I have been a fan of so-called minimalist or pattern music for quite a number of years. Since my first encounter with this type of music in the late 1970s I have listened with interest and been fascinated to hear how each composer expressed their own voice within that general rubric. Though many have eschewed the label ‘minimal’ and argued over the alternate label ‘pattern music’ there are recognizable characteristics which continue to bind, however loosely, Perhaps that is just another way of saying that I “know it when I hear it” but I think readers tend to get the general idea and I am open to discussion on what music I should include or exclude from these categories.
Anyway the point of this rambling little post is to introduce a recurring series of posts about my personal discoveries in said genre. You can be assured that I have scoured high and low but lay no claim to being either definitive or comprehensive. What will follow will be an ongoing series of posts identifying the music of one composer or group whose music sounds minimalist or pattern based at least to my ears and which I find pleasing and/or significant in some way. I will head each post with the identifying acronym NAM (Not Another Minimalist!).
The most useful books for me on this subject for me are those by Kyle Gann, Tom Johnson, Michael Nyman, Wim Mertens and Robert Fink. I am listing these as my primary influences and do not mean to discount important works by other writers on the subject. Gann’s ‘American Music in the Twentieth Century'(1997) and the collection of articles, ‘Music Downtown'(2006) remain among the most lucid descriptions and analyses of minimalist music. He also maintains a blog with pretty regular posts at (http://www.artsjournal.com/postclassic/). Gann’s work might not have been possible without the work of fellow composer and journalist Tom Johnson whose collection of reviews, ‘The Voice of New Music’ (1991) is one of the most important collections of reviews of the burgeoning ‘downtown music’ scene in New York in the 70s and 80s where purveyors of this genre first displayed their wares . Both ‘Music Downtown’ and ‘The Voice of New Music’ are collections of reviews of concerts and events written for the Village Voice.
Michael Nyman’s book, ‘Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond'(1974) is among the earliest to describe this music and its context. Wim Merten’s ‘American Minimal Music'(1988) is a great analysis of the essential canon. Unfortunately these have been difficult to find lately and hopefully some reissues including digital formats may be forthcoming.
Robert Fink is a musicologist at UCLA. His book, ‘Repeating Ourselves’ provides one of the most wide-ranging and comprehensive analyses of the concept of minimalism and pattern music. He works across all music genres and cultural practices to identify a sort of minimalist ethic and has done much to shape my thinking in this area.
There are certainly many other fine books on the subject and that itself may need to be the subject of a future post.
I don’t like all music in this category (or any category for that matter) but it is the one which feels kind of like a personal discovery to me and a genre that continues to interest me. And I can report that there is a good deal of music outside the classic canon of minimalism that is definitely worth the effort to find. And there are pieces of music written before the 1960s which appear in hindsight to have been sorts of precursors to this style.
This will be an occasional series of posts and I have decided to gather them under the somewhat facetious acronym of NAM (Not Another Minimalist) for the sake of easy reference should any reader actually find these posts useful. My intent is both to share my discoveries and to generate debate and comment about this type of music. I want to explore and share artistically interesting developments that lie outside the Reich/Glass/Riley/Young canon of minimalism. As always I welcome discussion and feedback.
- “Fatally Attracted to the Complexity of Speech” (artsjournal.com)
- What is minimalism & why I love it (epiphanypiano.com)
- Towards a Definition of Minimalism (samkendallsonicart.wordpress.com)
- On Dennis Johnson’s November (greg.org)
- Musical Genetics 101: A Little Goes A Long Way (wqxr.org)
- “Your Name Here” As Minimalist (artsjournal.com)