Você está na página 1de 17

A Simplicidade na

Complexidade
da msica do final do sc. XX e sc. XXI

Joo Miguel Brs Viegas


Histria da Msica dos Sc. XX e XXI
Prof. Srgio Azevedo

Introduo
A msica dita minimalista, ou a revoluo musical pela simplicidade ( de que forma se
interprete a expresso ) foi uma enorme mudana no paradigma cultural da poca em que surgiu.
Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Pierre Boulez apenas para citar alguns exemplos, foram
compositores que, de uma forma ou de outra, ditaram muita da forma de compor da segunda
metade do sc XX e foi, numa poca que a dada altura parecia saturada de uma sobreexplorao
das mesma ideias musicais, que surgiu a reaco contrria no s a esta msica mas tambm a
todo um estilo de vida moderno - O minimalismo. Paralelamente entre os EUA e alguns pases da
Europa, surgiram compositores que decidiram voltar a msica para a sua essncia, para a sua
origem. A obra de Terry Riley In C, considerada por muitos como a primeira obra minimalista
( apesar de ser precedida por alguns anos da msica drone de La Monte Young) , consiste
simplesmente na progressiva sobreposio e alternncia de 53 motivos que giram volta da nota
D ( tal como indica o nome da msica ), e um excelente exemplo deste regresso s origens,
com uma abordagem inovadora.
Em Nova Iorque e em So Francisco, no foi na sala de concerto da Metropolitan, ou nas
salas da Julliard, que se deu esta revoluo musical. Apesar de alguns destes compositores terem
estudado com compositores e em instituies associadas a uma predominncia da
europeiedade musical, esta nova msica era tocada em lofts e em galerias de arte de artistas da
poca. No era, e em muitos casos, penso, nunca o foi, para a sala de concerto. Ela estava
associada a um estado de esprito to livre, to envolvente, e to, em muitas elementos da plateia,
psiconauta, que a seriedade da sala de concertos no o permitia, e em muitos casos, no permite.

ndice
- Contextualizao histrica;
- A msica minimalista;
- O minimalismo;
- O minimalismo mstico;
- O ps minimalismo;
- Outra simplicidade:
- Morton Feldman;
- Gyorgy Krtag;
- Algumas tcnicas de composio:
- Process Music;
- Phase Music;
- Breve anlise de um obra;
- Electric Counterpoint, de Steve Reich
- Quatro pequenas biografias de compositores:
- Steve Reich;
- Arvo Part;
- Louis Andriessen;
- La Monte Young;
- Recepo pela crtica;
- Anexo:
I - Partitura de Electric Counterpoint, de Steve Reich;
II - Transcrio de Is Simplicity the New Complexity, um artigo do
compositor John Appleton;
III - Transcrio de Notes on Minimalism, uma artigo do compositor Nico
Muhly, que trabalhou com Philip Glass na produo de grande parte de
sua obra mais recente;

Contextualizao e antecedentes histricos


Na segunda metade do sculo XX, a msica erudita ocidental estava a encurralar-se cada
vez mais ( Mel Spencer, Classic FM ). Como referi anteriormente, compositores como Pierre
Boulez ou Arnold Schoenberg compunham baseando-se em princpios que aparentemente se
aplicariam mais matemtica do que msica, e nunca tinha havido at aos anos 60 um to
grande distanciamento entre a msica popular, e a msica erudita. Tanto tnhamos num lado
Pierre Boulez ou Iannis Xenakis, como tnhamos no outro Beatles ou Bob Dylan, e foi
precisamente neste melting pot de influncia musicais que nasceu a msica minimalista.
A palavra minimal associada msica foi usada pela primeira vez pelo compositor e
musiclgo ingls Michael Nyman referindo-se a uma performance conjunta de vrios artistas no
Institute of Contemporary Arts de Londres, entre os quais se destacava Henning Christiansen, em
1968, e acabou eventualmente por expandir o conceito no seu livro de 1974 - Experimental
Music - Cage and Beyond. H quem defenda que foi a ideia musical mais importante e mais
revolucionria do sc. XX ( Kiran Sande, A brief history of Minimalism ), mas mesmo sendo esta
afirmao passvel de suscitar o debate, um facto que o aparecimento da msica minimalista
no panorama cultural e musical dos anos 60 e 70 do sc. XX foi uma enorme revoluo no s
musical mas tambm cultural.
Como referi anteriormente, a obra de Terry Rilley In C, considerada a primeira obra
minimalista, e como na maioria das revolues culturais, as primeiras obras deste novo gnero
pautam-se precisamente por uma afirmao ousada do estilo, e s posteriormente se nota que a
esttica se suaviza para uma abertura da escrita dos compositores a outras influncias ao
princpio descartadas. Isto bastante observvel na msica de Philip Glass, mas tambm de
Steve Reich e Terry Riley ( ouvir de Glass, Floe (do albm Glassworks, de 1981),
comparativamente a The Poet Acts ( composta como parte da banda sonora do filme The Hours,
de 2003s), ou de Steve Reich Come out (1966 ) comparativamente Double Sextet (2007).
Hoje em dia, a palavra minimalismo usada em termos generalistas no s para
classificar a msica dos compositores americanos a quem o termo foi primeiramente atribudo nos
anos 60 ( como Philip Glass, Steve Reich ou Terry Rilley ) mas tambm, noutra vertente, msica
de Arvo Part, Henryk Grecki e John Taverner ( posteriormente agrupados no denominado
minimalismo mstico ).
Actualmente, podemos assistir a uma expanso e explorao das tcnicas minimalistas
em alguns compositores com Louis Andriessen, ou nos EUA, John Coolidge Adams.

