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#1
Welcome to the fourth instalment of the only interesting thing going on in MT right now, affectionately dubbed, Zach Talks About Music. The first three parts met with varying degrees of success from pure derision, to apathy, to healthy debate. I literally do not care, so you may as well participate. I'm not going away.

In this thread we're going to be talking about minimalism and new complexity, which are two styles of music that arose in the 20th century. In many ways minimalism is some of the simplest music of the 20th century and new complexity is some of the most complex. However, we're not going to be looking how they differ. We're going to look at how they're two sides of the same coin (long time readers of the Zach Talks About Music instalments will get a kick out of that one).

There will also be a challenge in this thread, a new addition to this series. This challenge may require every ounce of will and brain power that you have, but it will be worth it.

Note that when I say minimalism from this point on I almost always am referring to the musical style of minimalism.

The first way that minimalism and new complexity are the same is in their definitions. They are both abstract concepts that have a very specific style associated with them. They are also very local phenomenon (minimalism is uniquely American and new complexity is uniquely British).

Minimalism in concept is simply art that uses an aesthetic of very minimal design elements. We're all familiar with paintings that are single colours and sculptures of very simple shapes (but no shape in particular). However the term 'minimalist music' is nearly always referring to the music that was being written in the US (especially NY) in the 60s by a group of composers: Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Phillip Glass, Terry Riley. Their musical aesthetic incorporated harmonic consonance, repetition, process (particularly phasing) and motor rhythms.

New complexity in concept is complex, multi-layered interplay of evolutionary processes occurring simultaneously within every dimension of the musical material (yeah I stole that definition, fight me). Here's the thing. That definition could easily be applied to minimalist music as well. Minimalist music is also a multi-layered interplay of evolutionary processes occurring simultaneously. That word process is really important. The only aspect that doesn't work so well is the "within every dimension" bit, but still, pretty close. Stylistically however, new complexity has a pretty clear definition. The aesthetic incorporates highly dissonant harmony, jagged and irregular melodic lines, microtonality, extended techniques and quickly changing textures.


Here comes the challenge. The challenge seems easy, but in reality will be very hard. It will take you less than 20 minutes, but it may be a difficult 20 minutes. Here it is. Listen to both of these pieces the whole way through without doing anything else. You can do this back to back or separately, in any order, but you must listen to each piece in it's entirety in one sitting while being completely focused on the piece and actively listening. As if you actually liked it.

Here is my tip for this music, which can be challenging:
Don't get stuck.
Don't get stuck on its unfamiliarity.
Don't get stuck on its lack of tonality.
Don't get stuck on its lack of a singable melody.
Don't get stuck on how complicated the score looks.
Don't get stuck.
Simply listen.
Actively.
With open ears and an open mind.
Don't get stuck.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rZ926hfakg

This cuts off rather abruptly because it's only the first part of an hour long piece.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjR4QYsa9nE


Here's the real crux of this thread. On the surface these two styles obviously seem drastically different, but perceptually how different are they really? To me, new complexity is so incredibly detailed and so minute that you lose the detail. You lose the trees for the forest, as it were. There is such a mass of things happening in the music that it simply becomes a wash and all you're left with is gesture, much like the way I hear minimalist music. In the case of minimalist music the reason you don't here detail is because there really isn't any, so what you hear is a slowly changing process. Within that process though, is gesture. A wash. To me, new complexity and minimalism don't differ all that much. When you get down to the actual notes and rhythms of course they're extraordinarily different, but when you just listen they're really the same. A wash.

How do you hear it?
Do you agree that music so obviously and astonishingly different can really be the same thing?
Did you do the challenge?

Also, let's open this up to general discussion about minimalism and complexity in music. What makes music complex?

More recs for both new complexity and minimalism are available upon request.

