August 10, 2007 By Kyle Gann
By Kyle Gann
[Three updates below.]
Ouch. The great savants of the New York Times music section name their favorite minimalist recordings today. Six critics, given four albums each, limiting themselves to Reich, Glass, Adams, and Riley - plus one album each by Cage (huh?), Poul Ruders, and Count Basie (double huh?). Ouch again. What, no Well-Tuned Piano? No Charlemagne Palestine Strumming Music, or Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone? No Eliane Radigue Adnos, or Trilogie de la Mort? No Tom Johnson An Hour for Piano? No Phill Niblock Hurdy Hurry, or Five More String Quartets? No Tony Conrad Early Minimalism? I imagined that these people had large CD collections.
Next week, the Times food critics list their favorite ice cream flavors: Strawberry, Chocolate, and Vanilla! What else is there?
UPDATE: All right, I don't think any list of under 50 "best" things can be worth a damn, and I won't do four, but for the record I'll give my top five minimalist albums:Young: The Well-Tuned Piano (unfortunately all but impossible to get, I know, but maybe that'll justify the fifth disc)
Terry Riley: Shri Camel
Charlemagne Palestine: Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone
Tom Johnson: An Hour for Piano (though I prefer Tom's own performance to the recorded Rzewski one)
Eliane Radigue: Trilogie de la Mort
For a sixth, I might put Glass's Music in 12 Parts on there, for sentimental reasons. And there are some individual Jon Gibson pieces I'm deeply attached to, but no full album. Reich's Octet plus John Adams's Grand Pianola Music might make the top ten if we're really going to consider Adams's romanticism minimalist. Reader submissions welcome.
UPDATE 2: Let's analyze these Times lists in terms of labels:
Bridge, CRI, Mosaic (Basie), New Albion, RCA, and Hungaroton, 1 each
And so we see that, of 24 discs, 13 are from media giants like Warner (Nonesuch), Sony, and RCA, three from Naxos which has been a worldwide marketing success, and three from the Bang on a Can label Cantaloupe, which has done very well at getting its product out. Now, how about all those obscure labels that we minimalism fans rely on to preserve all the great hardcore minimalist music not conventional enough for the major labels, like Table of the Elements, Organ of Corti, XI, New Tone, Robi Droli, Lovely Music, Barooni, Cold Blue, Mode, Blast First? Absent. Omitted. Not represented. What this tells us is that the Times recommendation list is extremely skewed by the commercial market, and that the critics are swayed, not solely by musical quality, but by the companies that manage to put their CDs across their desks, whose representatives call them up and push product. I've been there. I've had product pushed on me. It didn't work in my case. I once pissed off Nonesuch so badly they didn't send me anything for years. I listen to everything I can get, I go to Other Music to find the records that don't come in the mail, I like what I like, and I don't assume that, just because something's on Nonesuch, it's the best music out there.
UPDATE 3: Steve Smith responds in his blog, and I'm very happy to see him list some great pieces whose titles I would have loved to see in the Times.
david toub says: I had the same reaction this morning when I read it, Kyle, although my thoughts were not as polite perhaps as yours. Count Basie? I mean Count Basie? But nothing else except the big three of minimalism (and this totally ignored La Monte Young!).
I'm thinking of a word. It starts with b and ends with t. And no, it's not "boat."
Mary Jane Leach says: I had the same reaction. It's distressing that the Times can present such an article posing as being so authoritative, yet so ill-informed. Maybe they're trying to replicate the quality of their news reporting, a la Judith Miller et al. Anne Midgette and Steve Smith seemed to actually know what they were talking about, but the others seemed woefully ignorant, still oblivious to the two styles of minimalism - rhythmic and sonic. How can La Monte Young be mentioned as an influence but no examples cited? I *do* think Bruckner was an early forerunner of minimalism.
As to ice cream, I think vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla with almonds would be a better analogy.
KG replies: Point taken.
Matthew says: Crikey, people, take a breath. They were asked to name their favorite recordings, not provide a scholarly survey. You're in danger of sounding like those annoying rockist hipsters whose own "favorite album" lists are really nothing more than ill-disguised advertisements for the size and obscurity of their record collections. I've heard music by everyone on Kyle's list, but my own favorite four would still skew closer to the NYT choices-those are the styles of minimalism that first got me interested, and those are the styles I return to the most. Sure, they're the most well-known; but haven't we disproved that whole obscure=good, popular=bad argument by now?
Ask a roomful of Mozart scholars what their favorite Mozart operas are, and I'd bet the Da Ponte trio+Zauberflöte would be the overwhelming winners. That doesn't necessarily mean they've never heard La finta giardinera.
P.S. Somebody puts Count Basie on your team and you're complaining about it? Just take the compliment.
