Minimalism: The Next Ten

By low-bay low-bay
updated about 1 year ago

as compiled by Alan Licht for Halana magazine issue #3, 1997

  1. Alvin Lucier - Music On A Long Thin Wire

    7 For Sale from $63.28

    A founding member of the Sonic Arts Union, Lucier has had a long career of doing music dealing with acoustic phenomena (his piece I AM SITTING IN A ROOM, which breaks down a tape of his speaking voice into pure room resonances, is a classic). This double LP is a pretty challenging listen: four twenty minute sides of an 80 foot wire vibrated by an oscillator set on a single pure sine wave. There is no interference by the composer; the system plays itself (like Eno’s ambients or the machine music of Joe Jones or Remko Scha – and unlike the Het Apollohuis gang who play their long wire installations themselves). Often monotonous, the album’s sporadic sonic eruptions (sounding like guitar feedback) reward the listener’s patience.

  2. Eliane Radigue - Kyema, Intermediate States

    2 For Sale from $21.98

    A one-time assistant to Pierre Henry, Radigue made her mark with quiet, minimal electronic pieces in the early ’70s (which had a pronounced effect on Palestine’s electronic work at the time). She stopped doing music for a while in favor of studying Tibetan Buddhism, then combined the two in a series of records for Lovely Music.
    I was put off by the use of vocals and texts on those releases, but this CD is an hour of pure tone mixing, much more varied and imaginative than, say, the aural test patterns concocted by that Jliat clown (actually, I like those CDs). P.S. Radigue’s 3″ on Metamkine is great too, and there’s a double 7″ from 1969 that I’d really like to hear (two identical singles packaged in a box, designed to be played simultaneously at various speeds, edition of 200).

  3. Zoltán Jeney - Om

    4 For Sale from $38.46

    A bizarre record by an obscure Hungarian composer I’d been curious to hear after reading a Tom Johnson article on him in VOICE OF NEW MUSIC. I’ve never been able to find the LP that he reviewed, but came across this one a few years back. OM is a single, hour long piece for two organs: one holding barely shifting dissonant clusters around a drone tone, the other somehow sequenced to generate 14 mostly chromatic notes to correspond to the letters in the mantra “om mani padme hum.” The result is a maniacally repetitive music – it makes Philip Glass sound like Carl Stalling. It also sounds a bit like Miles Davis’s mid ’70s organ work. Maddening, nightmarish, tortuous, almost unlistenable – in other words, GREAT!

  4. Folke Rabe / Bo Anders Persson - Was?? / Proteinimperialism

    3 For Sale from $197.80

    A fairly neglected Wergo release recently excavated by Dexter’s Cigar. Rabe’s piece is electronically generated and treated drone/overtone stuff, masterfully executed. Unlike much electronic music of the period, no funny noises, blipping, or bleeping is involved. If Sonic Boom heard this LP he would probably go back to playing Cramps covers. Apparently this is Mr. Rabe’s career high and subsequent LPs are not of interest (haven’t heard ’em). Incidentally, Bo Anders Persson, the composer on the flip side, was also the leader of the fantastic Swedish psych outfit International Harvester, whose SOV GOTT ROSE MARIE LP is my favorite non-US rare psych album ever (and who later morphed into Trad Gras Och Stenar, who had a great archival live CD out last year.)

  5. Yoshi Wada - Lament For The Rise And Fall Of The Elephantine Crocodile

    3 For Sale from $119.78

    One of the original Fluxus artists, Wada was a key performer in the ’70s Soho new music scene, mostly building his own gigantic adapted pipe organs and bagpipes pumped by air machines. Obviously, on record the physical impact and presence of his music is diminished. Side one of this album is solo overtone singing, which is pleasant enough but not as cool as side two, which combines his voice with 2 of his bagpipe-derived instruments, the Elephantine Crocodile and the Alligator. I’ve always been a big bagpipe fan, and this is the bagpipe drone record I’ve always wanted to hear. Wada’s later LP on SAJ, OFF THE WALL, is a song-for-song cover version of the Michael Jackson album of the same name. Ok, it’s not. It has real bagpipes and percussion but its more frenetic approach is, to me, less effective that the music on this disk.

