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Minimal Music Essentials

Minimalism has influenced various forms of arts, but the most influenced by this movement were visual arts and music. In the 60’, after minimalism became known in visual arts, some composers started to be intrigued by this movement and started to apply this concept to their songs and musical compositions. 

Everything began in America and, as people started to be drawn by minimal visual arts, they began appreciating music that was not so complicated. The whole concept of minimalism is to remove the non-essential. Applied to music, this concept revolutionized music by bringing to the audience music that involved minimal musical material.

Minimal music is made up of phrases, also referred to as cells, that are repeated enough times to create a pattern and are developed gradually, the music piece ending up to be finished with a very different phrase than the one the music piece started with. The cells are usually simple and the music part doesn’t involve many classic and complex instruments.

With time, people started to appreciate the simplicity and realized that this simplicity created a great complexity of feelings.

Who invented it?

Terry Riley was the pioneer of the minimalist music movement. Living in the United States, he was captivated by minimalism in its early blooming ages, and he started applying this concept to music. 

His most famous composition is ‘In C’, released in 1964. He began his music career by performing as a solo pianist. He soon realized that when playing the keys on the piano, the number of keys depends on what you want your audience to feel. So he started to improvise and his music became a series of modal figures. 

Over time, his work and minimal music, in general, started to influence a lot of music genres like pop and rock. The founder members of the band The Velvet Underground, John Cale, and Angus MacLise, were inspired by Terry Riley and also used to play with him back in the 60s.

His latest work is The Lion’s Throne, released in 2019, in a collaboration with the singer Amelia Cuni, a music piece that was recorded live. Even though he was born in 1935, it looks like minimalism kept him going and he is still working. Other famous composers from that era are Phillip Glass and Steve Reich who were also considered geniuses at the time.

The post-minimalism era

The post-minimalism era refers to music that was influenced later on by the minimalism movement. Minimalists used to have longer compositions, between 75 minutes and 120 minutes. However, post-minimalist composers reduced the duration of their compositions and most of them work in shorter forms that last for about 15 minutes.

Minimalism, however, didn’t have as many followers as you would expect. As the academic members appreciated complex music, most of them didn’t want to be associated with minimal music. Many academics believe that minimal music stopped where it started and produced nothing, but, in reality, it has influenced post-minimalist music as we know it now.

Some people believe that totalism, another music movement, has its roots in minimal music as well.

Final thoughts

As everything in our lives can be reduced to the essentials, music has been no exception over the years. In the 17th century, there was an attempt to make music simpler, but with no impact. And as a trend that never dies, in the 20th century, minimal music made its way back into history.

Like minimal visual arts, minimal music can take its audience into depth of perception by using simplicity as a means for the soul to enter a more profound world. And that is not an easy task.

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