A Msica Minimalista
- O Minimalismo:
O termo minimalista tem sido usado genericamente nos ltimos trinta anos referente a msica
que se destaca por empregar material dentro de um determinado limite, ou, como o nome indica,
minimal. Esta msica, no geral caracteriza-se por:
- Ostinatos de pequenos trechos ( por norma, simples ), que variam
subtilmente ao longo de grandes perodos de tempo, e que frequentemente se
sobrepem uns aos outros em camadas;
- Ritmos quase hipnticos ( conseguidos no s pela repetio como tambm pela
prpria estrutura rtmica das frases ) ou notas pedal (drone);
- A utilizao de electrnica, independente ou associada aos instrumentos;
- Harmonia por norma diatnica;
- Utilizao de processos aditivos;
Conceptualmente, a msica minimalista, em alguns casos ( principalmente nos compositores
vindos dos EUA ), caracteriza-se por ser abordada de uma forma no representacional e no
narrativa, onde o foco do ouvinte se prende s pequenas alteraes que vo surgindo na msica o
longo do tempo

- O Minimalismo Mstico;
Numa cultura que idolatra a juventude, e como que foge da ocorrncia inevitvel da morte,
raro encontrar msica que almeje o sagrado, ou que tenha a inteno de nos colocar num reino
transcendental.
Assim abre Daniel Asia, compositor e professor na Universidade do Arizona, o seu artigo
no Huffington Post sobre a msica que agora categorizamos como fazendo parte de uma corrente
denominada minimalismo mstico ( nome dado por Harry Teachout). A verdade que, com menor
ou maior notoriedade, msica com um intuito mais espiritual que propriamente fruititvo sempre
existiu desde que o homem comeou a fazer msica
;

- A definio de minimalismo mstico vem de Harry Teachout;


- Citao de Teachout:

...Prt uses the word tintinnabulation, a term meant to evoke the bell-like repetition of chordal
tones typical of his mature style. Greckis more conventional array of compositional techniques
includes both elaborate counterpoint and the ritualistic repetition of melodic fragments and
harmonic patterns. Taveners music relies primarily on the deployment of florid, chant-derived
melodies over static chordal backdrops.

- Relao com a msica de Messiaen??!!;


- Tambm era muito catlico, e a sua msica tambm tinha muita conotao religiosa;
- Uso dos pssaros como a msica que deus nos deu;
- Nome usado para descrever a msica essencialmente de 3 compositores do final do sc. XX Part, Gorecki, Taverner;

- Muito provavelmente, Part, Taverner ou Gorecki nunca ouviram a msica de Glass ou Reich at
terem escrito a sua msica. No foram influenciados por eles;
- Muitos destes compositores comearam por uma esttica serial, e mais experimental, e se
depois que tiveram esta abordagem aparentemente mais simplista da msica, recaindo para
uma msica mais tonal/modal e pandiatonal;

