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The Minimalists

I haven’t posted anything for a while though I have written this post off and on for the past few weeks. I was trying to figure out how it was relevant to anything in particular when it hit me. Last week we mastered The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt! album and while sitting in the mastering lab (cool that they still call it a lab, no?) I was thinking how Phil Glass-ian parts of the album sounded. And I realized that one of the points I am trying to make below is how something that sounds at its most exotic, which is the repetitions in Far East Asian music, slowly moves through society from adventurous and world traveling composers in the 1930’s to young classical composers in the 1960’s to European rock bands in the early 1970’s to now when it is a very normal sounding part and source material for contemporary life and music. And though I mention below the influence the minimalist composers have had, it is perhaps so ingrained in our societal language that someone like Neil Fridd of The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt! doesn’t even think, “Oh this is a Phil Glass or Steve Reich part of my music.” It just is the next part…

Bill Bragin, who works at Lincoln Center, sent out this pretty neat Youtube piece, “In b flat”, and mentioned how it was influenced by Terry Riley and his early seminal piece, “In C” (version of that youtubed below).
By using multiple contributions from Youtube, Darren Solomon from Science for Girls recreates the feeling you get from listening to (or performing) that Riley work.

I went to art school for a year and had an electronic music course where I was exposed to these early minimalist works as well as music from Indonesia. One of the most eye-opening pieces for me was from Bali and was included on a record at that time called Music From the Morning Of the World. One side of the album contained the “Balinese Monkey Chant.” Funnily enough, the Monkey Chant was actually created by two Westerners, German painter and musician Walter Spies and classical composer, Colin McPhee. McPhee, having heard Indonesian music from recordings played for him by one of the inventors of modern music, composer Henry Cowell, moved to Indonesia to fully immerse himself in that culture. He ended up writing the first book on Indonesian music that was so defining the Indonesians themselves used it to study their own music. He and Spies combined a few different existing elements to create the Monkey Chant that is such a well known piece today. McPhee moved back to the United States and for the most part created one seminal orchestral piece based on his love of Indonesian music, “Tabuh Tabuhan”.

I actually started this post because I was thinking how much Steve Reich and Terry Riley have influenced current bands. Those early minimalist pieces that came out at the end of the 1960’s and beginning of the 1970’s were also influencing a small group of musicians at that time, even though they were pretty damn obscure (and there was no internet).

When the minimalists started, they obviously made a big impression on what was mostly the “Krautrock” scene, which included bands like Can Faust, Neu and the UK band, Soft Machine.

The connection between Krautrock and the minimalists was made more obvious for me with an album Faust released with Tony Conrad. I was a big Faust fan but had never seen a photo of what they looked like, read an interview with them, nor had I ever heard of them playing anywhere. They had only made a handful of records – one of which however was with Tony Conrad. The Tony Conrad and Faust album is high minimalism, so repetitive the grooves on the vinyl disc itself form a visibly repetitive pattern. I never found it a lot of fun to listen to. Tony Conrad himself, all real and non-mystical, walked into the NY City record store I worked in 1970’s. Of course I asked how the hell did an album with a group hardly anyone had heard of at that time, or had seen, ever come about? Tony was a filmmaker and violinist on an art tour of Europe. Someone asked him if he wanted make a record, he said sure and according to him he was sent to a castle in Germany and made this album which is all of two side long pieces and that was pretty much the end of it. He didn’t know who Faust was and no one had really paid any attention to the album when it came out. I am not sure anyone pays attention to it now.

One Response to “The Minimalists”

  1. brad s. says:

    Great blog post, thanks.

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