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August 10, 2007


tim mangan

So glad you included "Glassworks." I totally agree. It was my own first Glass record and I still think the best.

Marc Geelhoed

A bit off-topic, but why did you decide to list your favorite minimalist recordings in the beginning of August? Wouldn't the Reich 70th birthday celebration have been a more logical time?

david toub

Thanks for the clarification, Steve. Yes, there's little of La Monte's in print, and all of it is ridiculously expensive. But in all honesty, The Well-Tuned Piano can be downloaded online for free if one searches carefully, since it is often posted as an out-of-print album. And of course there's always eBay.

Still, this was more of a compendium I'd expect from The Philadelphia Inquirer, not the NYT. No insult intended, but I wanted to express that I was a bit disappointed. I'll of course excuse you for not including the recording of my own piece "mf" but it would have been great to see a representation of independent labels along with the sony's and the columbia's among the works on your list. Without small indie labels, I never would have heard this stuff in the 70's and my musical upbringing, as well as my own works, would have been the poorer for it.

david toub

BTW, I might be willing to part with my copy of the original recording of TWTP on five cassette tapes for a decent offer and so long as it goes to a good home. I was at one of the concerts in that series, incidentally, down in TriBeCa around 1981 if I recall. I haven't heard the later recording of TWTP, however.

Steve Smith

David, obviously I appreciate where you were coming from, just as I honestly appreciated Kyle's comments. But even more importantly, I'm happy that the ire prompted both of you to cite specific recordings that were overlooked and ought to be better known. I wasn't kidding when I posted on Kyle's blog that I'd gone straight to Amazon to find out if someone might have that Palestine CD on hand.

david toub

No problem Steve. And I'm glad you were able to find the Palestine CD.

I was kidding about mf, incidentally,

Personally, while I would have liked to have seen a more diverse sampling, I'm glad minimalism still rates a mention in the Times! Thanks!

Chris McIntyre

Hi Steve. The music covered in the piece is great, no question. I completely agree, though, that it would've been interesting to see a few "other" composers included like Lucier (which would've been brilliant), Johnson, et al. I think the LA Minimalist Jukebox festival went further than expected in featuring under recognized people (at least in the Almost Mainstream) like Terry Jennings, but there are so many good composers that are at best footnoted in typical survey-style discussions of this music. Jon Gibson, David Behrman (getting some props at Tanglewood it seems), Maryanne Amacher, Barbara Benary, and of course our man Niblock. I don't have a copy here to point to it directly, but I remember Rockwell doing a shout out to a number of these people at one point in his book, but we need more than that! This group of people proffer a wide-range stylistically, and yet they seem inspired by a unified zeitgeist. A ripe subject for exposition I think.

Chris McIntyre

Wow. I started writing a few hours before posting. After doing so, I clicked around and discovered the back and forth that had ensued.

I not as nonplussed as M. Gann (or MJL and DT), but I wasn't around to experience the critical straight arming that it seems many self-consciously Minimalist composers (proper or Post) did in the not-so distant past.


I know this is dumb, but my first Glass disc was also "The Photographer" and my second Glass disc was also "Glassworks".

Even though I am a stranger, I hope you are not offended if I extend to you and yours all best wishes in conjunction with your recent wedding celebration. I wish you both great happiness!


I am glad to see this piece in the Times and its attendant backlash because it is getting people talking, in a serious way, about this music. And yes, everyone's list would be different--especially that of M. Gann, who did write an excellent book called Music Downtown, a culling of his reviews from downtown when there truly was one. The best thing about this whole back and forth is simply the fact of the back and forth--that Steve can write something in the Times and become accountable for it; that Kyle can direct a critic to a heretofore unknown recording; and that someone like myself can drop in and say "What, no Andriessen?" in keeping with the spirit of the exchanges. Now that, to me, is progress.

Herb Levy

I too thought the NYT lists were too limited and am glad to see more discussion going on here and at Kyle's blog.

