Friday, June 4, 2010

A Note on "Minimalism"

A fallback term for mediocre music critics, "minimalism" has come to mean "music that is simple and sparsely arranged." This use is extremely misleading. Historically, "minimalism" has referred to a style of American art music pioneered in the 1950s and 60s by composers such as Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Phillip Glass perhaps most strongly expressed in Glass's interminable "Einstein on the Beach." Minimalist music is characterized by the repetition of short, usually highly rhythmic phrases of music that vary gradually, often unnoticeably. It is difficult to overstate the impact of minimalism on popular music - virtually all hip hop and electronic dance music owes an enormous debt to the repetitions of minimalism, and sophisticated acts like LCD Soundsystem have recorded several gradualistic tracks. However, the records most often described as "minimalistic" are usually highly reliant on strong, varied melodies and and relaxed sense of time - qualities that minimalism deliberately avoids. Let's choose our words carefully.

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