MINIMALISM - for brass band?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by TIMBONE, Apr 24, 2004.


    TIMBONE Active Member

    I am very impressed with the music of Philip Glass, and have considered using a similar approach in a brass band composition. However, although 'minimalism' in music can be a phenomenal experience for the listener, it can be very tedious for the performer. For example, after a week of "AKHNATEN" by Philip Glass, the orchestra at the Royal Opera House, with support from the Musicians Union, said that they would refuse to play it again, (mind you, "Akhnaten" is 'long' - it fits onto a 'triple cassette').

    I would be interested to hear the views of the 'brass band fraternity'. We are talking about music which can be, much of the time, technically unchallenging, and extremely repetitive, yet musically inspiring. Are brass bands interested in music?, or does it have to contain some 'pyrotechnics'?
  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Personally speaking, I find the embracing of Minimalism as an overall style to be a musical cop-out. Interesting gimmick, yes, but, as a listener, music that deliberately attempts to bore me, does, yes, surprisingly enough, bore me. Don't read me wrong - I have experienced the hypnotic effect of the repetition of a bar over and over again with very slight alterations, but find it very hard to stomach more than five minutes or so of this method in say a week's listening.
    From a composer's viewpoint, it looks a little suspicious too - isn't the Minimalist writer just being lazy? No need to spend weeks working out interesting musical happenings, just cut and paste ad nauseam!

    TIMBONE Active Member


    I understand what you are saying, because initially, I too thought the same, (like minimalism in art & design as well). However, like all music/art forms, it has a wide application. Even in popular idioms, there are simplistic extremes, after all, isn't modern dance music a form of minimalism, but it still has the same hypnotic effect in the right context.

    Having said that, I studied the music of Philip Glass, and found that it was not actually as simple as it seems. Harmonically it can be basic, but the rhythmic complexities, interweaving of ideas and sounds create a musical tapestry which is quite stunning.
  4. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    Hey Tim

    I very much like Minimalism in music - especially the most well known of minimalist composers, John Adams and several tracks from his classic album The Chairman Dances. The title track and another called 'Short Ride in a Fast Machine'...WOW great stuff. I agree that this is stirring stuff.

    I feel minimalist music is in some ways rather like ambient music (the genre I write with on my synth most often;) ) in as much as it allows one to focus the mind on whatever you want to focus on at that time. It takes you wherever you want to go... very thought provocing and imaginative - therefore very creative in manner.

    I'd like to hear any stuff you have done in this genre. Do you have an samples?
  5. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member

    Huddersfield, West Yorkshire


    Just thought I'd say that players from Huddersfield University band will know about the feelings of playing a truely minimalist piece when they played the music of a former lady lecturer and composer in the university itself, Margaret Lucy Wilkins.

    I played it many years ago, and at that point did not fully appreciate the piece since I saw it purely as a performer and not as what I hope I am now, a more rounded musician. It was tedious to play, one note and one or two rhythmic changes here and there didn't particularly strike me as being a great piece of music. I seem to think that a high majority of banders out there would not like playing this music because it doesn't give them enough "blow satisfaction". Taking the example of Prague, I believe that most didn't like the piece because there was not enough "blow satisfaction" or big rich sounding lines or the fact that some parts had a load of rests (luckily these players don't play in an orchestral brass section!).

    When I heard the piece the second time however, not as a participant this time, I found the piece to be particularly effective and in the acoustic of the concert hall in which it was performed was perfect. I join you in enjoying the music of Phillip Glass, my last CD in fact being The Essential Phillip Glass and the excerpts from, the previously mentioned Akhnaten (Hymn to the Sun) and Einstein on the Beach (Bed) are really good. Although at the end of the day it can become a bit much if you hear too much of it, especially if you have to rehearse it.

    We played a piece by Tim Schouster (apology for the spelling!) called Echoes which was essentially minimalist on the music but the difference in timbre was created by delay on elecronic equipment going around 8 speakers around the room. The players hated the piece in the bandroom, but after the performance on stage a few had changed their minds and quite liked it.

    As for composing a piece along the lines of minimalism, I don't think banding is ready for it. If they can't accept Prague and a piece like Maunsell Forts then anything even more extreme will be played once and then left in the library for 10 years, if not longer. Composers choose to be minimalist because they like the uncomplicated nature of the music and can demonstrate simple rhythms in isolated parts as complicated rhythms when all the musicians are playing.