#wearethechange
Last edited by jazz_rock_feel at Sep 27, 2014,
#2
Repetition is a form of variation

EDIT: I don't really have anything to say yet other than minimalism is probably the base from which i've grown out of musically and so it is very important to me and very cool so i will beat you up if you say it's not but 4 of you will probably say it's not music or something so i'm ready
Last edited by willT08 at Sep 27, 2014,
#3
God, Ive played in C so many ****ing times...

Anyways...yea, the point is that the patterns are either so predictable or so unpredictable that you go in and out of focus. In the moments where you come into focus, there is amazing clarity and meaning in the music. The conceptual part is that it was the same thing the whole time and you could have reached the clear meaningful focus from the very moment the piece began, if you had the psychological capacity to do so
Last edited by bassalloverthe at Sep 27, 2014,
#4
yea they're both certainly a wash alright!

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#6
Those must've been the longest 7 minutes of my life. The first piece was absolute torture and the score looked like some drawings of a schizophrenic. The second piece was more tolerable, but quite boring.

I did listen with an open mind, though.

^ "Steve Reich - Proverb" was actually pretty cool. Nice atmosphere and didn't even get repetitive. Not at all pretentious sounding.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Sep 27, 2014,
#7
Quote by Xiaoxi
yea they're both certainly a wash alright!

xiaoxi pls dont do this

also yeah glassworks is very important to me too, Map

Although I find myself going back to Reich more often now. Dat New York Counterpoint. Love a cheeky pulse
#8
Quote by bassalloverthe
The conceptual part is that it was the same thing the whole time and you could have reached the clear meaningful focus from the very moment the piece began, if you had the psychological capacity to do so

I'm not sure I agree. I think the beauty lies in the unfolding. The momentum that gets created by both styles.

Quote by Elintasokas
Those must've been the longest 7 minutes of my life. The first piece was absolute torture and the score looked like some drawings of a schizophrenic. The second piece was more tolerable, but quite boring.

I did listen with an open mind, though.

:')

This made it all worth it.

Did you find the two pieces that I posted pretentious?
Last edited by jazz_rock_feel at Sep 27, 2014,
#9
Quote by willT08
xiaoxi pls dont do this

oh I did it alright

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#10
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
I'm not sure I agree. I think the beauty lies in the unfolding. The momentum that gets created by both styles.



I'll admit, I had metamorphosis in my mind more than In C when I made that comment and wasnt considering the fact that In C actually does change harmonic and rhythmic content over time. So there is development that I wasn't really accounting for. In my defense, I think that the purpose of the piece is to mask when those changes occur, giving the feeling to the listener that nothing is changing at any given moment. Then at some point in the piece, the listener has a realization that the landscape has become incredibly thick

What is still present in both, to me, is that the human attention span obviously is a character in the piece.

To the second part of your post, I think the mythos surrounding the pieces is incredibly pretentious and actually turns me off to the music itself. However, I love a good minimalist piece, and I think that most people are inclined to like it if they dont know what they are listening to. What is pretentious is attaching something like work (the history, the techniques, the composers) to something most people regard as play (listening to music for pleasure). So yes, all musicians are at least slightly pretentious, because we make it our business to indulge in these aspects of music.

I agree with Xioxi. It amounts to a wash. An incredible gorgeous, soothing wash.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qa3CIMEYdXo


To pose an answer to the question about what the differences between the styles are...

To me, they are both incredibly similar. You take a machine and you let it run until it breaks, essentially. The hope is that at the breaking point, there is art. Minimalism does this with simple material, and new complexity is decidedly complex
Last edited by bassalloverthe at Sep 27, 2014,
#11
What if we took one of Fernyhough's solo flute pieces and tried to compare it to minimalism, would it still work?
#12
Quote by GoldenGuitar
What if we took one of Fernyhough's solo flute pieces and tried to compare it to minimalism, would it still work?


