Weekly Warm-Up: "Pentatone" and Minimalism

As a fun experiment, a decided to take a shot at some minimalism as a weekly warm-up.  Minimalism is where you take a few basic elements and develop art from them.  The idea is simplicity, although sometimes the results can be quite complicated in sound and appearance.  For example, here is a minimalist painting on the right.  It takes a shape and colors to form a painting.  the result is quite beautiful.

Composers can do the same thing in music.  An example is Steve Reich's clapping music:

The composer takes a rhythm and has people clapping it.  One group then shifts the notes.  This creates an amazing effect that sounds new and fresh even though it is the same rhythm again and again.

Another famous minimilist composer is Phillip Glass who wrote the music for "The Truman Show" and "The Illusionist" among others.  Again, he uses some simple ideas to create pretty neat music.

I tried my hand at this style of composition and came up with this:


This piece is all based on the number 5.  The scale I used was a D minor Pentatonic scale and the piece is in 10/8.  I also borrowed some thinking from serialism and took the main them and retrograded, inverted, and retrograde inverted it throughout the piece.

Towards the end I started leaving out notes in different ways, still using 5 as my basis.  At this point (and throughout) I still tried to use more intuitive ways of making the piece rather than having any structure to it.

The beginning motive is introduced and then played with augmentation in lower instruments, and then with diminution in an upper instrument.  Later, I play it backwards, smooshed together with the harmonies, and in other variations.  The only thing in the entire piece that is used is the theme that is used in the first bar.

It was quite a fun experiment, and I believe I will try again using the octatonic scale (a really cool scale!) as my basis.

While minimalism was fun, I will say that it lacks something to it and I will never become a purely minimalist composer.  However, the idea to simplify and create something beautiful using very little has a lot of practical application, and I very much enjoy the philosophy behind the movement even if I will never fully subscribe to all out minimalism.


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