Mapping Early Minimalism

Authored by: Keith Potter

The Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409435495
eBook ISBN: 9781315613260
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042556


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When writing the New Grove entry on minimalism for this dictionary’s 2001 edition, 1 1

See Keith Potter, ‘Minimalism’, in Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 16 (London, 2001), pp. 716–18.

I thought it best to restrict myself to the narrower definitions and interpretations of the term ‘minimalism’ stemming from the narrative set in motion by the ideas and work of La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass in the 1960s – even though to do so was to allow these figures a hegemony in this area that some would find unacceptable. And as the author of Four Musical Minimalists, published the year before, I confined any broader excursions into this territory along purely music-historical lines to two matters. Some investigation was attempted into the first uses of the description ‘minimal’ in a musical context, by Michael Nyman and Tom Johnson, as applied, respectively, to compositions by Henning Christiansen (1932–2008), the Danish composer and member of Fluxus, and Alvin Lucier (b. 1930), the American pioneer in exploring acoustic and psycho-acoustic phenomena as the basis for making music: two composers who could well provide alternative starting points for ‘mapping minimalist music’. And the emergence was noted of musical minimalism out of what Nyman (again), following John Cage, called ‘experimental music’; which meant, basically, pursuing another USA-based story in which Cage himself is the major player. For the rest, my introduction to that book concerned minimalist art, and a mixture of cultural history and cultural theory that seemed appropriate to the task. 2 2

See Keith Potter, Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 1–20.

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