[Three updates below.]
Ouch. The great savants of the New York Times music section name their favorite minimalist recordings today. Six critics, given four albums each, limiting themselves to Reich, Glass, Adams, and Riley – plus one album each by Cage (huh?), Poul Ruders, and Count Basie (double huh?). Ouch again. What, no Well-Tuned Piano? No Charlemagne Palestine Strumming Music, or Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone? No Eliane Radigue Adnos, or Trilogie de la Mort? No Tom Johnson An Hour for Piano? No Phill Niblock Hurdy Hurry, or Five More String Quartets? No Tony Conrad Early Minimalism? I imagined that these people had large CD collections.
Next week, the Times food critics list their favorite ice cream flavors: Strawberry, Chocolate, and Vanilla! What else is there?
UPDATE: All right, I don’t think any list of under 50 “best” things can be worth a damn, and I won’t do four, but for the record I’ll give my top five minimalist albums:
Young: The Well-Tuned Piano (unfortunately all but impossible to get, I know, but maybe that’ll justify the fifth disc)
Terry Riley: Shri Camel
Charlemagne Palestine: Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone
Tom Johnson: An Hour for Piano (though I prefer Tom’s own performance to the recorded Rzewski one)
Eliane Radigue: Trilogie de la Mort
For a sixth, I might put Glass’s Music in 12 Parts on there, for sentimental reasons. And there are some individual Jon Gibson pieces I’m deeply attached to, but no full album. Reich’s Octet plus John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music might make the top ten if we’re really going to consider Adams’s romanticism minimalist. Reader submissions welcome.
UPDATE 2: Let’s analyze these Times lists in terms of labels:
Bridge, CRI, Mosaic (Basie), New Albion, RCA, and Hungaroton, 1 each
And so we see that, of 24 discs, 13 are from media giants like Warner (Nonesuch), Sony, and RCA, three from Naxos which has been a worldwide marketing success, and three from the Bang on a Can label Cantaloupe, which has done very well at getting its product out. Now, how about all those obscure labels that we minimalism fans rely on to preserve all the great hardcore minimalist music not conventional enough for the major labels, like Table of the Elements, Organ of Corti, XI, New Tone, Robi Droli, Lovely Music, Barooni, Cold Blue, Mode, Blast First? Absent. Omitted. Not represented. What this tells us is that the Times recommendation list is extremely skewed by the commercial market, and that the critics are swayed, not solely by musical quality, but by the companies that manage to put their CDs across their desks, whose representatives call them up and push product. I’ve been there. I’ve had product pushed on me. It didn’t work in my case. I once pissed off Nonesuch so badly they didn’t send me anything for years. I listen to everything I can get, I go to Other Music to find the records that don’t come in the mail, I like what I like, and I don’t assume that, just because something’s on Nonesuch, it’s the best music out there.
UPDATE 3: Steve Smith responds in his blog, and I’m very happy to see him list some great pieces whose titles I would have loved to see in the Times.