Tuesday, January 28, 2014

La Monte Young Composition 1960 #7

I was very intrigued by this particular composition when it was included on the handout we got in class a couple of weeks ago.

I imagined that the most literal translations of the piece would be either on non-sustaining instruments (i.e. piano) where the piece ended when the notes had naturally decayed, or electronic or other mechanical instruments with infinite sustain (i.e. organs or tone generators) that could go on as long as the performers see fit.

Sure enough, there are a handful of videos with performances on organs, keyboards, piano, etc.

The two below were my favorites and both eschewed the obvious interpretations mentioned above.

This first one is by a group called Blutwurst, which includes cello, viola, bass clarinet, trumpet, theremin, and accordion (though I don't know if all were utilized in this recording).

I think it would have been interesting enough to hear the natural fluctuations inherent in the instruments being used (re-attacks with natural tuning fluctuations, the imperfect tuning of the reeds in the accordion), but the group clearly made some intentional decisions regarding tuning and timbre throughout the piece.

The second one is for two massively amplified down-tuned electric guitars. Yeah, I'm predictable...
Here, the fluctuations of feedback frequencies based on location and instrument position are played with.
Full disclosure, I have not yet listened to the full 30+ minutes as of this posting, but I'm working on it right now!

Composition 1960 #7 from Cory Strand on Vimeo.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Aphex Twin Piano Pendulum

I suppose we could have the piano swinging over the mics instead of the mics swinging over the piano.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ann Southam

I was curious to see what kind of music has been put out by female minimalist composers and came across the music of Ann Southam. She was a canadian composer that wrote electroacoustic and acoustic music, frequently collaborating with dancers and dance troops. I listened to a variety of pieces, but really enjoyed several movements of her piano series, glass houses. Here are a two videos of really remarkable performances of Glass House 1 and 5:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I decided to pursue the music of La Monte Young in response to the assignment of posting something that I didn't know much about. His ideas have always struck me as particularly interesting, yet I have heard very little of his actual music. When I found The Tortoise, His Dreams, and Journeys, I was intrigued, particularly because he is performing with John Cale and Tony Conrad. The piece could easily be classified as both minimal and ambient, as it fills the entirely of fifteen minutes with interesting, sometimes pleasant sound. The minimalist aspect of this piece that I am most interested in is the long duration. When an audience is presented with a wall of sound that is relatively unchanging they are forced to identify and actively listen to the minute differences in pitch, tone, and other aspects of music that are generally glossed over in lieu of pattern and rhythm. This is the same concept used in many minimalist pieces I have been exposed to, including Reich's Piano Phase, Tony Conrad's piece that we listened to in class, and on a large scale, even Conrad's "movie" shares this quality of minimal music.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Minimalist Fusion

Since it's inception in the 60's, Minimalism has often been used as an influence by artists in other genres, specifically Rock in the 70's and 80's and all shades of experimental Electronic Music. Today, there are many groups standing on the shoulders of the original pioneers, blending many genres with Minimalism to say something relevant about RIGHT NOW. Fuck Buttons are one such group. As an electronic two-piece from England, they borrow from drone, post-rock, noise and electronic dance music, all of which have been at least partly born from Minimal music itself. Their insistence on repetition of phrase, gradual transformation, drone and a steady beat show that they make music from a very Minimalist place. When they combine this with their "nurture"- a Pop sensibility that comes from an awareness of the modern culture that they themselves grew up in, they create a beautiful "Minimalist Fusion".

Knee Play 1 from Einstein on the Beach

An un-staged performance of Knee Play 1 from Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, in conjunction with the 2012 production.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jonny Greenwood plays Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich

Here is one of my favorite minimalist pieces (Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich) performed by one of my favorite guitar players. Jonny uses a variety of max patches as part of the performance to trigger certain events and store information.

Philip Glass

Discussion with Philip Glass/On his Retrospective

Philip Glass was one of the first minimalist composers I was exposed to several years ago. But when I saw him perform my senior year of highschool, it was the first time I really found myself interested in the music. I had the pleasure of seeing him in a very small and unusual setting- a one-room sanctuary shaped like a dome that fit no more than 25-30 people. The repetition in his music combined with the acoustics of the room and the somewhat religious setting made it one of the most all-encompassing atmospheres I've experienced.

The more I learned about him, the more intriguing I found his philosophies on music.  In addition, i started to see the ways he's informed by his background in science and the musical family he came from . While this brief interview with him doesn't cover much, i think it's an interesting jumping off point with a few thought-provoking points. Also, minimalism is referred to as "buddha rock" and Glass says that his music is "a little repetitive."

No-input mixer Arvo Part and drone metal

Alright, here's a two-fer.

First, something that probably more closely aligns with the scope of this ensemble:

'Fratres' pour console no-input (extrait) from Christian Carrière on Vimeo.

We've kind of got two levels of minimalism-ception going on here.

Compositionally, we hear aspects of minimalism in the original "Fratres" by Arvo Part. There are actually several versions of this piece, though according to Wikipedia, the most popular are the version for solo violin, string orchestra, percussion, and the one for violin and piano.
Here is the former:

Now, to my ears, this doesn't quite fall into the category of minimalism. There are indeed a limited number of chords used in the same pattern multiple times, and it's supposed to exemplify Part's Tintinnabuli method of composition (look it up). However, when these limited resources are put through so many variations and settings (that solo violin completely changes character multiple times, my favorite is the harmonics section, starts around 8:30), the stasis of nine repeating chord sequences is broken, and a sense of development and significant motion is implied.

