44 Mertens

Basic Concepts of Minimal Music
Wim Mertens

Wim Mertens (b. 1953) is a Belgian composer, singer, pianist, guitarist, and musicologist. He studied at the University of Leuven and Ghent Universiy as well as at the Royal Conservatories of Ghent and Brussels. He has released over 50 albums to date and is a major influence in popular culture. His music has also been featured in several films.

In this excerpt from his book American Minimal Music, Mertens compares and contrasts the use of the concepts of time, structure, and memory in minimalist composition and traditional classical music. He explains that traditional music has a history of being teleological, or end-oriented, and being narrative in nature. This is in stark contrast to minimalist music, which is "non-dialectical" and static in nature. He also argues that traditional music requires a linear memory, whereas minimalist music does not. He also explains the cultural influences (and supposedly non-influences) of the four main American minimalist composers. Terry Riley and La Monte Young are supposedly more Eastern in their ideology than Steve Reich and Philip Glass, however, I'm not so sure how definitively Mertens can state this, as it is impossible to say what has influenced a certain composer (All of these composers hate the so-called avant-garde approach to music, yet they're still undeniably influenced by it - like it or not). Regardless of their influences, these composers have the ability to strip certain ideas or methodologies (such as the additive process that Glass is so fond of) from other cultures (i.e. India) and incorporate them into what Mertens calls, their "culture products." Another important aspect of this reading to take away, I think, is that the most important aspect of minimalist music, according to Glass, is the immediate physiological effect on the listener. Minimalist music, for the most part, is not goal oriented; rather, it focuses on the process, which in most cases is just started by the composer and "finished on its own."

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