in the first years ofthe Minimal Music as harmony, counterpoint and change of tone colors, are back again.

     

     

     

    MINIMAL MUSIC - INFLUENCE

    The influence of Minimal Music is enormous. The language of especially Steve Reich and Philip Glass has become part of a music culture that is very wide.Elements of Minimal Music are everywhere. Film music composers like Danny Elfman, gratefully use techniques of Minimal Music.

     

    In pop music, the influence of minimal music is enormous. Tubular Bells by MikeOldfield would not have been there without the influence of composers like Terry Riley, Philp Glass and Steve Reich. The opening of this famous music from 1973sounds like real Minimal Music.
    Pink Floyd would certainly sounded  different without the Minimal Music. Germansynthesizer artists like Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream took their musical language of Minimal Music. Philip Glass pops up at dancefestivals in House andTrance.

     

    And there are many composers worldwide who use elements of Minimal Music. It goes too far to name all of them. I will mention a few. Marc Mellits is a very active composer in America. He writes music in a repetitive style, but which also has thepower of rock music. This is a short excerpt from his composition Machine IV.

     

    In England, the influence is huge. The composer Michael Nyman (incidentally, theman who coined the term Minimal Music for the first time) has a great status,followed by Gavin Bryars, Steve Martland, and Graham Fitkin.
    From Belgium we know Wim Mertens. In Italy, the pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi makes furore. The composition Canto Ostinato by Simeon ten Holt is the leading composition of Minimal Music in the Netherlands. 
    Minimal Music has become maximal.

     

     

    MINIMAL MUSIC - OTHER COMPOSERS

    These composers (and albums) are among my favourites. 

     

    Giovanni Sollima : Canti Rocciosi

    John Metcalf : The Inner Line

    Sebastian Plano : Arrhythmical Part of Hearts

    Peter Broderick : Float 2013
    Ari Benjamin Meyers : Symphony X

    Mike Oldfield : Hergest Ridge

    Nicolas Lens : Terra Terra

    Marc Mellits : Paranoid Cheese

    Ludovico Einaudi : Time Lapse

    Jeff Hamburg : Schuylkill

    Wim Mertens : Partes extra partes

    Clint Mansell : The Fountain

    William Susman : Scatter my Ashes 
    Matteo Sommacal : The Chain Rules
    Arianis : Somgs from Mirage

    Neil Campbell : Through the Looking Glass

    Francesco di Fiore : Visioni

    Peter Gregson : Lights in the Sky

    Wojciech Kilar : Requiem Father Kolbe
    William Susman : Scatter my Ashes
    Max Richter : Recomposed by Max Richter
    Dominic Frasca : Deviations