  6. Michael Snow - Musics For Piano, Whistling, Microphone And Tape Recorder

    8 For Sale from $82.42

    Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once remarked that Canadian filmmaker, artist, and musician Michael Snow may be the most important living North American artist, and I’m tempted to agree. Snow is best known for 1) his “Walking Woman” paintings which became a mass reproduced image in Canada in the ’60s–the equivalent of Warhol’s Campbell’s cans here and the “star” of his film NEW YORK EYE AND EAR CONTROL, which many of you may know from 2) the ESP soundtrack which features Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Sunny Murray, John Tchichai, etc. What you probably didn’t know is that Snow instructed them to abandon playing a “head” (melody at the beginning and end) and just dive right into free playing, which makes the album a landmark in the evolution of free improvisation. 3) His landmark WAVELENGTH, a continuous 45 minute zoom from one end of a loft to an extreme close-up of a postcard on the wall at the other end. The film is a favorite of mine and John Oswald notes it as an inspiration for PLEXURE; moreover Stanley Kubrick borrowed the last shot for the ending of THE SHINING.

    As a musician, Snow played straight-ahead jazz professionally in the ’50s, free improvisation with the Artists Jazz Band and CCMC from the ’60s to the present and released two solo LPs– MUSICS… and THE LAST LP in 1989. The first two sides of this set are a piece called “Falling Starts,” in which a tape of a short piano melody is played first at hyper-speed, then slower and slower until it becomes recognizable and the until each note becomes a thundering, quivering bass boom. Only the Dead C’s RUNWAY cassette surpasses this for low end speaker mayhem. As process music, it resembles Steve Reich’s unrealized piece “Slow Motion Sound” (in which a music phrase would be slowed down on tape without altering the pitch); as it happens, Snow and Reich are friends (Snow participated in two performances of “Penulum Music” in 1969; Reich used a still from WAVELENGTH on the cover of his Shandar LP; and Snow used snippets from that LP in one section of his film RAMEAU’S NEPHEW). As early as 1970, Snow’s films and Philip Glass’s music were being compared (in an article by the playwright Richard Foreman), and this LP was released by Glass, yet despite these associations Snow is seldom recognized as a minimalist musician/composer.

    The other piano/tape piece here, “Left Right,” features SNow alternating notes and chords in the bass and treble registers in a very repetitive stride piano pattern. The sound is intentionally distorted and a metronome and telephone are heard. As mid-’70s low-fi goes, this belongs next to the Screamin’ Mee Mees or something–it’s pretty brutal. It’s also interesting to note parallels with La Monte Young’s early sixties piano playing, which stretched 12-bar blues structures into indefinite modal passages, and with Charlemagne Palestine’s “Strumming Music,” which also used strict left/right hand alternation to much different effect.

    Furthermore, many of Snow’s films are concerned with lateral movement (especially BACK AND FORTH and PRESENTS), which makes the title (and the use of a metronome–get it?) a pun on his own art (the totality of his art is kind of an anagram of itself–and not surprisingly, anagrams are a major subject in RAMEAU’S NEPHEW). In fact, he details the many similarities between his music and his films in his extensive liner notes (which cover all four sides of the gatefold sleeve). There was a very limited CD release by Snow in ’94 which is still available from Art Metropole in Toronto, but Dexter’s Cigar may reissue it in the future, so keep those cards and letters coming.

  7. John Lennon / Yoko Ono* - Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions

    13 For Sale from $40.00

    These two need no introduction, but “Cambridge 1969,” which takes up all of side one, is a completely unheralded classic. For twenty minutes Yoko vibratos her way around a single note while Lennon provides terrifying power-drone feedback accompaniment. This is the ultimate punk/metal take on La Monte and Marian’s BLACK ALBUM (which, considering Ono & Young’s history together, might be both figurative and literal). Towards the end John Stevens and John Tchichai chime in for some free jazz/minimal crossover a la Hermann Nitsch. On side two there’s “Radio Play,” nanosecond snippets of radio played at regular intervals – almost Bernard Gunter-ish heard in 1997. It’s hard to imagine how betrayed Beatlemaniacs must have felt at the time or since – it’s far more blasphemous than METAL MACHINE MUSIC, but Lou didn’t have a non-Caucasian female collaborator for his fans to blame it on. Newly reissued on CD (by Ryko), I maintain that this album is a must for any outside music listener.

