A Reflection on Minimalist Music

Going into discussion beforehand, I didn’t have much previous knowledge on minimalist music. After the discussion we had in class, I got a few clarifying questions sort of answered and gathered a few take aways that bettered my understanding of the genre.

First, I went in not fully understanding the difference between ambient versus minimalist music. Within the scope of all the different sub-genres of electronic music, and music in general, I felt the lines were a little bit blurred between what distinguished the two from each other if even at all. After a little extra research, I kind of came to the conclusion that ambient music is a little more cohesive in what a standard song might sound like while minimalist music, more specifically its origins and first iterations of it are more experimental. After the class discussion, I also came to a better kind of distinction between the two genres in the fact that ambient music more so focuses on textures of the music more than minimalist music.

I appreciated the conversation we had throughout the discussion from class relating to the future of loops and music production, starting off with the question from the minimalist discussion of whether loops might lead to more minimalism in music, whether in the more traditional minimalist way, or by creating more music that sounds the same. I think that it is important to take into consideration the amount of accessibility there is now and days for people that want to make music. There’s a larger platform with the internet that allows for more sharing of music and allows for more simplicity when it comes to accessing the tools to produce music. I think that within the realm of minimalist music, since so many of the examples seen began to feature loops thanks to innovations in the craft of minimalist music from artists like Terry Riley, it’s interesting to think how the future of minimalist music might develop with the development of more technology and accessibility. For one, there are plenty of places for people to access loops, whether less experimental guitar loops or FX sound effects. There are also countless effects and modulation plug-ins that make the creation of more experimental music as easy as clicking one button.

I think with all these resources, while there isn’t as big of a scene for experimental music as there is for more traditional sounding songs for a variety of reasons, it might be interesting to see if there is a sort of resurgence in minimalist music or at least a little more production similar to the production of its innovators/founders. I think with a sort of nostalgia being seen in younger people for a time before they were even born, it might be interesting to see how up and coming producers might be able to create a new adaption of minimalist music or even pay homage to more traditional minimalist music by combining the tools of old production with the tools of new production. For example, record players are some what coming back into fashion amongst younger people. There’s a sort of aesthetic that comes with owning a record player now and days only further spread through social media. For producers, this might mean finding actual records and playing around with glitching them using technology now and days that allows recording to a DAW (digital audio workstation, basically what software music producers use to actually produce music) to create weird samples to use in their minimalist music.

Straying away from this, another thing I found kind of interesting to think about within the scope of minimalist music was the notion of trying to use as few instruments as possible on the track. I think back to some of the tracks on the playlist for class, specifically “String Trio” by Terry Riley, I think about how that might be seen in music today. I feel with the development of technology, there are a lot more options of what you can put in a song. Rarely do I listen to an album and see a smaller instrumental track, let alone one that features minimal instruments. I do take that with a grain of salt that the music I’m listening to is not minimalist music, and so there shouldn’t really be a surprise that the music isn’t minimalist; however, I do know that every once in a while there are some interlude tracks on albums that could technically be classified as minimalist music according to this definition of using minimal instruments. I think this is interesting to think about and raises a few questions in my head: did the artist make this song with the intent for it to be a sort of more “put together” minimalist track (by “put together” I mean a less experimental track that goes more in line with more common song structure)? I then think even without the potential intent for the song/track to be minimalist, do these example act as more recent examples of minimalist music?

All in all, I still think I would need a bit more time to try and focus in on what minimalist music really is to be able to better understand it. I feel like after the discussion in class, I’ve gained both a slightly better understanding of minimalist music as well as a better understand of how to think about minimalist music in the context of music today. I still say to take everything said with a grain of salt since I still feel shaky on my understanding of minimalist music, although I know this isn’t the focus of the class. Loop wise, it’s very apparent, in some examples more so than others, where the concept of the loop comes into play in minimalist music. There are still a few questions I would want to ask about the relation of loops in music and their impact/role within minimalist music, but I feel as thought I can do a deep dive to better understand the genre and then wait and see how the music community evolves and what that means for minimalist music.

Gabriel Byrd

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