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Extreme(ly) Extreme Minimalism

What might qualify as extremely extreme minimalism? Music that takes one or more parameters to an almost insane point of rarefaction. Duration, for example. Many minimalist composers have worked with tempos under 10 bpm. But few have broken the 1 bpm border. Fewer still: .1, .01, .001 bpm. Imagine a piece with a tempo of one quarter-note pulse every 100 years. You’d end up with something that made the 639-year Cage organ piece seem like a fleeting bagatelle.

Pitchwise, imagine taking a 60-voice mixed choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) – each member of which had mastered the art of extended circular singing: being able to sing a long continuous steady tone while exhaling and inhaling – and having them all circular-sing the same pitch (vibrato-less of course) for 24 straight hours.

Minimalists often work with very low volume. But they only go so far. How about a piece that was so soft it could only (barely!) be heard by a person with perfect hearing leaning in right next to the sound source in an anechoic chamber?

Timbrally, imagine an orchestra made entirely of flutes, the acoustic instrument that sounds most like the harmonics-free sine wave. Picture, in your mind’s ear, Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries played by 100 flutes at 20 bpm with a volume that never crept above pianissimo. Now that’s a concert I wouldn’t want to miss!

Posted on May 20, 2013 at 11:30 am by rachmiel · Permalink