The movement is older than its name – the term “minimal music” evolved in the early 1970’s. Michael Campillo used it with reference to “Minimal Art”; others who named this genre were the composers Michael Nyman and Tom Johnson.
When predominantly serial music was taught in the 1950’s and 1960’s, several young composers based in the USA were looking for a simple musical language analyzable by the ear. Influences from Asia and Africa played an important role: Around 1970, La Monte Young and Terry Riley became students of the Indian raga singer Pandit Pran Nath, while Philip Glass worked with Ravi Shankar, among others, and Steve Reich studied Balinese gamelan, African drumming and Jewish cantillation.
In the process, two approaches emerged. La Monte Young felt an early attraction to static sounds (trio for strings 1958). A similar approach had Charlemagne Palestine or Phill Niblock, whereas Terry Riley and Steve Reich experimented with infinite tape loops in the 1960’s, thus creating music with repetitive structures with which we are dealing on this CD.
Steve Reich made the break-through 1965 with the tape piece “It’s gonna rain”. The piece uses the recording of a sermon about the end of the world, given by a black street-preacher. Two identical tape loops were started at the same time, but as the two recorders didn’t synchronize, you could soon hear an offset in time. This inspired Reich to use the phase shifting technique on instrumental compositions, for the first time ever in “Piano Phase” for two pianos (1967). Both parts have identical lines of music, the second part overtaking the first occasionally by a note. This performance of shifting tone patterns creates new patterns, called “resulting patterns”, a kind of musical moiré effect.
“Vermont Counterpoint” for solo flute and tape (11 prerecorded flute parts) doesn’t use the phase shifting technique any longer. The canon voices are constantly shifted by three sixteenth notes, and by five sixteenth notes in the third of the four sections. The solo flute (also alto flute and piccolo) has two jobs: On one hand, it introduces new canon voices, first interspersed with rests, then becoming more and more complete until they merge into the ensemble; on the other, it emphasizes the resulting patterns, which partly form in turn a canon voice of their own in the following section. The piece, written in 1982, kicked off a series of counterpoints in which an instrumentalist is playing with one’s taped self.
At the age of 8, Philip Glass became flute student at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. The “Arabesque in Memoriam” for solo flute (1988) was written in remembrance of his former teacher Britton Johnson, principal flutist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
When the French composer Eric Satie heard that his music was regarded shapeless, he wrote in answer to this accusation his “Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire” for four-handed piano. The title of the “Piece in the Shape of a Square” (1967) for two flutes by Philip Glass is based on Satie. Stylistically, it’s still far from Glass’ later opera and movie music; it starts with a motive full of holes and rests, which is filled more and more with notes with the entry of the second voice, passing eventually into ascending scales. It was first performed at Jonas Mekas’s Film-Makers Cinemathèque in New York on May 19, 1968 – a concert contributing considerably to the composer’s fame. Glass and Jon Gibson arranged the scores in a square and moved in different directions through the piece until meeting again at the end.
“In C” by Terry Riley, written in 1964, is a freely configurable concept. On a sheet of paper, 53 short phrases are noted, which are repeated by several performers and played in canon. Steve Reich played a part in the first performance, and it was his idea to play a repeated eighth notes pulse of high Cs on the piano in order to keep the piece together. On this CD, Hans Balmer has recorded 36 tracks with piccolo, alto and bass flute by using the technique of overdubbing.