Two drastically different compositional techniques can yield similar results, if thats what you mean
#13
I'd like to know what it is which attracts you guys to that type of music. I can admit that I theoretically don't know what the hell is going on and it is probably quite involved but is it the complexity in the material alone that attracts you to it? I'm just playing devils advocate here as I honestly don't understand it and as of now, don't appreciate it very much. I"m particularly talking about furneyhough. And to a lesser degree the one right after it.
#14
Quote by bassalloverthe
Two drastically different compositional techniques can yield similar results, if thats what you mean


I'm trying to bring up the gestural aspects of New Complexity.
Last edited by GoldenGuitar at Sep 28, 2014,
#15
Quote by tyle12
I'd like to know what it is which attracts you guys to that type of music. I can admit that I theoretically don't know what the hell is going on and it is probably quite involved but is it the complexity in the material alone that attracts you to it? I'm just playing devils advocate here as I honestly don't understand it and as of now, don't appreciate it very much. I"m particularly talking about furneyhough. And to a lesser degree the one right after it.

My question is, how are you listening to it?
#16
^^ The complexity in itself plays a role, but what it boils down to: its a process which yields a completely unique sound.

^ His flute music makes me think of the word primitivism. Yes, I think theres a minimal aspect to it. First of all, the music is in fragments. Tiny tiny pieces that dont last long. Second, there is minimal development of harmony and rhythm. Development is typically in timbre. Sounds like minimalism, no?

However, it is still complex because it is complexly notated and many extended techniques are used. Its a more precise way of achieving a similar result
#17
Quote by GoldenGuitar
My question is, how are you listening to it?

I don't think I know how to listen to it...so quite passively I guess.
#18
When I listen to Fernyhough, I like to follow the gestures. To me it's really focused, physical, almost theatrical.
#19
Quote by tyle12
I'd like to know what it is which attracts you guys to that type of music. I can admit that I theoretically don't know what the hell is going on and it is probably quite involved but is it the complexity in the material alone that attracts you to it? I'm just playing devils advocate here as I honestly don't understand it and as of now, don't appreciate it very much. I"m particularly talking about furneyhough. And to a lesser degree the one right after it.

For me, this type of music forces me to view sound (and by derivation, music) in ways that I'm not usually. Usually when I listen to stuff like this, I think "what do I need to do in order to enjoy this?" And I'm not saying everyone should enjoy every type of music, as neat as that would be. I just try to get myself in a frame of mind where I can recognise the artistic merit, or beauty, in such works.

I enjoyed the minimalist one more. I think I tend to enjoy most minimalist works more than other 'extreme' or 'avant-garde' or whatever you want to call it. With minimalist stuff, I love hearing how over time, the textures and frequencies and everything just morph and change. It's just so unique.

The complex one was interesting. I kind of get what bassalloverthe is talking about with the moments of clarity, because there were distinct moments in the song where I was just kind of floored by the mastery of it. And then in almost an instant I was thrust back into the unease and the unfamiliarity.

The similarities between the two are interesting though. Where I feel like minimalism often uses repetition to create its multi-layered construct, new complexity uses contrast to create its multi-layered construct. I think that's kind of what you said in the OP anyway, but I didn't really get it until I heard the two pieces. I think they both also rely in some way in transformation. They take one individual thing, and then keep adding to it and adding to it until the end result is different. That might not be true of all pieces in these genres, but it's something that I see happening (in the limited exposure to them that I've had).

So yeah, very cool.
superman is killing himself tonight
#21
^ Just.

Quote by bassalloverthe

To the second part of your post, I think the mythos surrounding the pieces is incredibly pretentious and actually turns me off to the music itself. However, I love a good minimalist piece, and I think that most people are inclined to like it if they dont know what they are listening to. What is pretentious is attaching something like work (the history, the techniques, the composers) to something most people regard as play (listening to music for pleasure). So yes, all musicians are at least slightly pretentious, because we make it our business to indulge in these aspects of music.

Everyone does that with all music though, not just minimalism and new complexity and not just art music. I don't how that makes it pretentious, whatever that means.

Quote by GoldenGuitar
What if we took one of Fernyhough's solo flute pieces and tried to compare it to minimalism, would it still work?

