Minimal music

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Minimal music (also musical minimalism ) is a collective term for various styles of music within New Music that developed in the USA from the 1960s. The name was coined in the early 1970s by Michael Nyman based on the term Minimal Art, which came from the visual arts .

Influences and position in new music

The minimal music processes influences from Asian (especially Indian and Indonesian , especially gamelan ) and African music (especially its polyrhythmics ), the Notre Dame school of the 12th / 13th centuries. Century, ( free ) jazz and certain forms of rock ( psychedelic rock ). It largely ignores the conventions of composing as they were in the western (i.e. essentially European) cultural area up until then, especially the conventions of the avant-garde of the 1950s and early 1960s, especially those of the then dominant serial music . Therefore it is often understood as the antithesis of serialism . It is often vehemently rejected by representatives of this direction, although La Monte Young , for example, theoretically refers to Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern . It is often characterized as post-modern music. Starting from minimal music, post-minimalism developed in the 1970s .

Influences on pop culture music

Many of today's producers of minimal techno see themselves in the tradition of minimal music.

With Earth, guitarist Dylan Carlson transferred ideas from minimal music into the context of a rock band and thus founded Drone Doom .


The exact characterization of this musical direction is just as difficult because of the great stylistic variety as it is to distinguish it from post-minimalism . There are a number of stylistic features:

  • repetitive structures that are created through the stringing together and constant repetition of the smallest motivic ( melodic , rhythmic or harmonic) cells or "patterns"
  • stable harmony , tonal musical language with many consonances
  • Additive and subtractive processes: By adding or removing individual notes from the motivic cells, their rhythmic structure is changed.
  • Phase shifts, overlays, accent shifts of the motivic cells in different voices create a sound carpet
  • Continuity and avoidance of tension build-up.
  • Tone color and density are little changed.
  • It gives the impression of hearing fragments from a permanent musical continuum.
  • Extended concept of time: New dimensions in the duration of the pieces - from a few seconds or minutes to hours, days, weeks
  • positive function of forgetting

In comparison to art music, minimal music has a rather low harmonic complexity: Minimal music mostly moves within the framework of a modal tonality and uses dissonances only very sparingly. The rhythmic element (often polyrhythmics ) is strongly emphasized in minimal music, it is strongly repetitive : a simple basic pattern is constantly repeated over long periods of time with only slight, often barely perceptible variations; the piece then results from the simple stringing together of the variations. If a pattern is played simultaneously at slightly different speeds, the so-called phase shifting , phasing effect occurs .

Minimal music has gained considerable popularity as contemporary music outside of popular music (with which there are some interactions), although not necessarily with traditional classical music audiences .

Composers and performers

The founders of minimal music include Steve Reich , La Monte Young , Terry Jennings and Terry Riley . Independently of this, Julius Eastman , Joanna Brouk and the street musician Moondog (and much later Charlemagne Palestine ) contributed to the development of the musical form. About Tony Conrad 's John Cale become familiar with the minimalism. Other important composers of American minimal music are Philip Glass (who was one of the first to bring minimal music to a wider audience, especially with his film music for Koyaanisqatsi ), John Adams , John Luther Adams , Jon Gibson , Tom Johnson , Pauline Oliveros , Phill Niblock and Arnold Dreyblatt .

In Europe u. a. the British Michael Nyman , Max Richter and Christopher Fox ( systems music , an experimental, especially British form of minimal music), the French Yann Tiersen and Sylvain Chauveau , the Belgian Wim Mertens , the Estonian Arvo Pärt , the Dutch Louis Andriessen , Simeon ten Holt (since 1979) and Jeroen van Veen , the Germans Peter Michael Hamel , Hans Otte , Norbert Walter Peters , Ernstalbrecht Stiebler and Wolfgang Voigt , the Liechtensteiner Jogen Debel , the Italians Ludovico Einaudi and Gianmartino Durighello and György Ligeti (in the late work) that can be counted as part of minimal music or that are influenced by it. Initially building on African music, Kevin Volans reflected on minimalism.

Minimalist elements can also be found in performance artists such as Ólafur Arnalds , Nils Frahm , Volker Bertelmann alias Hauschka or Terje Isungset .

The artist Lubomyr Melnyk describes his minimal music as continuous music. The Australian jazz quartet The Necks often plays minimally changing music in epic pieces, which earned them the nickname as the slowest jazz band.

Erik Satie , John Cage and Morton Feldman are sometimes cited as precursors . In addition, individual features of minimal music can already be found in the film music by Bernard Herrmann and in the Carmina Burana by Carl Orff .

Elements of minimal music were also taken up by electronic musicians such as Tangerine Dream , Klaus Schulze and Kraftwerk or within electronic dance music , such as in Kiasmos (duo by Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen).

Exemplary works

  • Terry Riley: In C ( 1964)
  • Terry Riley: Salome Dances For Peace ( 1985-1987)
  • La Monte Young: The Well-Tuned Piano ( ca.1964 )
  • La Monte Young: The Four Dreams of China (1962)
  • Steve Reich: Piano Phase for two pianos (1967)
  • Steve Reich: Drumming (1971)
  • Steve Reich: Clapping Music (1972)
  • Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (1974-1976)
  • Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach (musical theater) (1976)
  • Philip Glass: Satyagraha (musical theater) (1980)
  • Philip Glass: Akhnaten (musical theater) (1983)
  • Philip Glass: Glassworks (1981)
  • Morton Feldman: String Quartet №2 "SQ 2" (1983)
  • Frederic Rzewski : Coming together and Attica (1972)
  • John Adams: Shaker Loops (1977)
  • John Adams: Phrygian gates (1978)
  • John Adams: Nixon in China (musical theater) (1987)
  • Louis Andriessen: Hoketus (1975-1977)
  • Simeon ten Holt: Canto ostinato (1979)
  • The Necks: Drive By (2003)
  • The Necks: Sex (2007)
  • The Necks: Open (2013)
  • Julius Eastman: Femenine (1974)
  • Julius Eastman: Evil Nigger (1979)
  • Julius Eastman: Gay Guerrilla (1979)
  • Julius Eastman: Crazy Nigger for four pianos (1979)

See also


  • Ulli Götte: Minimal Music - History, Aesthetics, Environment. Florian Noetzel-Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 2000, ISBN 3-7959-0777-2 .
  • Ulrich Linke: Minimal Music: Dimensions of a Concept. (= Folkwang texts. Volume 13). The blue owl, Essen 1997, ISBN 3-89206-811-9 .
  • Fabian R. Lovisa: Minimal music: development, composers, works. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1996, ISBN 3-534-12430-8 .
  • Wim Mertens: American Minimal Music: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass . Translated by J. Hautekiet; preface by Michael Nyman. Kahn & Averill, London; Alexander Broude, New York 1983, ISBN 0-900707-76-3 .
  • Imke Misch: Minimal music. In: Concise dictionary of musical terminology . Vol. 4, ed. by Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht and Albrecht Riethmüller , editors Markus Bandur, Steiner, Stuttgart 2000 ( digitized version ).
  • Keith Potter: Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass . (= Music in the Twentieth Century series ). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York 2000, ISBN 0-521-48250-X .
  • Edward Strickland: Minimalism: Origins. Indiana University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-253-21388-6 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Louis Pattison: Heavy, Heavier, Heaviest: A Beginner's Guide To Doom-Drone., February 17, 2015, accessed March 15, 2018 .