  8. Arnold Dreyblatt And The Orchestra Of Excited Strings - Propellers In Love

    7 For Sale from $73.63

    This guy is an underrated as they get. Unlike many of the people on this list, Arnold’s actually had releases on (relatively) high profile new music labels (India Navigation, Hat Art, Tzadik) and been on the scene since the early ’70s (he worked as an archivist for La Monte Young and at the Kitchen), yet his music is seldom discussed. He uses acoustic stringed instruments like hurdy gurdy, cello, pianoforte, and double bass to create sharp, rhythmic overtone studies. He’s probably the most rock-influenced minimalist; his pieces usually have drums and percussion and he favors propulsive hard rock rhythms that never seem forced or superfluous, as they sometimes do in Rhys Chatham or Glenn Branca’s music. So why doesn’t he have their crossover artrock audiences? Beats me. This is my favorite of his three albums; it’s tough to score on vinyl but is available on CD from Hat Art with a great collaboration with Paul Panhuysen tacked on as a bonus cut. Arnold’s NODAL EXPECTATION LP and ANIMAL MAGNETISM CD are also well worth investigating. If there were as many Arnold Dreyblatt releases as there are, say, Arthur Doyle CDs, the world might be a better place (but probably not).

  9. Jim O'Rourke - Happy Days

    5 For Sale from $6.00

    Much maligned as a Tony Conrad/John Fahey ripoff (mostly by people who never listened to either until 1995), HAPPY DAYS is actually a fine addition to the minimal canon. The superficial similarities to FOUR VIOLINS and Fahey’s guitar playing are irrelevant because the piece’s construction bears no resemblance to any Conrad or Fahey music I’ve heard. In fact, O’Rourke juxtaposes their sensibilities with his own much more convincingly here than on last year’s Gastr del Sol Fahey cover with Conrad guesting on violin. It starts off with octaves played for some time on an acoustic guitar, which are overtaken by one to four hurdy gurdys in succession, only to return some forty minutes later. What impresses me is the simultaneously circular and linear structure (not uncommon in process music but fairly uncommon in drone stuff outside of some of Phill Niblock’s work) and the remarkable patience and restraint O’Rourke shows as both composer and performer. The timing of each hurdy gurdy entrance is impeccable, and despite the glacial pacing and harmonic stasis of each part, it never gets boring.

  10. Anthony Moore - Pieces From The Cloudland Ballroom

    1 For Sale from $215.19

    Two great missing links in the incredible history of Uwe Nettlebeck’s productions at Wumme, Germany. Slapp Happy founder Moore recorded PIECES a month after Faust cut their debut LP (fall 1971) and SECRETS a month before their second (with SH’s debut SORT OF following in May ’72 and Tony Conrad/Faust in October). Indeed, Faust’s Werner “Zappa” Diermaier and Gunther Wusthoff both contribute to PIECES, which is not a krautrock or artrock LP but a bona fide minimal classic. Side one is “Jam Jern Jim Jom Jum” which as three singers chanting that mantra while Moore plays these odd, luminous repeating chords underneath. The first piece on side 2, “mu na h-vile ni a shaoileas iad,” sounds uncannily like Richard Young’s ADVENT with its quiet piano and piercing bowed sounds, while “A.B.C.D. Gol’fish” could almost pass for the trance rock classic that Moondog never got around to recording.

  11. Anthony Moore - Secrets Of The Blue Bag

    7 For Sale from $54.95

    10.2

    The follow-up, SECRETS, is three pieces for strings and voice all based on the same 5 note melody. It’s more “classical” than its predecessor, kind of what I expected ACADEMY IN PERIL to sound like. How and why Polydor was convinced to release these is beyond me (anyone know the story?) The Japanese CD reissues are expensive but the original albums are unfindable. PIECES is the superior LP, but both are essential if you have any interest in the genre, period, or principals involved. Incidentally, Moore’s later solo pop LP, FLYING DOESN’T HELP, is a must for fans of WARM JETS Eno/FEAR Cale.

