Sir Barken’s Vinyl Review: The Spawn of Minimalism

Sir Barken Hyena writes:


Today I listened to some records that all in various ways reflect the influence of 50’s and 60’s minimalism. And by that I mean first the minimalism of the graphic arts but also the later musical minimalism of Terry Riley, LaMonte Young and those who followed. The avant garde art world has influenced pop and rock since the 60’s, with a long list of rock stars coming out of art school and bringing that sensibility to the stage and the studio. These records come from the darker, lesser known corners of this stream of influence.

Trumpeter and Eastman graduate Jon Hassell was there from the beginning, performing with Riley and Young, but ultimately the ascetic coloring left him wanting. Lack of sex appeal earlier sent him fleeing the post war serialism he practiced at Eastman. Miles Davis, just then entering his electric period, had the antidote, but how to combine the best of both? Hassell found the answer via India, studying for years with vocal master Pandit Pran Nath, but taking it to his own instrument, the trumpet.

By yoking the curving trumpet lines to the sinuous dark percussion world below, like a snake charmer Hassell injected a note of tension, of give and take to his minimalistic landscapes. The final ingredient for Hassell’s stunningly original sound came from another scion of the avante garde, Brian Eno. He brought the atmospheric ingredient and uncovered a lyrical side that propeled this new music to escape velocity on Fourth World Vol I, Hassell’s first effort to fully flesh out the future sound of his music.

Through the next decade Hassell fleshed out his sound on a series of important albums. 1983’s Aka Darbari Java was technically innovative: probably the first digital loop based record, it employed the new Fairlight CMI computer instrument to weave a mosaic from Hollywood soundtracks, Yma Sumac records, African singing, Indonesian gongs and god only knows what else, but focused in a shimmering web almost Jackson Pollack like. This has now become a standard method of music production. And the favor was returned, as Hassell himself was often sampled for dance and hip hop. In 1990 he came full circle with the urban grit of City: Works of Fiction, which sampled Public Enemy and god knows what else, proving Hassell’s basic equation: today, any element from any style, time or place can be material for music.

Jon Hassell’s website is worth checking out.

Kerry Leimer comes from a totally different path, but still the same core influences are there. A self taught amateur, Leimer was a first wave home recordist, taking advantage of the emerging consumer market for recording devices to make an end run around the music establishment. This signaled the re-emergence of a type that had had a big role in the arts since the dawn of time: the devoted non-professional. Swept away by the industrial and commercial modes of the industrial revolution, he was brought ironically back by the same forces, via consumer electronics.

Freedom from an audience to satisfy may not be every artist’s goal but it has let Leimer go where the winds of creative change lead. Part primitive outsider, part sophisticate, his core vision emanates from the same visual arts and musical minimalism as Hassell’s, but the homemade touch rules with Leimer; you know this stuff hasn’t been put out by Capital Records. More the shame for Capital, for Leimer doesn’t just make an end run around the music industry, but the entire soul vacuum of modern “culture” to arrive at a truly personal world.

1983’s Imposed Order is one of the most perfect ambient records ever made. A self-contained soundworld of blurred, distant and faded scraps of colorful tone washes, deep blood rythms and other sonic detritus, it’s never been far from my ears since I first bought it on release. Long one of the most obscure of electronic artists, Leimer is finally getting his due with a retrospective 2 LP set A Period of Review from RVNG. This is truly experimental music, despite it’s appealing surface. Each piece is a one off stab at a singular moment or sound, always imbued with Leimer’s uncanny sense of atmosphere.

Kerry Leimer’s Palace of Lights label has lots of stuff to explore.

Harold Budd, a music academic by profession, and Andy Partridge, spastic front man for Britpop group XTC make a most unexpected pair, but it’s a successful one. Budd’s minimalist creds are impeccable, as one of the founders and most effective practioners of ambient music. But Partridge has long held a special place in his heart for Reichian ostinatos: Jason and the Argonauts from 1982’s English Settlement is a prime example with it’s endless up and down figures. In fact it’s part of what’s behind XTC’s early reputation as a British Talking Heads.

Here the fusion of personalities is fully achieved. And for two musicians of such strong flavor that’s an accomplishment. Many of Budd’s other collaborations fall prey to the failure to assimilate, like the Cocteau Twins project Moon and the Melodies where it sounds as though the parties were on opposite sides of the studio. What’s better is that Partridge brings out Budd’s eccentric side, mostly evident before from his bizarre stream of consciousness poetry, and together they paint a range of vignettes from a rather magical universe.

About Sir Barken Hyena

IT professional and veteran of start ups. Life long musician and songwriter. Voracious reader of dead white guys. Lover of food and women.
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2 Responses to Sir Barken’s Vinyl Review: The Spawn of Minimalism

  1. JV says:

    Wow, great stuff. I’m not that familiar with any of the three musicians you feature here, so I’ve got some listening to do. I’m quite familiar with Eno, of course, and Terry Riley and Steve Reich and their impact on rock music. A really great (in my opinion) recent example of Reich’s influence in pop music, check out the song All My Friends by the band LCD Soundsystem, the manual piano loop especially.


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