Minimalism

I have already listened to some of Steve Reich’s music (see my earlier blog post), so for this part of my research I focused on two composers I was less familiar with.

Terry Riley: In C (1964)

Riley’s composition is considered to be a seminal piece in the minimalist genre.  It has been recorded many times with different instrumentations – I listened to a remastered version of the original, and also extracts of some later recordings.  I think the instrumentation makes a big difference to how I respond to it: one of the more electronic sounding recordings turned me off very quickly, but I found myself initially quite absorbed by the original  version which mostly features woodwind instruments, a marimba and a vibraphone.  A number of short phrases are played concurrently throughout the piece, and my ear was drawn to different instruments as they came in and out.  I like the way that almost imperceptible changes gradually build up and create quite different sounds and textures.  Although the piece starts out very definitely in C major, later on the tonality shifts as notes outside the major triad are introduced.  The rhythm also shifts and the melodic fragments become rhythmically displaced from each other which creates a chaotic effect I found quite unpleasant to listen to – almost headache inducing!

Philip Glass: Glassworks (1981)

The opening of this piece, played on the piano, has a very melancholy mood.  It features cross rhythms (3 against 2) played on repeated sequences of chords.  The later tracks use woodwind and string instruments as well as a synthesizer.  Many of them use a characteristic alternation between minor and major chords, and the repeated sequences can be hypnotic.  Unlike Riley’s piece, the melodic fragments in this work tend to be longer and the texture similar for longer periods of time.  It is also more rhythmically cohesive, and the different voices seem to work with each other rather than against each other, but I tend to find the ‘sameness’ of the music a little uninspiring.

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