While it's good to see Kyle getting some props for his book on new music in downtown NY, it seems appropriate to offer a pointer to the collected Village Voice columns of his predecessor Tom Johnson who was really there closer to the beginning of the various forms of musical minimalisms.

Originally published by Apollo Huis in Endhoven, Johnson's "The Voice of New Music" is now available free here:


Any of you who think Gann's book was a revelation (& I don't at all mean to seem like I'm disparaging it), will want to read what was going on in the 1970s before Kyle moved to NYC.

& a belated congratulations to Steve & the good doctor.

david toub

Andrew, while something like Hoketus certainly uses repetitive structures, I wouldn't consider Andriessen's music on the whole to be minimalist. Truthfully, without getting all semantic on this issue, even most of Reich, Glass, Riley and Adams isn't minimalist. Compare something like Four Organs (minimalist) or Two Pages (minimalist) or In C (minimalist) with You Are (variations) or Salome Dances for Peace or Glass's violin concerto and the difference is obvious. Few folks are writing truly minimalist music these days, Andriessen among them.

Miguel Frasconi

Wow, this is such a great exchange, both here and at Kyle's blog. I'm not sure where to post. Perhaps both places. But here's my 2 cents.

I believe it is important to remember that what is known today as minimal music was in fact the "second wave" of the genre. When Tom Johnson first coined the term "minimal music" in 1972, he was reviewing a concert by Stuart Marshall, Mary Lucier, and Alvin Lucier. Work that can now also be describe as "performance art." (See http://www.editions75.com/Articles/Minimalism%20in%20music.pdf) It seems almost forgotten that minimalist music was in large part a result of the Fluxus movement. Reich's early "Pendulum Music" and Glass's early "1+1" (for amplified table) are well placed in context of LaMonte Young's "draw a straight line and follow it," and Terry Riley feeding hay to a piano, not to mention his early tape experiments. Then later, after Reich and Glass moved on to more populist realms, the Fluxus/minimalist connection can be seen clearly in Phil Corner's series of gamelan works, James Tenney's Postcard Pieces, and, even now, in Phill Niblock's sound worlds. I'm sure those of us who were around in the early '70 (I was in high school) can remember what a revelation it was to listen to a perfect fifth played in a pulsing rhythm or as an evening length drone. After all those years of atonal and arhythmic music, a perfect fifth was heresy. The musical simplicity was subversive and sublime; it was indeed Flux-work. Concerts of minimalist music were Events (yes, with a capital E). Reich presented a hugh ensemble, first called Music for 21 Musicians (later scaled down to 18). Phil Corner presented "Imagined Music," no sound, no performance, just suggestions. There was a 2 hour dinner break in the middle of the premiere of Glass's Music in 12 Parts. I believe it has been almost forgotten that musical minimalism was not really about concert music as we know it today, but about perception, sound, and ritual.

But, despite all of everyone's issues, it's great the NYT was willing to even present such a piece. The comments on Steve and Kyle's blogs have been wonderful. Thanks for the forum, guys!


I was going to post on Kyle's blog but will post here instead, not just to support the home team (so to speak) but also because I was delighted to see that in the comments here at least one person noted the glaring omission of Andriessen. Andriessen was millimeters away from making the cut on my own list, and if there had been no complaints about our passing him over, I truly would have despaired for our field.

Steve Smith

Anne! Welcome to the fray! And thanks again, everyone, for the stimulating dialogue and the kind wishes.

Herb, fantastic that you mentioned where Tom Johnson's book can be found. I skimmed that a bit a few weeks ago, and am very much looking forward to spending some genuine quality time with it.

Miguel, you raise some excellent points about the very early days of minimalism and the break with the Fluxus bunch. I very much envy you the early firsthand experience you enjoyed.

Chris, a ripe lode for further exploration indeed. I'm especially curious about whether Charles Curtis documented any of the Waking States concerts he played around town in December 2005. I only caught the concert of Lucier's music, but missed others devoted to Young and Zazeela, Feldman, Radigue and Jennings. Curtis's Feldman and Lucier recordings are exceptional.