- Ps - Minimalismo:
In its general musical usage, postminimalism refers to works influenced by minimal music,
and it is generally categorized within the meta-genre art music. Writer Kyle Gann[3] has employed
the term more strictly to denote the style that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s and characterized
by:
a steady pulse, usually continuing throughout a work or movement;
a diatonic pitch language, tonal in effect but avoiding traditional functional tonality;
general evenness of dynamics, without strong climaxes or nuanced emotionalism; and
unlike minimalism, an avoidance of obvious or linear formal design.
Minimalist procedures such as additive and subtractive process are common in postminimalism,
though usually in disguised form, and the style has also shown a capacity for absorbing influences
from world and popular music (Balinese gamelan, bluegrass, Jewish cantillation, and so on).
For a musical style derived from minimalism, see Totalism (music).
In the '60s and '70s, minimalist composers used such devices as repetitive arpeggios, diatonic
scales, phased rhythmic patterns, and constrained dynamic ranges to bring "serious" music into
the public sphere with greater success than nearly any other 20th century classical or avant-garde
development. Post-minimalism began circa 1980 and built upon the foundation laid down by
minimalism's first practitioners. The new post-minimalist composers and performers were arguably
open to even more influences than their forebears -- including rock, jazz, world music, folk, sound
art, noise, and even the occasional classical Romantic gesture. Of course, minimalists Steve
Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young were greatly influenced by non-Western
musical traditions, but the post-minimalists would go further to loosen -- or, some might say, water
down -- minimalism's formal strictures. Music writer and composer Kyle Gann cites several major
composers in a first wave of post-minimalism as the '70s ended and the '80s began -- William
Duckworth, Janice Giteck, Daniel Lentz, Ingram Marshall, and Jonathan Kramer -- and Gann also
mentions the influences they drew from as they moved beyond minimalism, ranging from Messiaen
to Balinese music to U.S. patriotic tunes. On the rock side of the equation, Gann includes leaders
on the cutting edge of the New York no wave scene such as Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham in
his description of post-minimalism. Others who may be familiar to avant jazz and rock audiences
include Mikal Rouse, David Borden, and Guy Klucevsek. Composer John Adams was initially
viewed as a minimalist but went on to meld the rhythmic propulsion of minimalism with Romantic
elements and Stravinsky-informed neo-classicism. Composers associated with the New Yorkbased Bang on a Can -- notably David Lang, Julia Wolf, Michael Gordon, and Evan Ziporyn -- also
remain enamored of minimalist approaches yet clearly feel free to explore a host of other
contemporary music influences from world music to electronica. On the other side of the Atlantic,
Dutch composer Louis Andriessen is seen as a major figure in European minimalism, while also
establishing a reputation in the post-minimalist world. Andriessen, who has described his music as
"avant-garde minimal music that also dealt with jazz from the twenties," has worked closely with
the British new music ensemble Icebreaker, a group that often moves in post-minimalist directions.
Sicilian cellist Giovanni Sollima has also been labeled as a post-minimalist, using repeating
arpeggios and ostinati while incorporating rock and jazz influences as well as Mediterranean folk
forms. Continuing the post-minimalist thread, Sollima has collaborated with the French/Belgian
ensemble Art Zoyd, whose earliest semi-acoustic incarnation might be considered an influence on
the Flemish drummerless avant-prog chamber group Aranis, a 21st century band that brings postminimalist flexibility to music with occasional strong Philip Glass-like tendencies.

- Esttica da generalidade da msica minimalista


Ritmo forte, insistncia em motivos meldicos curtos

- Ritmo Constante, liguagem diatnica, tonal em efeito, mas no


funcional, dinmicas por norma constantes, evita uma forma demasiado bvia John Adams;

Outra Simplicidade
Morton Feldman:
- Morton Feldman was born in New York in 1926 and died there in 1987. Just like Cage, a
close friend, he was an American composer an American artist an American in the true sense
of the word.
He identified himself by differentiating his views on composition from those of his colleagues in
Europe. He was proud to be an American because he was convinced that it enabled him the
freedom, unparalleled in Europe, to work unfettered by tradition. And, he was an American also in

