46 Sherburne

Philip Sherburne (1971- ) is a journalist, critic and DJ, and is known for his lectures and knowledge of "MicroHouse" for which he coined the term. He describes minimalism in contemporary House and Techno as well as other genres such as Hip Hop and Garage. The article offers a brief genealogy of minimalism in these fields.

Starting with Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" and through the blood line of Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Detroit Techno, electronic music often finds itself with a pared-down pallet of sounds as opposed to the excess in production of bloated rock and pop. The dance music, which often in its nature requires repetition, finds itself with a limited set of sounds and forms that are reliant on loops, sequences and other repetitions. He suggests that the more avant-garde view the nature of repetition itself as the art to explore.

Further more, rock in the veins of No Wave and punk often hark to the 60's drone minimalism. Bands such as Sonic Youth take these sounds with an expressive stance, using noisy outbursts, tastes of microtonalism, and a stripped down sound.

Further came "DJ" tools, tracks usually from producers from the UK or Sweden, such as Adam Beyer and Surgeon, which were intended not for home listening but breakdowns and buildup used as building blocks for DJs to use in performance. This helped break down tracks into parts that fit together, the overall song into pieces that can be altered individually or at least focus on one layer. Steve Reich's early works Come Out and It's Gonna Rain are clearly influential in modern musical works.

Minimalism became adopted into the house of electronic music during the 90s as punk went to the other extreme, Grindcore. Albeit, a house of electronic follow suit into breakbeat, but that even more fueled the reaction towards a minimalist approach, an attempt to create "intelligent dance music". Minimalism does not originate from the Western school of musical thought, one of melody and linear progression, but of the African thought. This warrants a connection to Detroit and Chicago's origins of house and techno as they are musical reactions to racial issues.

The history and ability of minimalism is almost directly linked to the technology available. Magnetic tape allowed Steve Reich and other Musique Concrete artists to reach new levels of musical manipulation. the Roland TB-303 allowed Acid Tracks to strip to its bare essentials: Kick drum, cowbell, handclap, whistle and a griding, oscillating bass linw. Further software and hardware developments have encouraged programmers and musicians to try their hands at creating the next breakthrough.

But for the party, minimalism and dance is related to the way our body reacts with the sound. The unique corporeal experience that comes with the beat inhabiting the body will undeniably keep the practice alive. Sometime dances will have a single tempo the entire night, the music moves forward but maintains an illusion of standing still.

That is not to say that all techno is concerned with functionalism and dance halls. Some minimalist work is created for the exploration of the acoustic and psychological properties associated with minimalism. Some call it "post-Techno", but it concerns the effects of changes in a minimalistic work to cause user experiences. Playing one channel slightly slower then the other channel, overlapping different beats, and other techniques have more scientific or mathematical consideration but still offers a unique experience to the listener.

The final paragraph of this paper leaves a philosophical point that might be of interest to anyone working with computers and music (You guys). As well put as it is, I have chosen to end by quoting the last paragraph of Sherburne's article:

"Once again, a dance music form - a form with all the opportunities that technology affords to cram every space with sound - has gone anorexic. The trend seems almost a given. But then again, considering Garage's lyrical turn, one wonders if minimalism reflects a fundamental ambivalence about machine music. Is the urge to pare things down to the absolute minimum born of some distrust of buttons and circuits? When machines (both hardware and software) can cram every nanosecond with noise, is the last refuge of humanity to be found in space, in restraint, and in silence? One wonders if minimalism represents the ultimate human capacity - choice. The ability to leave the blank spaces blank represent the ultimate negative capacity: the will to withhold."

Kraftwerk - Autobahn Performance

Reich influenced Vocal track - I Beat that Bitch with a Bat

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License