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Minimalism:Origins Paperback – September 22, 2000
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... a landmark work, the first attempt to write a pre-history of minimalism that embraces all the arts. Its importance cannot be overestimated." --K. Robert Schwarz, Institute for Studies in American Music "All told, this book is mandatory reading for anyone who wishes to understand the history and nature of minimalism." --i/e NINE
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So the "minimal" in music slowly made pathways into establishment venues,opera,and performance art,and it was well-suited with the post-modern canons of the apolitical passivity(only Fredric Rzewski bridged this gap to the political subject) and today it is commonplace,the fashionable circuits mixed with the strains of expression of the popular avant-garde, obsessed with the market and popular culture, the buzz and being loved.
Interestingly the structure of this book is divided for this emphasis into Paint, Sound, Space, and Strickland keeps this dialogue intact. So we find such geometrical creations by Donald Judd,identical size boxes descending downward along a wall,or simply cubes of varying shapes or the aluminum,plexi-glass,cubes,boxes situated as for eternity in Marfa Texas, a minimalist shrine in an old Army Base he purchased has no real equivalent in music. Likewise the powerful impersonal spirituality of the florescent lighting schemes of Dan Flavin or the shaped steel plates, and torqued ellipses of Richard Serra or floor covering, and fifty yards long wood planks and floor steel tiles of Carl Andre, not to mention the committed painters as Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, or Bridget Riley. All are here as Sol Le Witt.And again the equivalents in music areless than adequete,it isn't possible to speak of the two fields as sharing a focus.I beleive there are useful equivalents but it is on a case by case basis. I consider the first piece of musical minimalism,around Picasso's time and Stravinsky to be Erik Satie's "Vexations, a 9 Hour work of the same thorny quasi-chromatic phrase for piano solo, repeated incessantly at the same tempo or Cage's "Etudes Australes" a piece of minimalism for its static-ness,even orchestral pieces of Xenakis have a "stasis" dimension to it,that certainly has a more orthodox affinity for the term than the what became therather surface simplicity,the market concoctions of Glass,,Reich and Adams. These diverse kinds of works(that Strickland doesn't mention) are really never viewed from this perspective.
Strickland however keeps his narrative close to this visual world.But as close as one got to vigorously conceived works when all this began in the Seventies was Philip Glass who went by way of opera and that was a good vigorous start to place the minimalist musical canons within establishment venues,with a great structural pallette in place now to test its scope and longevity/ With text, theatre, peformance art and concept all now were burdened within the minimalist context.As important as these in-roads were Glass hadn't the theoretical ambition to nurture its implications further ,so he found facile route the most exciting and lucretive form for minimalism,now with electronification and augmented decible levels,trying to find affinity with the magnetic force of the rock genre/venue to some degree. He then simply fell prey to opera's complaisant seductions relying on tried and tested forms within opera's clostered structural genres, as duets, trios,intrumental interludes as in "Aknahten", and latter works the one with the simplistic use of the text of Doris Lessing.His works then after the operatic periods simply saw greater exhibitions of minimalist homogenizations of concept,surface flashes, reduced down to its lowest accessible form,without obviously jumping into another genre,as style=lized rock.
Where is the affinity for innovation and musical experimentalism? so prevalent in Glass's early ensemble Farfisa Organ works. So minimalism in ascendancy was quickly left to the market to consume it, Hollywood,wealth and power were safe havens for its musical language.And film scores abounded as the "Exorcist" in parts. Again Strickland adheres to the visual arts in order to buffer a safe zone within it, and to see where the two meet. They never really do,for music is more a collective experience,"let's groove together" whereas minimalist visual art is never hardly that it is an intense personal experience of contemplation. For these parallels,finding painterly concepts of tone, and gradations of colour distributions are largely useful if you examine the "origins" the original repertoire of minimal music, as lesser known composers as the late Terry Jennings and Tom Johnson. But as time wore on past the Seventies and Eighties minimalism found fewer and fewer similar conceptual and expressive features with the hardcore visual arts and theoretical paradigms of reference. Musical minimalism became homogenized, where even rockers found service in its (now-obvious)percolating rhythmic pulses,as Blondie,Devo,and the Techno studio layering cadres,there is even an "elevator music" minimalist jazz.The "minimal" canon in music became simply a reproducible language crossing borders as an oil-slick approaches distant shores. Strickland here thinks these "migrations" was one of minimalism staying powers, a longevity factor which proves its profound content, when in fact it was part of its dilution and demise into greater forms of homogenizations, and now fodder for least common denominators of expression subjected to it.
La Monte Young however,is given good space here, a post-Cage artist long a recluse creator,who found pleasure in listening to telephone generators, and motors, the inherent drones embodied in what we simply refer to as a "noise" also found an affinity for Just Intonation and the music of the East(as Reich,Riley,Glass) and mounted hours/days long performance of electronic drones, with Marian Zazeela,at blasted decible levels. He however was never a market icon, (no commercial potential as Frank Zappa would say)but in fact came closest toward finding equivalents to the visual arts conceptual world as Strickland searches for here.He did this in the Nine Hour "Well-Tuned Piano".
The concept of the long durational length is something that minimal music should have found from its start, not at the end of its demise. Of course the late Morton Feldman has been a rescuing agent here with his 6 Hour "Second String Quartet", the various piano solos "For Bunita Marcus", and "Triadic Memories", and the hours log "For Philip Guston, and "For Christian Wolff", for Flute and Piano are surely masterworks within musical minimalism. Length by itself is not the component that makes minimal music find itself with its visual arts brethren, no in Feldma's latter works you have also the incessant repetition of music materials, sometimes with self-defeating breaks, as in Feldman, where predictable almost Stravinskian moments come to the surface.
I think minimalism ended long ago,it does however still nourishes a pleasure in pure form and space, the "miniature" work is also a form neglected here.We speak now of a "post-minimalism" largely represented by the orchestral works and operas of John Adams. It is still a language that produces a music but why search for an experience already experienced.
"Paint" is organized by artist while "Sound" is mainly chronological, since Strickland argues for musical lineage from Young to Riley to Reich to Glass, while his heterodox view of Minimalist painters, most Abstract Expressionists in any other book, presents Newman, Reinhardt et al. as working independently and at philosophical odds with one another. Strickland's sympathy is clearly with Reinhardt's anti-manifestos and against Newman's high-flown theorizing, though he praises his art.
In fact the author seems to have an ingrained suspicion of theorizing in general. An excellent cultural historian, he is no philosopher, unless maybe a Sceptic confronting the conventional wisdom of art critics. As a music prof, he gets A+ for chutzpah with his "Emperor's New Clothes" approach to mainstream art critics and the commerce of the art world, which he describes on p. 2 as a "futures market." By the time he gets to the sculpture, Strickland's scepticism extends to the artists themselves. That section leads to a conclusion verging on a retraction in its ambivalent review of the Minimalist enterprise.
His views and often droll style are refreshing. His formal dissections of the painting are more detailed than those of the music--establishing his bona fides?--and I'd like some more of the structural analysis he devotes to the transitional Glass Quartet, and more repros of the art and scores--but downloads are generally easy to find, so no big deal. I'd even like some more philosophy, e.g., a discussion of the work in terms of Jamesonian postmodern depthlessness. Since Strickland dismisses the very term postmodernism as "vulgarity" by p. 3 (along with Glass' commercials on "the boob-tube," ersatz-Minimalist advertising and "well-heeled culturophages") you get the feeling that's not on his agenda any more than campaigning for Mr. Congeniality. There are fine books by other music profs dealing mainly with their subject (Potter musicologically, Fink sociologically), but this remains far and away the most comprehensive survey of the artistic/musical movement as a whole, and you can't ask for everything...from A to Z?.