KG replies: No no no no no no no no no no no no no, I will not accept the argument that Eliane Radigue is somehow the "La finta giardinera" of minimalism. No. Minimalism was an amazing, varied, contentious movement before Reich and Glass came along, and any six people who explored that movement in all its variety and really understood what was going on would not have *happened* to unanimously fall into the caricature of it given the public by Nonesuch and Deutsche Grammophon.
Dan Johnson says: This is a dull list indeed, but I have to point out that any consumer guide recommending The Well-Tuned Piano would be a lousy one (now that the DVD seems to be unavailable). $500 per disc is a little steep even for the NYT demographic.
Mary Jane Leach says: Ok, Matthew, I took a breath, re-read the article, and stand by my comments, which had nothing to do with the article ignoring my favorites. First of all, the intro was posing as an authoritative synopsis of minimalism, and it was inaccurate. I.e., not all minimalism has "great rhythmic drive," and I don't think Cage was a stylistic source. Second, if you're going to portray it as wildly varied, it might be useful to portray a wider variety. 😉 Perhaps the article should have asked a wider variety of writers to give their favorites, instead of ones with such similar taste. The reality is that most people will read this as an authoritative article on what minimalism is, and that is my complaint, not that my favorite artists were ignored.
And by the way, mine is Don Giovanni.
Steve says: Kyle, I appreciate this terse riposte, and updated my own blog entry about the article to draw attention to what you've said here. I offered a little more explanation for why I chose what I chose in that post, and cited some specific omissions I regretted.
Among the pieces you mention, Tom Johnson's An Hour for Piano is the one that narrowly missed my list... and I'm now acutely embarrassed at having completely forgotten about the magnificent Adnos I-III.
Dan Johnson is correct in intuiting that the omission of La Monte Young had pretty much everything to do with a lack of recordings that are currently in print. But I could easily come up with another dozen or more recordings I regret not having been able to mention.
Jacob says: I'm delighted to see that you love Shri Camel, which I also adore. Loathsome uptown-sympathizer that I am, I forgot it was supposed to be minimalism, as it is so richly detailed and is hardly a process piece.
Steve says: the critics are swayed, not particularly by musical quality, but by the companies that manage to put their CDs across their desks, whose representatives call them up and push product.
Just for the record, I've owned original pressings (or whatever you call CDs) of Glassworks, Akhnaten and The Chairman Dances since my college days, nearly 20 years ago. I purchased the Nonesuch recording of Music in 12 Parts in January 2007, as an in-print supplement to the earlier Virgin recording, now deleted from the catalog. You could fairly accuse me of sentiment, Kyle, but not of being a shill!
KG replies: No, I don't think you're a shill, and I salute you for appreciating Adnos I-III. But I do know, from 23 years in the critic business, that there is a continual subtle pressure on critics to choose the Lincoln Center concert over the Roulette concert, to publicize the Sony CD rather than the Lovely Music CD, to write about what will get the largest audience, not because it's the best, but because it makes the advertisers happy. I succumbed to that pressure on a handful of occasions as a favor to my editors, and never felt good about it. I know Nonesuch can afford an ad in the Times, and Barooni can't, and therefore an Barooni CD is considerably less likely to get reviewed - but that shouldn't mean that it can't get mentioned in a best-of roundup either. And when six critics, unleashed to name favorites, all fall into the same repertoire, it becomes a little too obvious that all these decades of subtle pressure have a pretty strong cumulative effect. Think what a blast all those Nonesuch execs are having today, all the hard marketing work that paid off for them, all the money they're making off Amazon tonight, while the Table of the Elements staff is shaking their heads. I used to consciously resist that pressure at all times - which, ultimately, is probably why, when the Times asked me and Paul Griffiths to apply for a job there, they *didn't* give it to me.
david toub says: Kyle, while I understand where Steve is coming from, I also felt like MJ that this would be taken as a definitive compendium, a "NYT Guide to Minimalism" if you will.
Even back in the late 70's when WKCR-FM was one of the few stations that played minimalism in any regular sense, they distributed a list of albums and works that constituted a pretty good list for that time. And even then, it was far, far more diverse than the list in the Times. Strumming Music was there as I recall (when you get to be 46, you tend to start forgetting things, but this list I never forgot). Coming Together was there as well. And yes, so was An Hour for Piano.
Since you asked for user submissions, in addition to the usual stuff by the big four, I'd include:
Cycles/Untitled (Jon Gibson)
Your Own Self (Garrett List)
Coming Together (Rzewski)
Tablet (Meredith Monk)
Strumming Music (Palestine)
Stay On It (Eastman)
C-A-G-E Part II (Borden)
Lesson No. 1 (Branca)
Incarnation II (Satoh)
I could go on, but you get the idea. And Music in 12 Parts would certainly be there as well, along with all of Glass's early stuff like Two Pages, etc.
