SOUND PATTERNS

A Structural Examination of Tonality, Vocabulary, Texture,
Sonorities, and Time Organization in Western Art Music

by PHILLIP MAGNUSON

MICROCOSMS

Chapter 49. Minimalism

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Chapter 41.
Impressionism
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Chapter 42.
Primitivism
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Chapter 43.
Neo-classicism
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Chapter 44.
Expressionism
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Chapter 45.
Serialism
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Chapter 46.
Jazz
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Chapter 47.
Indeterminism
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Chapter 48.
Texturalism
.
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Chapter 50.
Electronicism
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Chapter 51.
Neo-romanticism
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Chapter 52.
Eclecticism

MINIMALISM: an appeal to simplicity

ImagePiet Mondrian:
Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow
Mondrian "composes" his painting with the simplest of means: repeated black lines and some colors to fill in the resulting rectangles. 1937-42

49.1 BACKGROUND

MINIMALISM, which first achieved prominence in the 1960's, is a reaction to the complexities and tonal freedom of music found in the 1950's (such as Serialism). It also goes by the name of PROCESS music, PHASE music, PULSE music, and SYSTEMIC music. It is generally quite restrained, often tonal and consisting of simple materials which repeat frequently, and is often developed by shifting these simple elements out of phase with each other. Minimalism is sometimes combined with elements of Indeterminism.

For more information, go to the web sites below:
Wikipedia
Minimalism in music and painting

49.2 COMPOSERS ASSOCIATED WITH MINIMALISM

49.3 MUSICAL ELEMENTS

At a glance:

MinimalismTonalityVocabularyTextureSonorityTime
basically maintains:xxx
generally modifies:
completely changes:xx

  1. Tonality
    1. Tonality is generally extremely clear.
    2. Phrases and forms are generated by whichever "process" is being used.
    3. Minimalist compositions tend to be quite lengthy.

  2. Vocabulary
    1. Melody tends to be extremely simple, sometimes using only a few pitches.
    2. Melody tends to derive from simple scalar structures.
    3. Melody can be expanded with gradual change with new elements interpolated into repetitions, called ADDITIVE PROCESS.
    4. Melody can be expanded with re-arrangement of pitches, called PERMUTATIONAL PROCESS.

  3. Texture
    1. Texture tends to remain constant, even static, for long periods of time.
    2. Texture is frequently created through the use of pedals, ostinati, and drones.
    3. Texture is frequently created through use of imitation.
    4. Textures are often shifted in and out of phase, called PHASE PROCESS.

  4. Sonorities
    1. Sonorities are generally consonant.
    2. Sonorities are generally non-functional.
    3. Sonorities are often static over long periods of time.

  5. Time organization
    1. There is frequent use of repetitions and rhythmic ostinati.
    2. Two phrases can be performed at different speeds, creating PHASE SHIFTING
    3. Pulse tends to remain steady over long periods of time.

ASSIGNMENTS:

SUGGESTED LISTENING

ANALYSIS

  1. Steve Reich: Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) [ATM #29] Listen to a performance

PERFORMANCE PROJECT

Terry Riley: In C (1964) (read about the piece)
Download the score for In C [the title is a link where you can obtain the score and directions; select the score in the key of your instrument]
Read directions for performing it, practice it, and bring a chromatic instrument to class to perform it with the class.

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Copyright 2008-2009 by Phillip Magnuson.

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