Minimalism Top Ten III

By low-bay low-bay
updated over 3 years ago

as compiled by Alan Licht, 2007

  1. Harry Pussy - Let's Build A Pussy

    Besides being the best No Wave band of the 90's, Harry Pussy were evidently arch conceptualists as well, based on this release and the brilliant permutations of their VIGILANCE cassette on Chocolate Monk. Here guitarist Bill Orcutt (credited with "mouse") takes one second of vocals by drummer Adris Hoyos and loops it with his computer, making a drone that goes through various shifts over four sides, trumping my own like-minded, side-long fantasia on the last chord of the Minutemen’s “Polarity” that occupies the first side of my 1994 Siltbreeze LP SINK THE AGING PROCESS. As they say in MOJO, Bill & Adris, phone home!

  2. Harley Gaber - The Winds Rise In The North

    This one’s probably more Spectralist than Minimalist (think Giacinto Scelsi, Gerard Grisey, or Horatiu Radulescu), but so be it. Released on a Boston-based record label that specialized in Early Music on period instruments, this is a long (over 100 minutes), sparse string quintet with slowly sustained dissonances that slide around like a pit full of snakes. Gaber gave up music not long after this record to pursue a career as a tennis instructor (!), although several years ago violinist Malcolm Goldstein told me that Gaber had returned to music and art making. Cool Tibetan demon painting cover too.

  3. Elodie Lauten - The Death Of Don Juan

    This is one of the great lost experimental records of the 80's. Lauten has been around since the 70's, going back and forth between Paris and New York. THE DEATH OF DON JUAN is an opera, in the avant garde sense, but I honestly prefer it to any of Robert Ashley’s operas or the Philip Glass ones (except EINSTEIN). There’s a Fairlight on most of the record, but fear not, as you would never know that it dates from 80's. The first two tracks sound like Joe Jones meets Glass or Steve Reich, with harpsichords, trine (an electric lyre that Lauten invented) and Arthur Russell’s cello. “Death As A Shadow” recalls Meredith Monk’s “Turtle Dreams” but is even more haunting and doomy. Russell’s vocal on “Death As A Woman” even reminds me of MOONDOG 2 and sounds unlike any of his other work. Even the libretto is fab-A+

  4. Wim Mertens Performed By Soft Verdict - Maximizing The Audience

    Two more sleepers from the 80s, both released on the neat Belgian label Les Disques du Crepuscle. These are both prime examples of Pop Minimalism, which took the tunefulness of Reich & Glass and gave it pop base, rather than a jazz/African (Reich) or western classical (Glass) one. It’s primarily a European phenomenon that also has roots in the first generation British minimalists Gavin Bryars (who recorded a nice LP, HOMMAGES, for Crepuscle) and Michael Nyman. Wim Mertens wrote the first full length study of Minimalism in 1983, AMERICAN MINIMAL MUSIC, and went on to a successful recording career (much like Nyman, who also started out writing a definitive book on experimental music and then became a well-known composer; both have also provided scores for Peter Greenaway films). This double LP is easily the best thing by him I’ve heard, outside of one essential cut, “Multiples 12″, on the Crepuscle label sampler THE FRUIT OF ORIGINAL SIN. “Circles”, which occupies the first side, is a wonderful additive piece, with reedist Dirk Descheemaeker slowly building up melodic fragments via overdubbed clarinets and sax. Mertens’ solo piano track is Hallmark-city (keep your Kleenex close by), but the title track is the pinnacle of Pop Minimalism. With a charging piano pulse that’s straight out of Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand”, Mertens expertly weaves chattering percussion, operatic female vocals and aching violin/sax lines in and out.

  5. The Lost Jockey - The Lost Jockey

    The Lost Jockey was a large aggregate of British new music performers who came together on this LP to play compositions by three of its members: Andrew Poppy, John Barker and Orlando Gough. Poppy is the best known of the three-he worked with Psychic TV on their first two albums and made two rather dated EPs for ZTT in the mid-80's - and his pieces here are better than the later works but still forgettable. It’s Gough’s side-long “Hoovering the Beach I & II” that’s worth the price of admission-with piano patterns which gradually elongate into rippling curlicues and Glassian high-pitched female vocals, this is truly a forgotten highlight of second generation Minimalism.

  6. Roberto Cacciapaglia - Sei Note In Logica

    Cacciapaglia is an Italian composer with a long career; this early LP is an anomaly in his output and seems to be his take on the then-current Minimal trend, as the music and instrumentation is highly reminiscent of both Fred Rzewski’s “Coming Together” and Steve Reich’s “Octet” (which, to be fair, Cacciapaglia probably hadn’t heard since it came out at the same time as this LP). But the wild card here is the incorporation of computer sounds–pretty novel for the time, and used to awesome effect. A massive influence on Jim O’Rourke (just ask him) and I’ll bet Fennesz is well aware of this disc as well. Ace photo of a tennis court on the cover too (a pretty Minimalist sport, when you think about it).