Henry Holland

I posted this over at Kyle Gann's blog, but just in case:

If you *really* must have a recording of La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano and don't feel like spending $500 bucks to get it, and have no qualms about using a file theft service, erm, a file *sharing* service, go to:


download the client, type in La Monte Young and download it. I did a search for "La Monte Young" and there was at least five people with complete recordings of The Well-Tuned Piano. I'm sure all the other hard to find/out of print stuff will be there too.

Kyle Gann

Yeah, why didn't anyone think of Andriessen? That could have added another four or five Nonesuch titles to the list.

I'm just sayin'.


Well, my two cents are this:

Regarding: "I also kind of wish I'd picked something as deliberately provocative as Bernard's inclusion of Count Basie -- good one, that!"

I don't understand how there has been no mention of Bernard Herrmann as I can think of no greater minimalist war-horse than Psycho (1960) or the Prelude to Vertigo (1958). Barring the experimental phase of "minimalism" as most of the Times' sited pieces do, there seem to be more recordings which focus on the de facto fruits of minimalism. Even today I have a hard time thinking of Adams' music as minimalist. If I am forced to, I then start to think of his music like a man with a suit that doesn't fit rather than the post-minimalist/post-modernism grab bag of styles it can be. Nixon in China seems no more minimalist than Akhnaten. Satyagraha ,when viewed next to Music in 12 Parts, seems chock-full of lush melody and narrative drive. I have a fundamental problem with the distinction between the pieces which invented the language (In C, Drumming, 12 Parts), and its beneficiaries (or pieces which could be EASILY labeled minimalist which in fact have nothing to do with the movement (Satie anyone?).
So, when seeing the final list of pieces I started to view more of this latter category of derivative (read:beneficiaries) pieces. This, in my mind, is indelibly attached to Bernard Herrmann's work. Although ostensibly unconnected to the NY/SF art-music scene, his music seems eerily responsible later works like Adam's Shaker Loops and Glass Symphony No.3. The Prelude to Vertigo is a forebear to a great number of minimalist staples.

I guess I just hoped his name would have been mentioned. So often I hear the NY artists talk about how the movement of minimalism was "in the air", I guess I suspect they felt like that because it was also down at their local theater as well.

As for your pick Steve of Glassworks and how it was a life-changing experience...it was for me as well.

david toub

Not to split hairs, but an authority no less than Kyle has indicated that Andriessen isn't a minimalist composer. Personally, I could care less about labels, but in the interests of factual completeness and being anal, I'll mention it.

Yes, TWTP is very much downloadable online. I'll also absolutely second Richard Friedman's comments about downloadable music. The CD is circling the drain in a big way, and the Web is a great equalizer. Rather than bitching and moaning about the corporate conspiracy among the big labels, people would do better to a) support more independent labels and b) download free or inexpensive MP3 and AAC files from your friendly neighborhood composer or independent label.

Many of us give away our music for free in the interests of having more people listen to it and hopefully perform it. I only think this trend will continue.

david toub

oops, my mistake. Wrong Richard, and wrong blog (that's what I get for having Kyle's blog up in one tab in Safari and this one in another, and reading both at once).

Steven Swartz

Great discussion! Ever since 'In C' appeared, there's been a fascinating interplay between minimalism as concept -- the creation of extended, monolithic structures from a purposely limited amount of material -- and minimalism as style (or "pattern music" as we used to call it). The concept and the style both remain influential, but it's been a long time since they've been synonymous...

"Music for 18" is a desert island piece for me, but I'd also like to mention a few idiosyncratic favorites: Cage, "In a Landscape;" Riley/Cale, "Church of Anthrax;" Johnson, "Nine Bells;" Behrman, "Leapday Night."

steve dollar

The Radigue box is splendid (even if I have written liner notes for the label) .... will check out your piece (I'm traveling) and jot down a bunch of these for later reference. Dial up is the enemy of the blogosphere!

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