Minimalist music has a powerful aesthetic impact upon modern music. This music tends to exhibit qualities such as: clear expression without excessive ornamentation, a lack of focus upon the dynamics and structure, a lack of sustained tonal development, and often a striking absence of the listener’s voice in the mix. However, the sheer numbers of different types of minimalism make it difficult to categorize, making the term “minimalistic” rather elusive.
Minimalist music is an artistic genre of contemporary classical music and sometimes experimental music that exhibit some or all of these characteristics: emphasis upon smoothness, on structural harmony, and on rhythmic repetition. Common rhythmic themes include polyphonic scales, which are derived from the traditional tonal cycle of minor to major, and which can vary from three to five notes per chord. Other recurring rhythmic themes are the variety of polyrhythmic patterns (eight-tone variations of major and minor chords), and the repetition of basic musical themes (such as “sonogram” forms). In some cases, the composer will develop a more abstract rhythmic theme, but it may still adhere to the original purposeful theme of repetitive chord progressions.
Some other characteristics of minimalist music include a lack of complexity in the composing process. Unlike classical works where highly complex beats and rhythms dominate the composition, minimalist music makes use of simple, rhythmic structures. The minimalist composer will often restrict his vocabulary to a single type of rhythms (albeit an extremely unusual one) and will therefore rely heavily upon the use of pedals to establish rhythmic momentum. Some composers like Enya Polu who are considered as minimalist musicians were also attracted to the work of Enya Gruber who was regarded as one of the last major female voices in classical music. Some have considered Enya and other “feminine” voices to be less “real” than male voices because they lack the accent and register of a bass.
However, while some consider this style to be more “minimalistic”, others regard it as a form of polyphony. In modern times, this term is used to refer to the separation of two tonal components that are then blended together. The term is sometimes used in conjunction with digital music or even non-traditional genres such as jazz. Examples of minimal music that exhibit these qualities include the French genre, which was characterized by polyphonic compositions whose components are almost 100 percent polyphonic in nature. This branch of polyphonic composition was later popularized by composers like John Coltrane, Robert E. Brown, and others. Other examples of this are the works of Swiss musician Reinhold Messer and the German phrase-based genre called schreiber.
Many classical composers have rejected the idea of minimalist music as it lacks complexity and is often too simple and repetitious in nature. According to them, great composers like Bach should not be categorized under this heading since the musical forms they created were complex and had many underlying elements. Others point out that Bach’s music for example, contains very simple repeated measures. Additionally, they argue that Bach’s music uses other instruments besides the guitar, which are used in more complex compositions. Still, other minimalist composers, most notably the Russian composer Levinson and German conductor Rainer Koch, have rejected the idea that simplicity results in simplicity.
While classical and contemporary minimalist music share many features, there are also important differences. American minimalist composers are less motivated by ornamentation and more concerned with flatness, clarity, and consistency. On the other hand, many classical composers, most notably the British Romanticists, were highly motivated by the form and structure and used polyphonic techniques to create a harmonic framework that was deeply rooted in the structure of ancient polyphonic music. Finally, many people believe that the roots of contemporary minimalism can be traced back to the avant-garde works of famous composers like Andy Warhol and Kenneth Noland who were working in the early 1960s.
In terms of quality, American minimalist music often lacks the classical richness of tone and structure that is commonly found in this genre. For example, while many classical composers use multiple parallel lines and divisions to create sustained tonal material, most minimalist music utilizes only two parallel lines and six to seven divisions to create a melodic approach. In some cases, this lack of structural complexity allows more freedom for the composer to vary the rhythmic pattern and meter. However, even with the lack of structural complexity, this genre tends to produce highly rhythmic and highly textural soundscapes that some listeners may find unsettling.
As has been noted, some of the most notable characteristics of this style refer to the lack of ornamentation, the lack of structural complexity, and the relative accessibility of this style. In addition, the term minimalist has come to refer to a wide range of artistic approaches, including impressionism, pop, rock, classical, and abstract art movements. Because it has been difficult for performers to classify and separate their works from the various genres of minimalist music, many of these performers have developed their own unique styles and names as well. Some common performers include pianist-composer Frank La Rue, minimalist music painter Dan Gibson, and the composers Peter Weiss and J. S. Bach. As such, the definition of minimalism varies among performers and in time.