Minimalism began as a movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, but it didn’t die–it evolved. And it’s apparent now that it was the beginning of a new musical sensibility whose worldwide ramifications we’ve only begun to figure out. Join us as we sample from a rich catalog of work beginning with the groundbreaking music of composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass up through recent compositions from Michael Gordon and John Luther Adams.
I am reluctant to comment on the controversy surrounding the use of the terms Uptown and Downtown. However, I hope it might be granted that there are some statements I could make that could not meet with persuasive disagreement.
No one can doubt that music has a big role to play in the world of political protest. The controversial musicians we read about in the papers, though, are mostly from the pop and folk genres. It’s not only that those musicians are more visible, though that’s certainly true as well. Classical music and jazz seem to have a more long-term, measured, even sublimated approach to political protest, slower to react and more deeply embedded in the structure of the music itself.
A significant number of the seminal American composers have staked their artistic claims on some constructed paradigm of “naturalness”: Cage’s randomness, Oliveros’s breathing, Reich’s natural processes, Partch’s natural scale, Branca’s rock vernacular stripped down to its basic strum. Most natural of all: banging on the piano keyboard, so beloved of Ives, Cowell, Varèse, Young, Garland.
Minimalism hit me in my teens like a bolt of fate. About 1972 (I was 16), Steve Achternacht on radio station WRR-FM in Dallas played Terry Riley’s In C on the air. His janglingly repetitive octave C’s started up (which we learned years later had been Steve Reich’s suggestion to hold the piece together), and I didn’t know how to react. This was crazy. All that pulsating repetition gave me a headache, every time I listened. But I kept listening anyway.