Minimalism and music

I have an odd relationship with minimalist classical music. I’d lie if I said I didn’t enjoy an occasional piece by Ludovico Einaudi or Philip Glass, but it’s a guilty pleasure. Their music is something I put on to dampen the silence yet leave enough space for my own thoughts. It’s not a godly, self-dissolving symphony of yore but a set background, an unassuming soundtrack. In that way, minimalist music is almost utilitarian, and I’m almost content with that. My only qualm is with how minimalism is often perceived as a movement to distill something convoluted to its very essence, and I refuse to believe that the essence of classical music is some dreamy repetitive phrase in natural minor.

That said, I must confess a degree of double-think. I was never able to get into “classical” jazz. Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and their ilk just don’t “click” for me, even after finishing “How to Listen to Jazz.” Yes, I can relate to the intellectual exercise of intentional listening and the librarial pleasure of cataloguing recordings, but the music itself doesn’t inspire me to this kind of pastime. Despite that, I’ve grown to love contemporary minimalist jazz performers like Jakob Bro or E.S.T. whose music I’d describe as rather transcendent than diminutive in its relation to the base genre. But I‘m sure a jazz aficionado would disagree.

Perhaps, a deeper argument is that a minimalist interpretation is offensive to a developed taste, which can likely be generalized to any human activity. In a way, this is a form of Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect: you “turn the page, and forget what you know.” If you don’t have the right sensitivities, Rammstein is the quintessence of metal, Gary Moore is the king of blues. I remember Marco Arment writing (or saying?) something in the vein of “people are free to choose the desired difficulty level for every aspect of life and you should accept this.” So, I’ll stick to my “diluted” jazz, you stick to your “diluted” classical music (if you want), but let’s not oversell minimalism as the ultimate form of art. Then we can be friends.