    It's interesting that when you go to a club and have a few drinks we listen to minimalist music all the time....i.e the minimal rhythm in dance music, beats remain constant and aim to whip dancers into a trance of some kind. The idea of constant rhythm, if you can state that it is a part of minimalism has been taken by western DJ's and western composers from the music of lesser known cultures in Asia, Africa and South America where Trance music is either a major part of their religious ceremonies or a belief on their part that constantly repeating rhythms with little or no change for a day and a half would cure the illnesses of certain people within their tribes.

    I find minimalism very good, but only in acceptable doses or it kind of makes me feel tired, and that's just listening to it. :D

    Hope there'll be loads of comments on this topic, I'd be interested to see what players have to say.
  6. Pete Meechan

    Pete Meechan Member

    I think that 'minimalism' is these days, quite a dangerous term, in terms of music anyway.

    We should remember that use of repeated patterns isn't necersarilly minimalism...Composers going back hundreads of years have used repeated patterns.

    Philip Glass uses minimalist techniques in a maximalist way - the same can be said for the music of John Adams (Whose music I am a big fan of) -post his chamber concerto. He then starts, just as Glass does, to use repeated patterns as a method of creating motion and momentum in his music.

    True minimalists are composer such as Young, Cage and then onto the next generation with the likes of Riech.

    I think that the best way to refer to the music of Glass, Adams, and a whole list of others (Gorecki, et al) is to call them Post-minimalists.

    TIMBONE Active Member


    Some interesting points, and yes, there will be a sample avilable soon John.

    I like the term 'post-minimalism'. Like I already said, the term can be widely used. In a sense, one could say that Ravel's Bolero has an element of minimalism - after all, there are only two 'tunes', the same rhyhmic structure througout, and it lasts for twent minutes. An interesting annecdote concerning 'Bolero', is that when I was teaching, a complete 'performance' of Bolero' was one of the only guarantees to keep even the most difficult year 9 (3rd year) classes absolutely still and quiet!
  8. Brian Bowen

    Brian Bowen Active Member

    Sarasota, Florida, USA
    I must say I felt the victim of a fraud after listening to the whole of the opera Akhnaten on BBC radio some years ago. After enduring its extremely limited harmonic language and repetition for some two hours (?) I thought there must be a magical moment at its climax that would make sense of all that tedium. But it wasn’t to be so. No doubt seeing the drama played out would have helped a little but I’ve sampled other Philip Glass pieces and decided it’s not for me. John Adams seems to have developed away from so much repetition and uses a more colourful harmonic palette, and to good effect.

    Seeing that the orchestra of the ROH is paid to perform, unlike those who play in brass bands, I’m wondering on what grounds they can refuse, as reported in this case?

    TIMBONE Active Member

    I was told this on a course in the mid nineties, by a member of the BBC Concert Orchestra. It may have just been hearsay, but it does illustrate the point that musicians can feel quite strongly when asked to perform music of this genre several times.
  10. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Isle of Arran and lovin' it!
    I suspect, Tim, that you've effectively answered your own question. Whilst a two hour work wouldn't normally be considered for brass band (mind you, Bram Gay has arranged the orchestral parts for the Magic Flute for band to be played as an 'opera' with singers!), I suspect that listeners would get more enjoyment out of it than performers in general. As brass band musicans don't get paid for the most part, it'd be far more difficult to perusade them otherwise than the professional musicians!

    Nor does brass band music doesn't have to contain pyrotechnics to be enjoyable to play, but I suspect the 'Glassware' approach to minimalism might not sell too well. I don't have any personal violent objections to that sort of music, but not having listened to it too much, I can't say I'm an expert on it.
  11. ukdrummerboy

    ukdrummerboy Member

    Sheffield, S Yorkshire
    I must admit, i do like listening to minimalist music from time to time....HOWEVER....some piece can be overdone. Bolero I like listening to (as i percussionist i hate playing tho :D ) But one composer for me who (i'm sorry to say) gets my goat, is Ludovico Einaudi! He did one or two nice piece's to begin with, then the things he churns out now just sound like his plonking away at his piano looking for an idea! Minimalism i feel is ok, so long as there are varying textures and harmonies! Just my two cents! :wink:
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice