Articles by Kyle Gann
Minimalism in its first manifestation was a strict, objectivist style. There were enough hints of gradual process in Einstein on the Beach that it was accepted as fitting this paradigm at the time. But looking back in retrospect, Einstein seems a far more intuitively written work.
John Cage’s 4’33″ is one of the most misunderstood pieces of music ever written and yet, at times, one of the avant-garde’s best understood as well.
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.
What makes John Luther Adams’s The Place Where You Go to Listen different from other sound installations is that you can’t just drop by for half an hour and take it all in; it changes radically from night to day, from winter to summer, from season to season.
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.
Twelve-tone equal temperament, as this common tuning is called, is a 20th-century phenomenon, a blandly homogenous tuning increasingly imposed on all the world’s musics in the name of scientific progress. In short, twelve-tone equal temperament is to tuning what the McDonald’s hamburger is to food.