I don't know, what do you think would happen? I'll admit to picking a piece that fit my point pretty well. Although to some extent, the string quartet is still very gestural. To me what makes it similar is that there is also this momentum that picks up though the piece. The individual gestures aren't as important as the sheer number of them. And so the piece can be heard as somewhat minimal in that it becomes less about the details and more about the big picture. To me the advantage of NC is that both the details and big picture are compelling, whereas in minimalism the details can be pretty dry.

Quote by tyle12
I'd like to know what it is which attracts you guys to that type of music. I can admit that I theoretically don't know what the hell is going on and it is probably quite involved but is it the complexity in the material alone that attracts you to it? I'm just playing devils advocate here as I honestly don't understand it and as of now, don't appreciate it very much. I"m particularly talking about furneyhough. And to a lesser degree the one right after it.

What attracts people to any kind of music? At the end of the day you like the sounds. I truly believe the issue with stuff like NC with most people is familiarity. I mean, NC is a pretty extreme example, but even if we took something more conservative I think the point still stands. That's where I was going with my tip for listening. It's really easy to get stuck on some aspect of the music that you don't like. What I was encouraging you to do was fight through that and just listen to it for what it is.

Then again, it isn't always familiarity. I'm familiar with lots of music I don't like.

Quote by GoldenGuitar
When I listen to Fernyhough, I like to follow the gestures. To me it's really focused, physical, almost theatrical.

Hitting you up on that. I also find the gestures to be very dramatic and theatrical. That's a good way to put it.

Quote by Baby Joel
I think that's kind of what you said in the OP anyway, but I didn't really get it until I heard the two pieces.

First of all, good post. Second, the part of it that I quoted is my favourite part of the thread so far. Not because you agreed with what I said (even though that's a nice plus), but because you got the underlying point, which was to provide a frame to actually hear this music and not just talk about it.
#22
Quote by bassalloverthe
What is pretentious is attaching something like work (the history, the techniques, the composers) to something most people regard as play (listening to music for pleasure). So yes, all musicians are at least slightly pretentious, because we make it our business to indulge in these aspects of music.

This is fucking infuriating

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#23
Quote by Xiaoxi
This is fucking infuriating


Why? Because you agree, or disagree? I think its infuriating because its slightly true.
#24
I had a bunch typed up when I first read this thread but none of it made sense.

I completed your challenge and felt the same way (meaning I think minimalism and new complexity both have similar effects). As amateur as it sounds I've never really analysed music that way; I just define 'complexity' by the emotional impact I get from the music, which is how both pieces have similar impacts (I'm not saying that analysing literal complexity properly to understand how it's made is unimportant). In a sense constantly switching things up is repetition in its own right.
#25
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
To me, new complexity is so incredibly detailed and so minute that you lose the detail. You lose the trees for the forest, as it were. There is such a mass of things happening in the music that it simply becomes a wash and all you're left with is gesture, much like the way I hear minimalist music.

Definitely. I mean, I listen to a lot of Prog, so I'm no stranger to complexity. But there was literally so much going on the Ferneyhough piece that hearing the main theme (which isn't a motif or anything to my ears, just an overall feeling) was all I was doing, the gesture as it were. I liked it; but it would be draining, I think, if you tried to listen to more than "the gesture".

In the case of minimalist music the reason you don't here detail is because there really isn't any, so what you hear is a slowly changing process. Within that process though, is gesture. A wash.

Yeah, it's actually kind of cool. The repetitive nature of the Terry Riley piece almost felt like it was grabbing me physically. The changes were presented in a way that didn't feel abrupt, yet I still noticed them.

To me, new complexity and minimalism don't differ all that much. When you get down to the actual notes and rhythms of course they're extraordinarily different, but when you just listen they're really the same. A wash.

I agree. Two sides of the same coin, really.

What makes music complex?

A few brief thoughts on this...