what may have been a slight inferiority complex in the face of cultural traditions in Europe,
something he proudly rejected and secretly admired.
Like any true artist, Feldman was endowed with a sensitivity for impressions of a wide variety of
sources, literature and painting in particular. His affinity to Samuel Beckett has enriched music
literature by a unique music theatre piece, Neither, and two ensemble works. His friendship with
abstract impressionist painters gave birth to a range of masterpieces, Rothko Chapel in particular.
But even the knotting of oriental rugs gave Feldman musical ideas (The Turfan Fragments).
My whole generation was hung up on the 20-25 minute piece. It was our clock. We all got to know
it, and how to handle it. As soon as you leave the 20-25 minute piece behind, in a one-movement
work, different problems arise. Up to one hour you think about the form, but after an hour and a
half its scale. Form is easy just the division of things into parts. But scale is another matter. You
have to have control of the piece it requires a heightened kind of concentration. Before, my
pieces were like objects; now, theyre like envolving things.
- Gyorgy Kurtag:
- By the time the Hungarian composer Gyrgy Kurtg was born in Lugos in 1926,
the town was called Lugoj, and had, due to the peace treaty of Versailles, been ceded to Romania.
Kurtg grew up in a multi-ethnic environment. It was as natural for him as for his friend Gyrgy
Ligeti, born in 1923 in Tarnaveni not far from Lugos, to speak three languages on a daily basis:
Hungarian, Romanian and German.
The first significant pedagogue-personality Kurtg came in touch with was his piano teacher
Magda Kardos at Temesvr/Timisoara. Her influence has stayed with him ever since. It was Magda
Kardos who entrusted the young man to coach younger pupils an activity that has kept him busy
up to this day.
Kurtg met Ligeti at the entrance examination at the Budapest Academy of Music in 1946 for the
first time. They were to form a life-long friendship. Some professors of the Academy gave Kurtg
important impulses such as Ferenc Farkas, who was also Ligetis teacher, as well as Le Weiner,
Lajos Brdos, Pl Jrdnyi and others.
The next important encounter in Kurtgs life occurred in Paris where he attended courses by
Messiaen and Milhaud in 1957 and 1958. Most important of all, however, were the sessions with
the psychologist Marianne Stein who specialised in artists. She tided him over a crisis which had
paralysed his creativity for years. Kurtg says the meeting with Marianne Stein divided his life in
two she gave him a new lease of life, so to speak.
On his way back to Budapest Kurtg stopped over in Cologne where he first met Ligeti after the
latters escape from Hungary in 1956. Ligeti introduced Kurtg to Stockhausen whose Gruppen
made a tremendous impact on him. So did Ligetis Artikulation, realised in the electronic studio of
West-German Radio.
Back in Budapest, Kurtg composed his first string quartet which he denoted as his Opus 1 to
signify that it marked the starting point of his oeuvre proper.

Algumas tcnicas de composio


Process Music:
-Process music is music that arises from a process. It may make that process audible to the
listener, or the process may be concealed. Primarily begun in the 1960s, diverse composers have
employed divergent methods and styles of process. "A 'musical process' as Christensen defines it
is a highly complex dynamic phenomenon involving audible structures that evolve in the course of
the musical performance ... 2nd order audible developments, i.e., audible developments within
audible developments" (Seibt 2004, xiii). These processes may involve specific systems of
choosing and arranging notes through pitch and time, often involving a long term change with a
limited amount of musical material, or transformations of musical events that are already relatively
complex in themselves. Steve Reich defines process music not as, "the process of composition but
rather pieces of music that are, literally, processes. The distinctive thing about musical processes
is that they determine all the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the overall form
simultaneously. (Think of a round or infinite canon.)" (Reich 2002, 34).
Michael Nyman has identified five types of process (Nyman 1974, 58):
Chance determination processes, in which the material is not determined by the composer
directly, but through a system he or she creates
People processes, in which performers are allowed to move through given or suggested
material, each at his or her own speed
Contextual processes, in which actions depend on unpredictable conditions and on variables
arising from the musical continuity
Repetition processes, in which movement is generated solely by extended repetition
Electronic processes, in which some or all aspects of the music are determined by the use of
electronics. These processes take many forms.
The first type is not necessarily confined to what are normally recognised as "chance"
compositions, however. For example, in Karel Goeyvaertss Sonata for Two Pianos, "registral
process created a form that depended neither on conventional models nor on the composers
taste and judgment. Given a few simple rules, the music did not need to be 'composed' at all: the
notes would be at play of themselves (Griffiths 2011, 38).
Galen H. Brown acknowledges Nyman's five categories and proposes adding a sixth:
mathematical process, which includes the manipulation of materials by means of permutation,
addition, subtraction, multiplication, changes of rate, and so on (Brown 2010, 186).
Erik Christensen identifies six process categories (Christensen 2004, 97):
Rule-determined transformation processes
goal-directed transformation processes
indeterminate transformation processes
Rule-determined generative processes

goal-directed, and generative processes


indeterminate generative processes
He describes Reich's Piano Phase (1966) as rule-determined transformation process, Cage's
Variations II (1961) as an indeterminate generative process, Ligeti's In zart fliessender Bewegung
(1976) as a goal-directed transformation process containing a number of evolution processes
(Christensen 2004, 116), and Per Nrgrd's Second Symphony (1970) as containing a ruledetermined generative process of a fractal nature (Christensen 2004, 107).

