Draw a Straight Line and Follow It

Well, the Second International Conference on Minimalist Music committee has gone through all the paper proposals, and we’ve put together a program of about 56 papers. It’s a stunner. I’m really proud of the lineup, especially because it exhibits an intelligently varied yet limited range of minimalism. Yes, there are ten papers that talk about Steve Reich, but there are no fewer than four on Phill Niblock (!), two on Julius Eastman, also two each on Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Arvo Pärt, one each on Jim Fox, David Borden, Michael Torke, Jim Tenney, and Charlemagne Palestine. (Not that Niblock doesn’t merit it, quite the contrary, he’s a vastly influential underground figure; but I’m impressed that so many academics latched on to someone so quintessentially Downtown, in all literal and metaphorical senses.) We have musicologists coming from the UK, Canada, Belgium, Australia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, and France. There are even papers on minimalist aspects of Morton Feldman and Milton Babbitt – we could have turned down the latter in good conscience, but I’m just too curious. And the performance part of the conference is geared around little-known but often historic early minimalist works: an early Terry Riley piece that’s only been played twice before, some rare Tom Johnson opuses, my own reconstructions of 1959 Dennis Johnson and 1982 Harold Budd, performances by Palestine and Mikel Rouse, and a few surprises we’re still cooking up. This is going to come very close to defining minimalism as I hear it: not a watered-down catch-all term that includes everything from Wagner’s Rheingold to Donna Summer, but a true tradition among people who knew each other and exchanged ideas during an intense historical period. It’s the most exciting thing in my immediate future. Kansas City, September 2-6: be there or be neoromantic.

[UPDATE:] Shouldn’t tell you to be there without telling you how: we’ll have registration information up on the web site soon, and I’ll tell you when it’s ready.


  1. says

    Is the Riley work you mentioned “Autumn Leaves” by any chance?
    KG replies: You win the prize. Don’t know what the prize is, exactly, but you win it.

  2. Richard Mitnick says

    I am not sure if this is news, it was news to me:
    You can now buy a bit of Charlemagne Palestine in .mp3 at Amazon.
    I had previously heard a bit on PostClassic Radio and tried to find something to buy to support the artist, to no avail.

  3. says

    Hm. hmm. hmmm. hmmmm. hmmmmmm. Well, I might have done some of that stuff too. hmm. hm. h. Also, there might be at least one minimalist woman someplace. I like the broader definition that includes vernacular and folk. Where did some of us (even Reich) get the nerve to do minimalism in art music, after millenia of repetitive and process music around the globe?
    Oh, well, there will always be another festival…..

  4. says

    In our household, “Downtown,” is definitely the new Uptown. I rarely run into fans who are into the old scene – maybe it’s me, but I am ready to believe that oodles of folks are interested in figures as varied as Guy Klucevsek to Clarence Barlow.
    People really love this music in 2009, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that papers on composers mentioned are being written. The surprise to me is that ten people are still writing about Steve Reich. Check out the number of friends Carl Stone, Pauline Oliveros, Charlemagne Palestine, Rhys Chatham, or Joan La Barbara have on Facebook – it’s definitely telling. Phill’s loft is legendary, seems like everyone’s been there.
    The Kitchen? Le Poisson Rouge? The Stone? Everyone knows where to go, what to do, who to see, and who’s involved. And that’s just NYC, for starters, on the very most basic level, given several random examples. I hasten to mention Galapagos, Issue Project Room – the list is endless – people are living this culture – it arrived some time ago. Lang, Torke, and Gordon are establishments in the own right, regularly filling up major venues, Ashley’s opera’s sell out immediately. And this is just the music scene.
    Try the Whitney – for a major, major venue – on for size, anytime – Didkovsky plays there! Can you imagine? La Monte Young’s just had his work done the other week – on the Upper East Side! The museum store is chock full of downtown music – and this is a major American museum! It’s been this way for years now!
    No doubt, the scene was spare at one point – thirty or forty years ago – but this scene – downtown – is a major industry. The shock of recognition, for me, in my small town here in New England, is no longer astonishing. In my eyes, it’s a great thing.
    As Larry Polansky said to me recently, “there’s so much music being made, and it’s great!” – downtown landed years ago in the mainstream – it’s not surprising to this composer that academia follows. Scholars in their 20’s and 30’s, now publishing and teaching – living scholarship at major universities – any of ’em – grew up with the composers of the era. Any quick check of the major research universities in this country and the dissertation topics will confirm all of this and more.
    I rarely invoke my age or generation, but I will in this case. The only thing astonishing to me about all this is the astonishment I sense coming from generations before us, if they spend any time thinking about it, which I doubt, from my interaction with so many of them, they do..
    Glad the conference looks to be a rousing success! Send me a ticket and I’ll be there in a jiffy pop.

  5. Pat Colchester says

    Oh my. Outside of Donna Summer, not a single woman? What gives, Kyle?
    KG replies: In the advertisement for the conference I did mention Barbara Benary and Eliane Radigue, but we got the papers we got. (I can’t entirely deflect the blame from myself, because it was my choice to write about Dennis Johnson and Harold Budd.) In musicology’s defense, the original minimalist group didn’t include many women. Why Meredith Monk isn’t getting more attention is curious. And as for the younger generation of postminimalists and totalists whom we took pains to include, important women composers comprise nearly half the crowd. It’s a shame they don’t get written about as much. Journalistically I’ve done about everything I could to reverse the situation (of the 50 composer profiles I’ve written for Chamber Music magazine, 26 have been about women), but the scholars lag behind in this respect. Believe me that there were no papers about women that we turned down.

  6. Arthur says

    Hello Kyle,
    Composers and all artists need to keep talking and theorizing and rationalizing and getting into philosophy and developing ideas and, yes, discuss their techniques. Talking about their lives is important as well. Art speaks for itself but does not exhaust speaking; art signifies but the artist is in the world. That artists are, at times, baffled by what do does not mean that they should restrain from admitting how baffled they are. Several things are at stake here. The first is tossing art into the world as if it was not connected to bodies, lives, training and knowing too often renders artistic work as a series of products detached from human experience and all the reality that artistic consciousness creates from it. The more art is removed from the specific processes of its creation and creators, the more it is an object for others, including the marketplace. (This also allows for the creepy romanticism and mythologization of who the artists are and what they do.) Second – related to the first – we know far too little about the imagination and, for that matter, mind itself. If we have a sense of the bigger picture, the precise, continuing story of the making of art and the sense of artists’ lives, their art emerges as an unfolding narrative in which parts contribute to the whole and creativity, while no less a mystery, can be glimpsed as it evolves. I think this is most essential for understanding and responding to living artists. Let biographers sort out the details in the future.
    Of course, of course, artists may choose not to speak and there are issues of privacy. And, there are blathering, self-serving, even shallow artists. But sharper voices always drown out or improve the flatter ones.