Some of the "most complex" prog pieces I've heard were actually fairly minimalist in feel. But on the other hand, some of the "least complex" prog pieces were full of so many notes it was painful. I think true complexity balances emotional impact with compositional skill.
#27
Quote by DisarmGoliath
Boo, this Zach guy sure talks a lot of waffle

DG, please. His discussion threads have been some of the best threads in a while.
#28
I have to be honest. I didn't read much of the thing on top of the vids (I'll do it later, promise) but I got hooked up with the challenge.

I did it.

1st vid) I think that already listen to it in some other time, but not as focus as this one. The first part...was the more tolerable (sort of speak) but the last half...man, I struggle all the way. Didn't make any kind of sense.
2nd vid) Waaaaay more enjoyable (at least for me). It doesn't make sense neither, but...I like the sensation the the foundation of the song, it's the same, there are melodies that are placed here and there but because of the amount of repetition it makes you feel lost and wondering what the hell are you listening to.
#29
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
DG, please. His discussion threads have been some of the best threads in a while.

It's somewhat of a very recent in-joke.
Hey, look. Sigs are back.
#30
Quote by slipknot5678
I just define 'complexity' by the emotional impact I get from the music


Quote by crazysam23_Atax

Some of the "most complex" prog pieces I've heard were actually fairly minimalist in feel. But on the other hand, some of the "least complex" prog pieces were full of so many notes it was painful. I think true complexity balances emotional impact with compositional skill.

The implication being that new complexity has less emotional impact?


But these two quotes address something interesting. What is complexity in music? Is the NC more complex than the minimalism? What makes it so? Are rhythms that are hard to play and disjunct melodies more complicated than static harmonies and repetition? Is complexity just the complexity of emotional reaction? Is it a measure of how confused you are after hearing a piece? Scelsi wrote pieces in which he obsesses over a single note and explores that note timbrally. Is this music complex? Or is it simple?


ilu DG
#31
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
The implication being that new complexity has less emotional impact?

To a degree, yes.

What is complexity in music?

I don't think there's a definitive answer to this. But I will say that complexity, by itself, is not bad. (Sidenote: I've never ascribed to the mantra of "Keep It Simple, Stupid".) The works of Brahms, Bach, & Beethoven are very complex (both emotionally and technically) and their composition techniques are revered and studied even to this day, a few hundred years after their deaths. On the other hand, I'm sure that they were composers in the times of those esteemed gentlemen who had complexity without a great deal of emotion (at least a great deal of emotion that the audience felt), and history has largely not remember such composers.

Consider "art music". Much of it is very complex, but it really only tickles the musicians who admire the technical aspects of such music. Most listeners find it akin to musical masturbation (and it sometimes is, even to musicians). So, the question I would ask is...how does one balance emotional aspects of music with technical aspects of music?

Is the NC more complex than the minimalism? What makes it so? Are rhythms that are hard to play and disjunct melodies more complicated than static harmonies and repetition?

From a pure technical aspect, NC is more complex. In terms of the emotional effect on the audience, I would argue they are somewhat equal.

Is complexity just the complexity of emotional reaction? Is it a measure of how confused you are after hearing a piece?

I would say complexity has two parts: emotional effect on the listener and technical skill required to play. Some pieces have more of one than the other, but the best complex pieces balance the two.

Scelsi wrote pieces in which he obsesses over a single note and explores that note timbrally. Is this music complex? Or is it simple?

I'm not familiar with those pieces, but...I think such a thing would be both.
#32
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
The implication being that new complexity has less emotional impact?


That wasn't my implication at all.


But these two quotes address something interesting. What is complexity in music? Is the NC more complex than the minimalism? What makes it so? Are rhythms that are hard to play and disjunct melodies more complicated than static harmonies and repetition? Is complexity just the complexity of emotional reaction? Is it a measure of how confused you are after hearing a piece? Scelsi wrote pieces in which he obsesses over a single note and explores that note timbrally. Is this music complex? Or is it simple?