Phase Music:
- Phasing is a compositional technique in which the same part (a repetitive phrase) is
played on two musical instruments, in steady but not identical tempi. Thus, the two instruments
gradually shift out of unison, creating first a slight echo as one instrument plays a little behind the
other, then a doubling with each note heard twice, then a complex ringing effect, and eventually
coming back through doubling and echo into unison.
In some cases, especially live performance where gradual separation is extremely difficult, phasing
is accomplished by periodically inserting an extra note (or temporarily removing one) into the
phrase of one of the two players playing the same repeated phrase, thus shifting the phase by a
single beat at a time, rather than gradually.

Anlise de Electric Counterpoint (1987) , de Steve Reich


Electric Counterpoint General Points
- Composed by Steve Reich.
- Written for famous guitarist Pat Metheny.
- First performed in 1987.
- One of 3 movements which follow a typical fast-slow-fast pattern.

Key Features Of Minimalism


- The repetition of simple ideas.
- Layered textures.
- Diatonic Harmonies.
- Slow harmonic rhythms.
- Little variety in instrumentation.
Steve Reich.
Steve Reich.
Instrumentation
- Electric Counterpoint is written for live guitar.
- When performed the live guitar is accompanied by 7 guitars and 2 bass guitars that have been
prerecorded.
- The live guitar is amplified to blend in well with the backing tape.
Structure
The movement builds up in 3 layers:
1) A syncopated quaver motif which is introduced in the live guitar and the top 4 guitar parts, one
part at a time.
2) A new syncopated quaver motif which is introduced in the bass guitars.
3) A more sustained motif which is built around 3 chords, it begins in the live guitar part and is then
transferred to the other parts.
- After all 3 layers have been built up, layers 2 and 3 fade out together, leaving layer 1 to continue
until it comes to rest on a held chord.
Melody And Texture
- The melody is made up of a 1 bar motif that is repeated continuously to form an ostinato.
- This motif is introduced by the live guitar and the top 4 guitar parts at different times (the first
layer in the structure above). This creates a canon.

- In some parts note addition is used to build up the melody, this means that notes are gradually
added to a part until all the notes in the melody are heard.
- At one point the live guitar plays a melody that is made up from selected individual notes from the
other guitar parts creating a resulant melody.
- The piece has a contrapuntal texture.
Tonality and Harmony
- Electric counterpoint is in binary form (AB) with 4 sections within the A and B sections.
- The entire piece with a coda.
- At the start of the piece there is tonal ambiguity but there are hints towards it being in the key of E
minor but this does not become clear until the bass guitar is introduced.
- The three chord progressions used in section A-3 are C Bm E5, C D Em and C D Bm.
- The chords above make it clearer that the pieces tonality is modal.

Is Simplicity the New Complexity?


Link: (http://www.appletonjon.com/writings_simplicity.htm)
Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in Fort Wayne, Indiana
on April 17, 2009.

Inspiration for the following remarks comes from two places. The first was a conference organized
in December, 2008 in honor of Jean-Claude Risset's 70th birthday organized by the French
musicologist Nicolas Darbon. Darbon is the author of a book on the British composer Brian
Ferneyhough who himself is considered by many to be the best known proponent of what was
once called "the new complexity." The second source for my observations is the work of another
musicologist, the brilliant Richard Taruskin, whom I have known since we were fellow students in
Vladimir Ussachevsky's electronic music course in the mid-1960s at Columbia University.
Taruskin's most recent work, The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays contains two,
prescient pieces: Calling All Pundits: No More Predictions and How Talented Composers Become
Useless.
In the former essay Taruskin describes the "cyclic" or "pendulum" theory of musical style in which
"periods of great complexity of music [are] often succeeded by periods of simplicity. The fiendishly
polyrhythmic courtly chansons of the late fourteenth century were followed by Guillaume Du Fay's
limpid hymns in "fauxbourdon" (chordal) style."
Those of us who have followed the stylistic trends in electro-acoustic music have seen a similar
cycle. In this case it was American composers who first challenged the accepted view that electroacoustic music needed to be complex in order to engage a musically educated public. There was
an aura of scientific prestige that surrounded composers who believed that complexity justified
exclusivity. This, however, existed only within academia. Steve Reich and Terry Riley did not seek
nor accept academic approbation as a justification for their electro-acoustic music. On the other
hand, both would deny any significant connection to the world of electro-acoustic music. In fact, in
the 1960s, Reich predicted that electronic music would disappear into the fabric of musical
pluralism. Why is it still here?
Complex phenomena have been a continuing source of fascination for inquiring minds. The
development of sophisticated technology for musical purposes has frequently attracted composers

