Minimal Objects in Microsound
Minimalism refers to such a large cross-section of artistic activities that the term has lost much of the usefulness it might once have possessed. Like other catchphrases, minimalism now functions more as a placeholder, a word that facilitates conversation through the assumption that everyone understands it in the same manner. Yet in varying contexts, minimalism could refer to artworks displaying simplicity and lack of adornment, repetition, gestalt wholes as opposed to composite assemblages, or nonreferential materials. Appearing first in 1960s visual arts, where it pertained to sculpture featuring large, nondescript found objects such as fluorescent lighting tubes and steel girders, minimalism was only later applied to music. By many accounts, Michael Nyman was the first to write about minimalist music; he did so sometime in the early 1970s before the publication of the first edition of his Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond in 1974 (Warburton 1988, 141). In the intervening years, minimalist music has become synonymous with predominantly American music featuring rhythmic and melodic repetition, tonal harmonies, and textural transformations that unfold slowly through a process of accretion.
The links between 1960s minimalist visual arts and minimalist concert music are thus already tenuous. To muddy further an already confused situation, electronic musicians use the term minimalism to describe subgenres ranging from drone music to techno to ambient music. So it would seem that anything resembling either Young’s multiple-hour meditations on a single pitch, or Reich’s Drumming, or Brian Eno’s Music for Airports counts as minimalist. And as the shadow cast by minimalism grows, justifications for continued comparisons with minimalist visual arts lose validity and at