I was more implying this; that complexity is not easily defined. In an informal sense I might use the word 'complex' to mean 'requiring a lot of focus to analyse'. One note isn't difficult to analyse if you think of music as notes on paper. Emotionally though, it could be very complex. Music is of course, sound. It's also typically seen as a performing art. Both timbre and performance can change a single note into a number of things.

Complexity can mean a number of things, but ultimately the closest I can come is that it is the depth of a piece (which opens up a whole new discussion). It could have little repetition and many difficult to replicate passages, but if I have no meaningful response to it I'm not going to view it as complex. That's a bit subjective though.
#33
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
The implication being that new complexity has less emotional impact?


But these two quotes address something interesting. What is complexity in music? Is the NC more complex than the minimalism? What makes it so? Are rhythms that are hard to play and disjunct melodies more complicated than static harmonies and repetition? Is complexity just the complexity of emotional reaction? Is it a measure of how confused you are after hearing a piece? Scelsi wrote pieces in which he obsesses over a single note and explores that note timbrally. Is this music complex? Or is it simple?


ilu DG


The angular nature of NC makes it relatively difficult to understand compared to minimalism. The concepts are less accustomed too compared to the typically "known" sonic areas that minimalism exploits. I don't think people actually think of music as complex or not-complex. They either understand it, or they don't.
#34
@sam & slip: how can you really quantify emotional complexity though?

Quote by MapOfYourHead
The angular nature of NC makes it relatively difficult to understand compared to minimalism. The concepts are less accustomed too compared to the typically "known" sonic areas that minimalism exploits. I don't think people actually think of music as complex or not-complex. They either understand it, or they don't.

Yeah I agree, you can't really hear complexity. I tried to use complexity as a structural element in a piece once and it didn't really worked. It just turned into how much is going on at the same time. More stuff = more complex which I don't think is really true.

The thing is even with that said I think everyone would agree that Twinkle Twinkle is less complex than Beethoven's 9th. So there is some gradation there. There is something that makes that the case.
#35
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
Yeah I agree, you can't really hear complexity. I tried to use complexity as a structural element in a piece once and it didn't really worked. It just turned into how much is going on at the same time. More stuff = more complex which I don't think is really true.

The thing is even with that said I think everyone would agree that Twinkle Twinkle is less complex than Beethoven's 9th. So there is some gradation there. There is something that makes that the case.


And Reich's Clapping Music is less complex than Twinkle Twinkle.

Different sounds for different purposes. In reality, these macro-labels mean nothing. If I want to hear something complex, I might want Reich's Drumming, or Moonlight mvt. 3, or even Klavierstück IX. If I want something simple I might want Cage's 13 Harmonies, or Aphex's Ambient works, or even Blink-182.

It's all relative. It's also all pointless.
#36
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
@sam & slip: how can you really quantify emotional complexity though?

I don't know that you can, since it's largely a subjective thing.
#37
Since I play bluegrass I prefer to play In C in A.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#38
I like to look at complexity as a matter of perspective and also as a continuum, sort of like a zoom lens. I'll use minimalism and new complexity as an example (to keep the continuity of this thread).When we zoom out, it is heard as one texture. But if we focus and zoom in, we can hear all these processes occurring and all these textural details. This also applies to things like singular pitches, like say a single pitch on guitar. When we listen broadly we only hear the pitch as a timbre. But with enough focus, we can hear a great amount of the overtones. Which is what makes up that particular spectra.
Last edited by GoldenGuitar at Sep 29, 2014,
#39
Quote by MapOfYourHead
And Reich's Clapping Music is less complex than Twinkle Twinkle.

But then phase music (like Reich's "Piano Phase") I would argue is more complex than both!

I had never heard of NC until tonight, but I found I enjoyed it a lot. Not as much as minimalism, but I still liked it. It wasn't the "complexities" that intrigued me, it was that it sent me to a zen-like state where in order to hear anything I had to almost take it all at once and not try and dissect. The same thing I have to do when listening to minimalism, coincidentally.

It's interesting.
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