of various aesthetic persuasions both because of its utility and its novelty. Some composers saw it
as a way to use new sonic resources in traditional musical contexts. I should probably include my
own work here. A small number completely rejected any connection with any aspect of music, as it
had been known, for example Alvin Lucier. Wannabes, often computer programmers and audio
engineers, sought to use technology as an entre into the realm of musical creativity.
The history of electro-acoustic music has been pluralistic since its beginnings. French, German,
Russian, Swedish, Italian and American composers developed their own approaches and
influenced each other from the first days. One need only read the Boulez-Cage correspondence of
the 1950s to see how these two radically different musical personalities saw a new age of music
that they thought would be created through the use of technology. Troglodytes aside, scientific
applications have been linked to optimism except, perhaps, in the case of weapons.
If complexity was a legacy of 20th century music, what of simplicity? I believe it was also there
from the beginning of the 20th century in a less obvious way. Simplicity exists in compositions as
diverse as those of Debussy and Webern. It is an egregious mistake to equate tonality with
simplicity. Simplicity has mostly to do with texture and limited musical choices. Simplicity is also
defined by cultural norms associated with the rate at which musical events occur in time.
Whereas the early hardware for electro-acoustic music looked intimidating, e.g. the RCA Mark II
synthesizer, in fact the design and user instructions were quite simple. Today we are look back at
the early work of Hiller, Kenig and Risset and marvel at the courage it took to address simple
musical ideas with primitive software tools. Simple hardware, on the other hand, did not equal
significant creative results; and to carry the thought forward, neither has complex software.
Simplicity or complexity or the spectrum of ideas in between is only a compositional choice.
For many years I was frequently plagued by the question, "when will the Beethoven of electronic
music appear?" Aside from the fact that Karlheinz Stockhausen once claimed he was the
reincarnation of Beethoven, it is a very stupid question posed only by our enemies. There are what
I consider to be many masterpieces of electro-acoustic music and I would like to consider two in
connection with the concepts of simplicity and complexity.
Horaccio Vaggione's Octour was composed in the 1980s. A lengthy article about the piece by the
composer appeared in the Computer Music Journal at the same time. The analysis described the
software Vaggione wrote to generate the piece. It says nothing about how the music sounds. In
some ways Octour's arch form is stereotypical of much electro-acoustic music. It begins quietly,
develops a simple gesture into a clamorous din and returns to its roots. However, the question of
predictability never arises because of the moment-to-moment curiosity it instills in the listener. The
work, seemingly complex from its description, is simplicity at its best. Knowing how Octour was
made will not enhance the experience nor will it detract from it. Elegant simplicity is also a
characteristic of Paul Lansky's electro-acoustic music. Pieces like Idle Chatter absorb the listener
without being simple minded.
Paul Koonce's Hothouse has the surface of complexity and for the novice perhaps even confusion.
The rapid-fire barrage of recognizable sounds is so complex that at first the listener might conclude
he or she is listening to an updated version of John Cage's Variations IV. Koonce's genius is the
way he gets from one sound to another. Sometimes this is done with clever acoustic logic and at
other times it seems extraordinarily intuitive. The techniques Koonce uses are part and parcel of
his musical style. They infer transformation rather than collage.
Popular music is often invoked in discussions of simplicity vs. complexity. In the mid-twentieth
century popular music was thought of as entertainment and classical music as art. However, many,
then young composers of electro-acoustic music came to the medium through its use by popular
groups such as the Beatles, Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, etc. As I discovered teaching at the
University of California, Santa Cruz this last Fall quarter, undergraduates composing electroacoustic music no longer understand the art vs. entertainment dichotomy. While I was raised

before the era of rock and roll, I often wonder why composers of "pure" electro-acoustic music
seem to reject its appeal as much as they do the harmonic language of early 20th century classical
music?
One convincing answer to this question is that electro-acoustic music explores new territory. Often
it does. But how many times do we need to hear a solo instrumentalist explore "extended"
techniques to the accompaniment of the same timbres processed through novel software?
In the days when concertgoers tolerated "new" music, composers of electro-acoustic music hoped
that they could hop on that bandwagon. It was the wrong bandwagon. As Taruskin has observed,
"the cultural prestige of an art medium can be calculated according to the extent to which there is
perceived social advantage in claiming (or feigning) an appreciation of it." To my knowledge
electro-acoustic music has rarely garnered respect or admiration from the general public except in
the astonishment one notices at the appearance of new scientific and technological
accomplishments. However, if Barak Obama announced he frequently enjoyed the music of Scott
Wyatt, the popularity of electro-acoustic music would temporarily be astounding.
I often describe electro-acoustic music as a minority art form. It has yet to become a niche market.
Not too many people in the world know about it but neither do they know Bantu chant. When
electro-acoustic music is good, like all good music as Taruskin observed, it keeps "your mind's ear
ringing [and] your ear's mind reeling.

