13 May 2009

Minimalism is NOT The New Muzak of 21st Century

It's depressing to say this but the truth is minimalism in today's musical establishment is merely muzak. The commercial success of John Adams and Philip Glass , and to a lesser extent of Steve Reich meant that their pieces are commissioned in film soundtracks, featured in music halls and often name-drop by critics and listeners alike. Middlebrow acceptance? Most definitely. The original visceral energy of Glass's rock-informed pieces and Reich's ethno-influenced scores from the early 1970s (not forgetting his tape experiments like "It's Gonna Rain" etc.)are long gone and replaced by, dare I say, bland filmic soundtracking types of compositions. Dont get me wrong, I love both their earlier works: they bridged the three worlds of the post-fall out of the psychedelic 1960s of jazz, modern composition and pop/rock successfully and few have been able to do that since then.
But now that they have been canonised by the music conservatories let's look deeper into some more obscure but yet equally vital composers of the past four decades.

Tony Conrad was actually the peers of Glass and Reich when he was a member of La Monte Young's Eternal Music Theatre group with Velvet Underground's John Cale in the mid 1960s. His amped up violin works shatter and re-orientate the ears after one has given their time to really immerse in his works like "Four Violins". He is however most famous for his collaboration with Krautrockers, Faust, in the classic album, Outside The Dream Syndicate which was recorded and released in the early 1970s. A seminal work of sawing drone notes from his violin, it's pure transcendence without the drugs.

Some key works on CD:
- Early Minimalism Vol. 1 (4 CD boxed set)
- Joan Of Arc (CD)
- Outside The Dream Syndicate (with Faust) (CD)
- Inside the Dream Syndicate, Volume One: Day of Niagara (with John Cale, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and Angus Maclise) (CD)

Yoshi Wada was a close associate of Rhys Chatham, the man who influenced Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth in the late 1970s when the world of disco, punk, classical and jazz criss and cross with so much rigor that the boundaries between genres almost disappeared. His drone pieces are a joy to listen to: full of rich texture and resonance, he has been grossly underrated for too long. Think of his music/pieces as deep listening passages, so none of those play the CD while I am doing housework kind of background noise. Thank goodness, some of his works have been re-issued in recent years.

Some key re-issues:
- Off The Wall (CD)
- The Appointed Cloud (CD)
- Lament For The Rise And Fall For The Elephantine Crocodile (CD)
- Earth Horns With Electronic Drone (CD)

Maryanne Amacher is a sound artist who works with the interface between architecture, sound and ideas for decades but she has thus far only released two albums under her names with John Zorn's Tzadik imprint for the past decade. Most sound installation projects today sound functional and muzaky but Amacher's pieces are powerful, engaging and thought-provoking as you wonder about the beauty of the marriage between scientific experimentation and pushing the borders of art forms.

Her entire recorded discography:
- Sound Character
- Sound Character 2

Of course, I cant do justice to the actual breadth and scope to the three abovementioned composers' works here but they are definitely worth your time to get into. However, to really experience their works in full one must immerse oneself in a live setting or installation elsewhere on this planet but until then we can only have a pale approximation of their music's true beauty and power on CD (forget about downloading, if you really want to have the best audio experience the closest will be on vinyl but you know...) Be ready to have your time suspended when you are in the midst of it.

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