My favorite minimal electronic music is the kind of minimal electronic music that makes you want to listen to something else.
The sound of a computer fan spinning up, for example, or even the sound of the computer’s hard drive starting up. Or a metronome, or somebody tapping their pencil on the table in time with the metronome.
Music that’s so minimal it isn’t really music at all– just the sound of someone working and listening to some other kind of music.
The minimal electronic music of the 1970s and 1980s is often seen as the first step toward contemporary EDM, but I believe its influence has been greatly underestimated. Originally released on small labels with tiny pressings, this music was difficult to find and never widely exposed.
In this piece I will explore my favorite examples of minimal electronic music. All songs are from the years 1978-1983.
Listen to this for at least an hour. A lot of people don’t like minimal electronic music because it sounds repetitive. But if you listen to any kind of music for long enough, it starts to sound repetitive.
“Minimal Electronic Music” is a two-hour playlist put together by Pitchfork. It contains a set of great tracks and artists, but I think the ordering is off. So here’s my own version, with a tighter and more dramatic arc.
The first half is a slow build-up, starting with Philip Glass and Terry Riley, two of the founders of minimalism. Steve Reich’s “Come Out” introduces the idea that repetition can be hypnotic and even ecstatic–which will be further explored in the second half of the playlist. The next track, Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Still Life,” starts out as pure repetition but ends up somewhere completely different; it’s a good transition from the early minimalists to the ambient electronic artists who came later. Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)” is one of those songs that always seems too short; Eno knows how to make something simple sound epic. Ben Frost’s “Theory of Machines” gives you everything you hear in more contemporary electronic music–but nothing
Minimal electronic music is the kind of music that makes you feel like the artist took a lot of time and care to create something with depth, detail and meaning. It’s not just a bunch of random sounds thrown together.
This is different from traditional electronic music where there are many layers of sounds, each layer containing a bunch of different instruments or samples. In minimal electronic music there may be 5 or 6 tracks each containing just one instrument or sample. The sounds are very clean and simple with no distortion or effects. Each track is carefully crafted to fit perfectly into the mix so that all the parts sound good together.
All these tracks are put together in a way that it feels like they’re playing together in harmony without competing for attention from the listener. There’s an overall feel and atmosphere created by these layers which gives off this sense of something being “bigger than itself” (as opposed to just sounding like lots of separate little things).
Most people don’t know what minimal music is, and I’m not going to try to explain it here. But if you like that sort of thing, the following albums are all great.
Aphex Twin: “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”
This was my first introduction to electronic music, and it remains the most important album in my collection. It’s a double CD of long, slow, abstract pieces. It has a very polished sound for its time (1985-1992). The second disc is slightly better than the first, with more variety and better pacing. If you only listen to one piece from this album, listen to
Minimal electronic music is a style of electronic music that was very popular in the 1970s. It uses simple, repetitive rhythms and few sounds to create a relaxing mood.
Minimalism began in the 1960s with composers such as John Adams and Philip Glass. In the 1990s, minimalism became less popular, but it’s still around today, especially in film scores.
Minimalist music is mostly instrumental, and most of it is created using synthesizers.
The Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) helped popularize minimalism in the 1970s. Their music has been sampled by many modern artists including Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim.
I used to work on Wall Street right after college. One of the great things about working there was that I was exposed to a lot of really smart people, and I learned something from each of them.
One friend, in particular, however, taught me more than anyone else. He worked at Goldman Sachs with me and was a truly brilliant programmer. A good programmer can do amazing things with code; a great one can do almost anything. This friend was one of the greatest programmers I’ve ever met – and he never graduated college.
He excelled at everything he did. He could be out at a bar with his friends on Friday night and by Sunday night have created an application so impressive that it would quickly spread across the entire Internet and make him a ton of money. He didn’t need to go to college to learn how to program; he just needed to do it. He had an innate ability that couldn’t be taught in any classroom.
I learned more from him in six months than I did in four years of college.