Watching History Turn on a Dime

What an amazing first day of the 2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music. Maarten Bierens from Belgium demonstrated how Louis Andriessen’s subtly subversive use of quotations gave his music a dialectical significance quite foreign to American minimalism; Pwyll ap Sion detailed the amazing range of self-quotation in Michael Nyman’s output. But what blew me away were three papers on Phill Niblock by Keith Potter, Richard Glover, and Rich Housh, who had gotten access to Phill’s files and could exhibit the varied ways he shapes his slowly moving drones. Apparently, Phill’s music has taken on a new life since he started working directly in ProTools, which gives him greater control over the out-of-tuneness of his pitch clusters. As UMKC musicologist Andrew Granade remarked to me, we’ve each known maybe three people in academia before now who had even heard of Niblock, and suddenly the room was full of Niblock aficionados, shouting answers to each other’s questions and deconstructing his music as matter-of-factly as if it was Mahler and we all had the Kalmus scores. Suddenly, “drone minimalism” is a topic that can hold its own against repetitive minimalism, as though it had been all along. What a feeling, sitting there and watching the official history of music reel, switch trajectory, and transform itself around you!

Mikel Rouse joined us to present his music/film Funding, and so here is musicological documentation of the first night’s festivities. First, me and Mikel with UMKC doctoral student, Michael Gordon expert, and conference superman Jedd Schneider looking on:
(photo by Dragana Stojanovic-Novicic)
Four Musical Minimalists author Keith Potter, postminimalist composer Galen Brown, and Nancarrow scholar Dragana Stojanovic-Novicic:
Musicologist Maarten Bierens (on account of whom rumors are flying of the next conference possibly taking place in Belgium) and Welsh former conference director Pwyll ap Sion:


  1. says

    Hi Kyle,
    You may have already addressed this some time ago, but are any of these papers going to be collected on some website where those of us who were unable to attend this conference can read them? If so, where would one find such a website?
    KG replies: The last conferences’ papers are here:
    Those from this conference will join them as soon as we can figure it out, and I’ll let you know. Lots of people involved.

  2. luk vaes says

    please say hello to Maarten Beirens from me 😉
    (Why is it that I only see him in photographs with a wine glass in his hands?)

  3. mclaren says

    Fantastic to hear that Niblock’s music is now getting some long-overdue attention. Let’s hope drone composers finally get recognized as a group and some serious music-analysis attention gets paid to them. Drone composers like Alan Lamb (attached contact mics to miles-long abandoned telegraph wires and recorded their eerie sounds; check out Journeys on the Winds Of Time 1 from the CD Austral Voices) and Ellen Fullman and Paul Panhuysen (check out his CD Partitas For Long Strings) and Stephen Scott (check out the CD Minerva’s Web) and Julian Cope (yes, the rocker Julian Cope — check out his OOP CD Breath Of Odin, which consists of a single 73-minute-long overdubbed vocal drone).
    The degree to which technological tools drive innovation by composers still seems underestimated. One of the hot recent trends in Direct Csound and Supercollider and other real-time computer music languages involves the generation of drones, often from real-time analysis and resampling of live bits of audio. For example, Norwegian composer Oyvind Brandtsegg recently produced an installation with a drone that constantly evolves over a period of ten years (!), which would give even LaMonte Young a run for the money.
    This Polish site gathers together a bunch of granular synthesis and Csound and MIDI folks in a freewheeling discussion that features a lot of drone music that probably fits loosely into the category of “drone minimalism.” And new DSP techniques like spectral freezing and scanned synthesis have kick-started some wonderfully provocative computer music work on long drones.
    Minimalism seems to have spread out explosively from its initial starting point in small tight live acoustic ensembles until it has percolated thoroughly into current computer music MAX/MSP and Csound and Supercollider and Blue and PD and Open Music implementations, in some cases with opcodes devoted to generating various kinds of drones. So examples like Phill Niblock working directly to detune drones in Pro Tools suggest that we’re seeing the same sort of thing with minimalism that we’ve witnessed with Mahgrebi music in North Africa getting radically transformed by Auto-Tune.