Notes on Minimalism
(February, 2005)
I wrote program notes for the Boston Modern Orchestra Projects Minimalism concert in February,
2005, featuring Elena Ruehrs Shimmer, Philip Glasss Symphony No. 3, Steve Reichs Tehillim,
and John Adamss Common Tones in Simple Time.
The definition of the term Minimalism is hotly contested, and even more so amongst those
accused of writing minimal music. This music is often repetitive, but sometimes it consists of a
single chord pitch sustained at great length. So-called minimalist music is usually tonal, at least in
the United States, but there is a strong showing of atonal minimalist music in Europe. Some argue
that minimalist music started in the 1960s in New York and California, but others trace it much
farther back to the experimental works of John Cage in the 1950s. The minimal pantheon of
composers comprises several composers whose current output could not be defined as minimal
even with the most radical working definition. How, then, can we discuss what comprises
minimalism as a movement or school of thought?
One of the most important elements of this music is the pulse. Most of the early minimal
masterpieces were unconducted, or were conducted from a keyboard instrument like Baroque
chamber music. A pulse helps this kind of music keep together, and it turns music-making into a
communal experience pictures of the first performances of Philip Glasss early works depict
seven or eight musicians sitting in a circle, sitting at keyboards, various wind instruments, scraps of
paper and cups of coffee. This is music written by a composer for his friends. The music repeats
until a leader nods his head, at which point everybody agrees to proceed to the next line of the
page. The same is true for Steve Reichs early works, wherein repetition is ended by a single
player incanting a series of notes from a vibraphone a technique he borrows from West African
drumming. Again, the communal experience and the shared pulse are at the heart of these works.
Glass has said about this music: What was radical wasnt the language of the music but the way
you were invited to hear it. It is a sort of urban folk music that, for some, is as evocative of the
1960s as Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan.
Like most important musical innovations, the minimalist music of the 1960s and 70s was
vociferously rejected by many established composers. In that minimalism was, in part, a response
to the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Milton Babbitt, and Pierre Boulez, there was very little mutual
respect between composers working in lofts in SoHo and those working in the universities of New
York and Paris. The negative reactions are too numerous to list here, but there are famous stories:
the brilliantly cantankerous Ned Rorem has called Glasss music all style and no content, a
disgruntled concertgoer angrily rapped her high-heeled shoe against the stage during the premiere
of Steve Reichs Four Organs, a critic wrote that John Adamss Nixon in China did for the arpeggio
what McDonalds did for the hamburger. What shocked critics and composers alike was that
audiences were having positive reactions to this repetitive, sterile music. Minimalism, as a
reactionary movement, is not unlike the Puritan movement in New England with its central idea of
removing ornaments and irrelevant decoration from its most basic messages. And like most
reactionary movements, it had internal resistance and development, like the 17th century factions
offshooting to Rhode Island under the even more refined spiritual leadership of Roger Williams. It
is significant that the first published piece in Glasss catalogue is called 1+1 and does not even call
for instruments (only an amplified table-top): this is an explicit and radical break from the elaborate
matrices and cryptography of serial music. There was an immediate response: audiences were
beginning to seek out these musical happenings rather than attending traditional concerts with
thorny (but character-building) twelve-tone programming.