  7. Franco Battiato - Franco Battiato

    Two more Italian Minimal masterpieces. Battiato released a bunch of progressive LP's in the 70's, some of which Water has been reissuing on CD in the US (although they can be found as budget CDs in Europe) and found pop stardom in the 80's. The first side of this album, “Za”, is his most explicitly Minimal piece, and it’s a doozy. Pianist Antonio Ballista plays one lustrous chord over and over, but depresses the damper pedal-cutting the attack short, he lets melodies emerge from the sympathetically vibrating strings. After about 8 minutes he changes chords, and repeats the process, then goes back to the original chord. It sounds electronic, but is totally acoustic-just brilliant.

  8. Giusto Pio - Motore Immobile

    Pio was/is (?) an associate of Battiato’s and MOTORE IMMOBILE was his debut LP. On the first side/title track, he uses a droning organ and moves from triad to triad, superimposing the next one briefly before moving on, occasionally expanding the sound with octave doubling and then just as quickly subtracting the lower tones. Intermittent humming and violin provide additional notes. On the second side, “Ananta”, he uses a piano flourish to introduce each triad, landing on the tonic note each time. Very calm, and very mysterious, this record is as overlooked as they come (part of the appeal, of course).

  9. J. B. Smith - Ever Since I Have Been A Man Full Grown

    9 For Sale from $45.00

    A solo vocal blues album. Smith only uses one, 5-note melody for the whole thing-2 10 minute tracks on side one, and a sidelong piece on side two-the only changes are in the lyrics, which describe his imprisonment and other fun life experiences. To my mind, this is hardcore Minimalism, and shows the blues as one of the genre’s truest sources, a notion which has only been acknowledged by La Monte Young (forget the Forever Bad Blues Band, find the bootlegs with “Bb Dorian Blues fifth day of the hammer” or better yet, consider the one sound installation he did where each chord of a 12-bar blues was sustained for an entire day over 12 days!), Henry Flynt (check out the BACK PORCH HILLBILLY BLUES CD Volume 1, not Volume 2 on Locust), Jonathan Kane (his FEBRUARY CD on Table of the Elements is a bit rockist in execution for my tastes but pretty solid conceptually), and Tetuzi Akiyama (see the one-chord “Fast Machine” and the post-Hooker droned out boogies on the classic DON’T FORGET TO BOOGIE LP).

  10. Eddie "One String" Jones And Edward Hazelton - One String Blues

    Another Takoma LP, ONE STRING BLUES is also of note here, at least for Eddie “One String” Hazelton’s tracks, played on a homemade one-string instrument.

  11. Junior Kimbrough - Meet Me In The City

    Finally, any fan of Minimalism (or of Loren Mazzacane Connors) must hear Junior Kimbrough’s “Baby Please Don’t Leave Me”, a solo demo posthumously released on MEET ME IN THE CITY (Fat Possum) which is a monstrous overtone study.

  12. Earth (2) - Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version

    In a world with Maryanne Amacher and EARTH 2 there is simply no reason for any sober human to listen to Sunn 0))), but if you’re drunk and you like druids and/or dry ice I suppose they’re serviceable…anyway, this is the record that initially inspired them. Unlike a lot of more recent noise underground stuff, which (to me) is relatively factor-able, this is technically boggling drone music – the sustain is achieved not just with distortion but through overdubbing, and there’s clean guitars in there too – even on headphones it’s hard to tell what the fuck they’re really doing. On this album, Earth set up a drone and place a few choice metal riffs against it over the course of forty minutes, at which point they just let the drone chord ring for another half hour. I remember standing in a record store looking at this CD’s awful front cover and goofy fake consumer endorsements on the back, then thinking back to Byron Coley’s glowing review in Forced Exposure and asking myself “Is this really the right record?” It was. Hard to remember how completely unfashionable this was in the heyday of grunge, even with the Sub Pop connection (my copy was bought used, not long after it came out, for $7 and I don’t think I ever saw a new copy at the time), but it sounded great then and holds up quite well now.

  13. David Rosenboom - Brainwave Music

    Rosenboom was a 70's New Music guy who performed with La Monte Young and helped organize the first important show of sound sculpture in North American (documented on another release on A.R.C., THE SOUNDS OF SOUND SCULPTURE). This first rate LP was beautifully reissued on CD by the highly intriguing EM label in Japan last year. The sidelong “Portable Gold and Philosopher’s Stones (Music from Brains in Fours)” uses brain waves to trigger synths. A spiraling, oozing piece, it’s the best analog synth Minimalism I’ve heard this side of David Borden, Horacio Vaggione’s “Ending”, or Keith Fullerton Whitman’s recent release on Heavy Tapes. The other tracks, “Chilean Draught” and “Piano Etude (Alpha)” use rapid-fire, repetitive piano figures, like Fred Rzewski on speed or something, combined with an odd and effective text about environmental disaster in South America on the former and more brain waves on the latter.