December 12, 2020
Perhaps all art students will know of minimalism as a visual aesthetic like romanticism or impressionism. But, it is a movement that was, and still is prevalent in multiple mediums.
It's based on the idea of using limited and repetitive musical materials like melodies and patterns to produce works of cyclical nature. It originated in the 1960s New York and was initially regarded as experimental music. Although the term minimalism was soon coined to represent this genre of music, it formed an important genre in the 20th Century Classical and Film music scene. Some of its most prominent composers include Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley and other composers from different parts of the world who were inspired by these sounds. The resulting compositions were elevated by lengthy listening sessions. Although they are mentally dominating and tiring, it encompasses all your thoughts and activities to sync with the cyclical nature of the music.
If you look at the cover art of Steve Reich’s (best of 1965-1995) album, you can see a visual representation of continuous variations. Superimposed on his portrait are the letters of his name in a 9x10 grid that never reveals his full name. Its repetitive variations try to attain the artist’s name but I don’t think the scramble is meant to veil the name. Instead, it's a form of a visual argument on how variations can become an authentic reality of their own- defying notions of resolution and absolution, which relies on the essence of minimalist music.
Many of the Philip Glass compositions are named after things that revoke images of continuity and flow: words and names like the Amazon, pendulum, and facade, resulting in a cinematic pan of continuous imagery before your eyes. Some others, however, refer to the idea of repetition in a conceptual manner, such as in the Metamorphosis works, 5 pieces of a series that represent the cyclical stages of life and change, inspired by Franz Kafka’s 1915 novel, Metamorphosis.
On the left is a Spotify playlist, a compilation that only begins to sample a very small fraction of minimalist music. If you like any of the pieces or songs in the playlist I would suggest clicking on the album and listen to the songs in order, especially because you can hear them in context. It goes especially well with school or studio work for those who can multitask. Not me!
P.S Special thanks to Dylan Fan for introducing me to the music of Philip Glass.