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Readers recommend: minimalist songs | Peter Kimpton


Stripped back, pared down, sparse or pure? Suggest music that in sound or lyrics expresses clarity or simplicity distilled down to its fighting weight

“Less is more,” said the architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, minimalistic in his buildings, but certainly not his name. But how is minimalism made in song form? Be sparse, spare, pare, shear, prune, soften or shorten? The writer Nathan Morris summed it up: “Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.”

So this week we’re all about music that’s trimmed down to its fighting weight. As John Cage said: “I want to get clean and mean and minimalist.” But what are minimalist songs? This need not be restricted at all to experimentalists like Cage, who created 4’33’’ of silence accompanied by the sounds of a coughing, shuffling, restless audience. Nor to those composers with whom the term minimalist is more formally associated – Michael Nyman, La Monte Young and his “drone music”, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams. Much of their work is characterised by iterations of simple phrases, often in a form known as systems music, but this repetitious technique can be found across a huge spectrum of artists. That could be in simple melodies from classical to pop, beats and basslines from reggae to dance, or anything else, before and since.

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