Published Mar 01, 2002Minimalism is one of the more challenging directions to go in music because there is no room to colour or cloud ineptness a composer's skill and use of sound is brought under the microscope and magnified. Minimalism has its roots in musique concrete, the manipulation of pre-recorded sound, a technique pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer, creator of the first electronic music studio in 1948. Minimalism also has roots in the works of John Cage, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, who incorporate sparse sounds, drone and instrumental repetition or tessellation in their pieces. Minimalism is not a concept that is restricted to any one genre and can be found in all styles, from country to hip-hop, rock to electronic music.
Adventurous 20th century composers set the standard and left behind musical legacies that still stand. Minimalism in orchestral composition takes on many forms, including scant use of instruments juxtaposed with silence, drone (playing and sustaining of a single immersive note), and repetition, with slight almost imperceptible changes that take the listener to a different place on an almost unconscious level.
Definitive Recordings: Philip Glass Music in Twelve Parts (Virgin, 1974); Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians (ECM, 1978); Charlemagne Palestine Strumming Music (Newtone, 1975); Phil Niblock Touch Works for Hurdy Gurdy and Voice (Touch, 2000)
House music tracks tend to be minimal by nature since the recordings are used as DJ tools rather than actual songs that stand on their own. The pieces are mixed, layered and beat-matched with other records to not only maintain a seamless flow but to create a new sound through juxtaposition. Minimal house is even more pared down, the divas are stripped away along with all superfluous synthesis and instrumentation, tearing away the flesh and tissue of the track, to just leave the throbbing pulse. Most of this material is a simple loop accompanied by lots of repetition with subtle progressions.
Definitive Recordings: Maurizio Metal Box (Chain Reaction, 1997); Scion Emerge (Chain Reaction, 1995); G-man Kushti (Swim, 1996); Mannequin Lung The Art of Travel (Plug Research, 1998); Plastikman artifakts[bc] (Novamute, 1998)
Its name already epitomises minimalism. No one producer could be said to have started glitch, although Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) famously advised, when making music, to "worship the glitch" Glitch producers allow the accidental pops and crackles on a recording to become part of the music, thus crossbreeding the sound with subtle rhythms and a dub sensibility. This genre has its roots from masters such as King Tubby, Lee "Scratch" Perry (see Timeline, page tk) and the Mad Professor, to whom electronic producers owe an enormous debt. Click-dub focuses more on bass and rhythm lines with scant sounds, if any, over top. Rarely are there any vocals.
Definitive Recordings: Oval Systemisch (Thrill Jockey, 1996); Pole Pole 2 (Matador, 1999); Thomas Jirku Immaterial (Substractif, 2001); Frank Bretschneider Curve (Mille Plateaux, 2001); Vainqueur Elevation (Chain Reaction, 1998)
Minimalism in Post Rock
Made by savvy musicians with big record collections who like to push the boundaries of rock music with an ear for techniques laid out by the avante-composers like Reich and Glass. Post rock musicians extract these techniques and make the sound more accessible or infuse a pop sensibility working wonders with guitar drones, rhythm sections and synthesis. Minimalism in post rock shares strong relations with Prog and Kraut rock, bands like Can and Faust, respectively. It is arguable that the abstract and repetitive elements of repetitive of contemporary club culture has a hand in this music.
Definitive Recordings: Tortoise Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Thrill Jockey, 1998); Stereolab Dots and Loops (Elektra, 1997); Jim O'Rourke Happy Days (Revenant, 1996); Labradford A Stable Reference (Kranky, 1995)