Perhaps, then, the music is not as emotionally empty as some have argued. For a generation of
audiences and musicians raised on the great symphonic works of the 19th century, it is true that
the churning, hypnotic repetitions of minimalist music can seem pointless and content-less. The
question, of course, is what defines content, and in turn, what that content is meant to do (if
anything). An example: in Wagnerian composition, musical content consists of a collection of
motives, harmonies and themes associated with certain characters, moods, or physical gestures.
This content is then molded and sculpted along a dramatic arc, reaching a climax and resolving
itself somehow. The great scene of Gtterdmmerung wherein the world comes crashing down
is a perfect example of music that is overflowing with this sort of content. However, a generation
later, the idea of a large romantic expression of emotion can itself seem dated, trite, and
melodramatic. In twelve-tone music, content is generated and manipulated through certain
mathematical devices and can generously be compared to the elegance of complex sciences (the
venerable Milton Babbitt, in a delicious anecdote, tells of sharing an office with Albert Einstein at
Princeton). In the 50s and 60s, minimalist composers discovered that audiences could become
emotionally engaged by listening to a gently repeating pattern, as if they were looking at the ocean
or the sky for an extended period of time. This experience can be no less sublime than the tossing
and turning of Wagner or Mahler. To this day, Steve Reich and Musicians (many of whom are the
same from the loft concerts in the 60s) make yearly world tours, and live performances by the
Philip Glass Ensemble are attended like rock concerts. Even John Adams, who is a generation
younger than Glass and Reich, has a following among young people and non-musicians.
The importance of John Adamss contribution to (and subsequent departure from) so-called
minimalism cannot be overstated. While he is clearly heavily influenced by Glasss bubbling
internal rhythms and Reichs harmonies, there has always been something more expressive and
outdoorsy about Adamss music. One of the earliest pieces in his catalogue, Phrygian Gates
(1977) for solo piano, demonstrates the contrast between his influences and his innovation: it starts
simply, with pulses and repetition, but soon blossoms into an explosion in the bass register that
has more to do with late Beethoven than Reich or Glass. Shaker Loops (1978) for string septet
starts with mechanical-sounding music that, by the end of its 30-minute duration, has expanded
into a churning, erotic music with the emotional weight of Mahler or Anton Bruckner. Adams, some
say, reintroduced a more romantic idea of content into minimalist music. In the case of Shaker
Loops, though, the content is one of the most primal and essential options: God. Adamss project
implicit or explicit is to call attention to the fact that respectful and religious content can be found
in even the simplest musical devices. This itself represents a break from the simple and pure but
rigid math of Glasss early works, which brings to mind that Shakers and Quakers were themselves
ecstatic offshoots of the Massachusetts Puritans. In this case, however, almost everybody followed
Adamss lead, and the work of both Reich and Glass began to explore the ecstatic possibilities of
simplicity. Tehillim is therefore an even more important development in the minimalist movement,
as Reich presents the chanting of the Psalms one of the simplest and purest forms of worship
with twitchy and radiant fervency. We are all Rhode Islanders now.

Notas:

By now, the word minimalism (for which there was no entry in Grove 6) is familiar
to most non-musicians, and anyone who spends even a moderate amount of time
listening to classical music will recognize the endlessly repeated rhythmic cells,
brief snatches of melody, and long harmonic periods that are the building blocks of
this music. What has been largely forgotten is the extent to which the adoption of
these techniques by Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and their fellow minimalists
represented a radicaland purposefulbreak with the immediate musical past.
In the 70s, classical composition in America and Europe was still dominated by two schools of
modernism: the rigorously organized serialism of the descendants of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton
Webern and the no less rigorously disorganized chance music of John Cage and his followers.
Though these two schools had little else in common, they shared the fervent belief that the
traditional language of tonality was not a natural law of music but an arbitrary construct that had
become exhausted by the end of the 19th century and would inevitably be replaced by newly
invented, equally valid musical languages.
In a sense, this belief was vindicated by events. Though a few older composers, Benjamin Britten
in England and Dmitri Shostakovich in Russia in particular, continued to produce tonal
masterpieces well into the 70s, most of the members of the postwar musical establishment in
Europe and America eventually embraced one of the two established styles of avant-garde
composition, and younger traditionalists unwilling to follow suit soon found it all but impossible to
get a hearing.
But serialism and chance music had something else in common: neither system worked, at least
not in the sense of being able to produce music capable of commanding the loyalty of mainstream
performers or the concertgoing public. As a result, general interest in new music had dried up
almost completely by 1970. Virtuosos neither played nor sang it; audiences learned to shun
reflexively any piece by an unfamiliar composer. The avant-garde composers complained that
modern listeners simply did not want new music, but they were wrong. What listeners wanted was
accessible new music, and when it came along, they embraced it enthusiastically.

But while the holy part of the holy-minimalist tag is both accurate and relevant, the minimalist
part is more problematic. The way in which these composers employ repetition is both highly
personal and easily differentiated. In describing his music, Prt uses the word tintinnabulation, a
term meant to evoke the bell-like repetition of chordal tones typical of his mature style. Greckis
more conventional array of compositional techniques includes both elaborate counterpoint and the
ritualistic repetition of melodic fragments and harmonic patterns. Taveners music relies primarily
on the deployment of florid, chant-derived melodies over static chordal backdrops.