Writings about Music

Moving Past

Minimalism in America began with a sound. A sound of distilled essence. This sound was sonically austere yet rhythmically vibrant with limitless complexity. This sound was alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who changed his name from Leon, probably finding that too romantic.

La Monte Young idolized Konitz, and spent his life pursuing that sonic ideal, even searching India for an explanation.

Gerry Mulligan heard that sound, causing him to dispense with the piano. And the pianoless quartet sound is what engendered the laser, pristine textures of The Doors

John Coltrane did the pianoless quartet one better by dispensing with chords, while reinstating the actual instrument.

Coltrane is what rocked Steve Reich, sending him exploring Africa and Indonesia.

Myself, I never took kindly to the word minimalism. But when a radio host considering my own music found a welcoming umbrella for my shanta rasa (tranquil) compositions, using related terms, I reluctantly accepted the designation, if momentarily.

For what is minimalism but the individual. Composers of notes aspire towards creating a universe within their One Dot World, a term borrowed from Eleanor Academia.

I had one great, three-hour plus phone conversation with La Monte. Steve mentored me by postal communication.

I was deeply moved by Steve’s music. It was Sunset Pass in the Canadian Rockies, a place to begin to explore.

Taking up the trail, I wished to add more melodic and rhythmic complexity, following golden forests of Indian musical thought, but always in the context of American jazz. Rock and Bob Dylan are so deeply ingrained they are subconsciously driven.

For myself, minimalistic openings lead to avant-garde eruptions, circling around the globe towards post avant-garde effusions, which may again be considered minimalism; a masking word for looming tidal waves.

- Michael Robinson, January 2016, Over the Pacific Ocean

© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist)