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Repeating Ourselves

Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice

Robert Fink
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Repeating Ourselves
    Book Description:

    Where did musical minimalism come from-and what does it mean? In this significant revisionist account of minimalist music, Robert Fink connects repetitive music to the postwar evolution of an American mass consumer society. Abandoning the ingrained formalism of minimalist aesthetics,Repeating Ourselvesconsiders the cultural significance of American repetitive music exemplified by composers such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. Fink juxtaposes repetitive minimal music with 1970s disco; assesses it in relation to the selling structure of mass-media advertising campaigns; traces it back to the innovations in hi-fi technology that turned baroque concertos into ambient "easy listening"; and appraises its meditative kinship to the spiritual path of musical mastery offered by Japan's Suzuki Method of Talent Education.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93894-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION. The Culture of Repetition
    (pp. 1-22)

    It is late on a Friday night in the industrial consumer society at the turn of the twenty-first century. The culture of repetition is in full swing.

    In a converted warehouse near the urban core, hundreds of dancers are moving in rhythm to highly repetitive electronic music; many of them are under the influence of controlled substances, most notably 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), known to them as E, X, or Ecstasy. The DJ, who has been building erotic tension for 45 minutes by carefully interweaving current hard trance with classic disco tracks from the 1970s, pulls a prized 12-inch record from his...


    • ONE DO IT (’TIL YOU’RE SATISFIED): Repetitive Musics and Recombinant Desires
      (pp. 25-61)

      During the spring, summer, and fall of 1976, a radically new type of musical experience—strictly patterned, tonally static, beat-driven—insinuated its way into the mainstream of Western music culture. Opportunities to respond with the whole body to extremely long, extremely loud stretches of repetitious music had been available at the Downtown margins since the late 1960s—either live in the galleries and loft spaces of the experimental avant-garde, or blasting from unlabeled 12-inch records over the sweaty dance floors of what were just beginning to be called “discos.” But in that Bicentennial year the new repetition-driven sound went Uptown,...

      (pp. 62-119)

      Why compare minimal music to, of all things,advertising?As I observed in the Preface, it is hard to imagineanycultural interpretation breaching the radical formalism of minimalism’s true believers; but to bypass all the attractive, exotic hermeneutic excursions that seem so close at hand—ecology, meditative spirituality, the influence of non-Western cultures, utopian race and gender politics—only to hone in on one of the least attractive features of our corporate consumer society might seem downright hostile. Delivered as a talk, an early version of this chapter had a noted oral historian of twentieth-century American music out of...

    • THREE THE MEDIA SUBLIME: Minimalism, Advertising, and Television
      (pp. 120-166)

      The fundamental truth of advertising as a cultural form is that it has been designed, through most of its history, by what to its practitioners seemed stark, scientific necessity, to be highly repetitious. Conceptualized as incremental in its effect, advertising has always been understood as a gradual process requiring multiple iterations of the same stimulus to produce a rising curve of attention, interest, and desire—leading, ultimately, to a successful transaction at the point of sale. Thus advertisers have always incorporated large amounts of redundancy into their communication strategies. Consider the epigraph above, which reproduces one of the foundational texts...


    • FOUR “A POX ON MANFREDINI”: The Long-Playing Record, the Baroque Revival, and the Birth of Ambient Music
      (pp. 169-207)

      The piece is, one has to admit, quite funny.

      Build up a minimalist string pulsation in C major, over which a pianist begins playing the first bar of the first prelude from Bach’sWell-Tempered Clavier—very fast and mechanical. Repeat it eight times. Repeat the next bar eight times. The next, eight times more. Continue at glacial pace through the familiar chord progression, cueing in the whirring arpeggios, the dit-dah-dah syncopated brass chords, and the portentous bass drum strokes. Add in that wheezy violin étude figure that Jack Benny used to play—and, for counterpoint, “Three Blind Mice,” in case...

    • FIVE “I DID THIS EXERCISE 100,000 TIMES”: Zen, Minimalism, and the Suzuki Method
      (pp. 208-236)

      The one thing that H. C. Robbins Landon’s “A Pox on Manfredini” didnotcomplain about in its savaging of the barococo revival was, surprisingly enough, the quality of performance enshrined on those multipledisc sets. This may be because his attack was primarily on the consumption habits of musical “snobs,” and thus the collections he reviewed are “models of luxurious presentation . . . with pages of illustrations, facsimiles, and engraved musical examples.” But as anyone who has sampled these 1950s and 1960s sets can attest, the playing and “interpretation” (or lack of it) on the cheaper ones is, side...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 237-266)
  8. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 267-268)
  9. Index
    (pp. 269-280)