The no-input mixer version, though admittedly very short, does away with any variation whatsoever and adds a new level of minimalism by reducing the source material to nothing more than what would normally be used only as part of the PA in an instrumental performance.

OK, now number two, only because I've got a soft spot in my heart for drone metal.
You could definitely argue that this totally fits into the realm of Electronic Chamber Music because the sounds (feedback, distortion, standing waves, etc) would not be possible without the use of electric guitar, massive amplification, and recording studio know-how.
Very long, very repetitive, chant-like vocals, absolutely intended as a meditative experience.
Unfortunately, I feel like heavy references to drug use diminish the impact of this piece as an aesthetic accomplishment, but we're musicians... we can see beyond cultural context in order to recognize the underlying art.

John Adams-China Gates

The 'gates' of the title refers to the change of mode - not the actual modes for each section per se, but rather, the exact moment of transition from one mode to the next. The image shown is the graph-form representation John provided as a rough visual guide to the gating sequence. The gating sequence clearly shows extended use of modes at the beginning and towards the end of the piece. 

The piece is gated poly-palindromically (offset); the bar structure within each mode is a reverse form of the same structure later in the piece. There are 3 main palindromic sections - the main one being the first 8 modes and the final 8 modes. The bar structure for the first eight is 15, 15, 12, 12, 8, 8, 4, 4, with the bar structure for the final 8 being 4, 4, 8, 8, 12, 12, 15, 15 (i.e. a mirror image of the first 8 modes). Other palindromes occur between modes 9-12 and modes 17-20, and the final pure palindrome being modes 13-14 and modes 24-25. However, there are some cross-modal palindromes throughout. The piece is made up of 33 modes in total - this meaning there is a defined central mode. The pre-central mode is, interestingly, the only mode to contain 3 bars. On paper this gate stands out prominently. How does this relate to music? Well, to the ear, the piece works into the middle, then unwinds itself again, almost like the unwinding of a double-helix.

Dieter Schnebel - Music to Read


Dieter Schnebel creates melodies that are meant to be read rather than played. They are virtual melodies in that the reader is supposed to come up with the melody in his head. These melodies are drawn as graphic scores.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Poll: Could you consider the music of Reggie Watts minimal?

In his live performances, comedian Reggie Watts frequently breaks into musical interludes by running his microphone through a loop pedal. Under the basis that these performances are limited exclusively to material that he can create vocally into a single microphone, I submit the question: To what extent could these performances be considered minimal?

Reggie Watts at TED

I admit, with this post I am probing the bounds of minimalism. I'd love to hear anything that people have to say in the comments section.

Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes

In November, 2007 I attended a rather memorable St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert. While I enjoyed the orchestral music of Kurtág and Górecki, it was György Ligeti's Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes that has left a burning memory of the performance in my mind. Upon entering the concert hall, I was immediately struck by the string of metronomes surrounded the audience in a crescent. The performance was initiated as all one hundred metronomes, each set to a different tempo, were sent into motion by ensemble members. The result was an onslaught of polyrhythmic clicks, swelling in subtle waves. The sound reminded me of rain droplets hitting a tin roof. As the metronomes began to wind down, the texture thinned, and after about 15 minutes only a few remained until they stopped altogether.

I thought the piece was fantastic, though it wasn't until reading Tom Johnson's views on minimalism, as expressed in "Minimalism in Music: in search of a definition" that I now consider Poème Symphonique a piece of minimalist music. It is a great example of how complexity can be created through minimal means. I was reminded of Poème Symphonique by the polyrhythmic and textural qualities of our run through of Cow Pong in class, and find the comparison between the two pieces rather interesting.

Poème Symphonique was written in 1962 during Ligeti's brief involvement with the Fluxus movement, and was intended as a music critique of the narrow minded musical ideologies that he perceived at that time. The score is surprisingly detailed for a Fluxus piece, many of which were characterized by a few lines of text. Both the winding of the metronomes, as well as a period of silence are intended to be included in the performance of the piece, adding a silent element. In addition to sharing elements with what Johnson calls "silent music," it is also an example of process music, which has connections to Reich's work with phasing.

For some time, this piece was difficult to stage, as procuring a set of 100 identical pyramid shaped metronomes was a difficult endeavor. However, today one can rent a set of 100 metronomes, specifically tailored for this piece.

Here is a youtube performance, which involves an automated mechanism to initiate the metronomes simultaneously (skip to 1:30 for the start of the piece).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cowbell Music

Electronic Chamber Music Instrument List

Ryan Shea - bass (upright and electric), guitar, ukulele, mandolin, voice
Jonah Gray - guitar, bass, keys, percussion, computers
Max Morrison - guitar, piano, voice
Mac Porter - guitar
Peter Littlejohn - saxes, piano, guitar, accordion, banjo, computers, etc.
Gabe Wilk - guitar, piano, MAX/MSP
Eric Sheffield - guitar, percussion, MAX/MSP, bass, trumpet
Alex Goldsmith - computer, voice
Simon Alexander-Adams - piano/keyboards
Lena Sutter - violin, guitar, banjo, mandolin, voice, electric bass, flute
Lance Shipp - piano, electric bass, guitar, drums, alto sax, voice

Let Ryan Shea know if there are any necessary changes or additions

Wednesday, January 8, 2014