  12. Raymond Scott - Soothing Sounds For Baby Volume 1 : 1 To 6 Months

    DOOR PRIZE: I’ve paid zero attention to the Scott “revival,” but these ultra-weird items are surely among the most startling rediscoveries of the digital age. Consisting of extremely repetitive minimal electronics (mostly ondioline and oscillators) designed for infants 1 month to 6 mos. (Vol. 1), 6-12 mos. (Vol. 2), and 12-18 mos. (Vol. 3), these bear many uncanny resemblances to the simple melodic improvs and incessant ostinatos of Terry Riley, and the use of echo on Vol. 3 is much like DISCREET MUSIC and NO PUSSYFOOTING. I’m also reminded of the Silver Apples, Kraftwerk, the Calico Wall, Moondog, and even Suicide (Vols. 1 & 2 especially). The 18 minute track, “Toy Typewriter,” with its interminably repeating rhythm figure that shifts as Scott makes adjustments to the tone controls is as definitive a “minimal” piece as I’ve ever heard…

  13. Raymond Scott - Soothing Sounds For Baby Volume II (6-12 Months)

    … Volume 2 is my fave, but they’re all pretty cool.

  14. Terry Jennings

    Addendum: Three Great Minimalists With No Commercially Available Recordings

    The late (d. 1981) Terry Jennings was a high school friend of La Monte Young's and one of his earliest collaborators. A child prodigy who was picking records out of his parents collection at the age of two and arranging Stravinsky's piano works for his junior high orchestra, Jennings became a teenage jazz saxophone virtuoso. La Monte considers him to be better than John Coltrane; the early 60's tapes of him with Young's piano accompaniment do evidence a very distinct and advanced modal style at the same time as "My Favorite Things" and "India". Jennings is best known, if at all, for his very quiet, serene piano pieces from the early sixties which heavily influenced West Coast composers like Harold Budd, Peter Garland and Ingram Marshall, and even AMM's John Tilbury. Several years ago i saw a performance of Jenning's raga-inspired "Piece for Saxophone and Cello" performed by La Monte (on voice) and Charles Curtis (cello) and was truly blown away by the very beautiful "constellations of tones presented over changing drones" (in Young's words) and the intricate use of changing tonal centers. Jenning's only available work is a blues piece on Jon Gibson's IN GOOD COMPANY CD which is okay, but a three CD set of (say) "Piece", archival saxophone tapes and the piano pieces would be an essential release.

  15. Maryanne Amacher

    I first became aware of Maryanne in my teens when i read a review of Glenn Branca's SYMPHONY #3 in Down Beat (?!) which compared it to her "decibel-shaking, head-splitting music". Later i saw a cover story on her in EAR magazine which detailed her various sound experiments (some with John Cage), such as mixing sounds from different cities together live and actual sonic houses she designed and operated as installations. Like Alvin Lucier, her music is preoccupied by a scientific interest in acoustic phenomena, but unlike Lucier, it's often visceral and almost physically overwhelming. I was able to attend a very rare performance by her in NYC some years back which i still consider to be the greatest concert I've ever seen. Amacher filled the performance garage in SoHo with a dozen or so carefully placed loudspeakers which pumped out electronic music so loud that at one point i actually thought the sound was originating inside my head and pouring out of my ears. It was the ultimate minimal music experience, way heavier than any record on either of these lists. Obviously a mere CD cannot do Amacher's work justice but more people should be able to hear her music -- somehow.

  16. Julius Eastman

    The most i know about Eastman are two concert reviews by Tom Johnson and a very vauge recollection of reading an obituary of him in the VILLAGE VOICE in the 80's. One concert Johnson reviewed was a kind of berserk free jazz piano display, the other a very energetic piece for two pianos which started out playing one note in different octaves and gradually introducing other notes until the tonal center was lost. Eastman appears as a performer on Morton Feldman's ROTHKO CHAPEL album on Odyssey and Meredith Monk's TURTLE DREAMS but never had a solo release. The tapes exist; let's hear 'em!