Steve says: Point taken, Kyle. But for whatever it's worth, after reading your first update I headed straight over to an Amazon merchant and scooped up a copy of Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone.
KG replies: I'm happy to hear it. It's one of those moments when I wish I had your readership numbers. But those are rare. Keep up the good work, I've admired what you're doing over there. And I have to admit, to have the Paper of Record take minimalism this seriously (even the word, if not exactly the repertoire) is an occasion to drink to tonight.
Matthew says: Kyle: But the Reich/Glass/Adams style is what Minimalism has come to mean in the public consciousness, and no amount of argument is going to change that. Yes, the term has evolved away from its original meaning-most terms do, and if you're using the language, you just have to make peace with it. Try convincing even a knowledgable music-lover that 12-tone isn't the same thing as atonal. I can argue until I'm blue in the face that Gershwin owed more to Debussy, Liszt, and G & S than jazz, but he'll always be a jazz composer.
So why beat up on the NYT for considering Minimalism to be, well, what most of their even not-entirely-uninformed readers would consider it to be? (All critics, this one included, deserve to be beat up now and again, but I think on this one, they deserve a break.) With the Mozart example, I wasn't trying to say that any of the less-famous Minimalists were inferior, but that, whenever music gets separated into historical or stylistic categories, certain pieces or composers inevitably become representative of the categories. La finta giardinera is a lovely piece, almost insanely inventive, but it's a far less typical "Mozart opera" than the usual suspects. Minimalism was more than Glass, etc., but it was Einstein and Music for 18 Musicians that made "Minimalism" a meaningful term to the public at large.
It's certainly appropriate to respond to these sorts of catch-alls with suggestions for deeper listening (I'm already surfing the Net for a copy of Adnos) but taking them to the woodshed? Come on-they were limited to four selections. If they hadn't picked Phil and Steve and John I would have wondered what was wrong with them. The trade-off with public recognition is that you almost never get to control what form it takes. Fame is a word that begins with b and ends with h, after all.
Mary Jane: My take on the NYT's introduction was that no one ever agrees on what Minimalist music exactly is, which would certainly be borne out by this comment thread. But yeah, me too-Giovanni. (Or Magic Flute, depending on the day.)
KG replies: If an editor pressed me to name the best ten rock songs of all time, I would name five by the Beatles and five by Eno, because that's what I know. Rock critics would excoriate me, rock fans would groan, but it's nice to know that Matthew Guerrieri would spring to my defense. Actually, though, I would refuse the assignment.
"Peripheral" aspects of minimalism are well preserved, and there's tremendous cult interest in them. Names like Barbara Benary, Terry Jennings, and Julius Eastman that only people like me knew 15 years ago are lately turning up all over the place. Table of the Elements is an excellent CD label devoted to preserving rare recordings from that period. The increasing trajectory is for fans to know more and more about minimalism's diversity; the uproar you see here is due to a perception that the Times critics are well behind the curve. The musicology of minimalism is just now revving up, and, eventually, critics listen to the musicologists. The Reich-Glass-Adams caricature of minimalism will be supplanted by a more varied and interesting picture, and ignorance will not prevail, no matter how acceptable that outcome may have seemed to some.
All my students learn the difference between atonal and 12-tone, none of my jazz musician students consider Gershwin a jazz composer, and I would hate to see someone become a music critic without the ability to make those and similar distinctions. I believe in music criticism as an important and worthwhile discipline, and feel that critics should be trained toward that end. Your argument that a music critic shouldn't be blamed for not knowing any more than the public does is, to me, the kind of attitude that keeps the field from being adequately respected.
Matthew says: Kyle: it's not a matter of not knowing more than the public does, it's a matter of using the terminology in a way that the public is going to understand. If I use the term "Romantic" in a way that's closer to the literary/philosophical movement than the popular perception of Strauss and Rachmaninov as Romantic composers, I need to take the necessary space to explain myself. I don't begrudge them calling those composers "Romantic," though-that's the way the term has evolved.
Almost all technical or stylistic terms that move into the mainstream shift their meaning somewhat in the transition. So you find new words to describe what the old words used to when you're writing for an audience with a mainstream, rather than a specialized, vocabulary. (Occasionally you can re-educate them, but only occasionally.) If you're still describing the music clearly, it's not dumbing down, it's just the price of doing business. And my read was that the NYT selections were meant to be firmly within the public's idea of minimalism, not a survey of every one of the movement's byways-that, I think, would be a completely different article, given the readership.
KG replies: So calling Tom Johnson a minimalist would have been... misleading? confusing? And educating readers beyond what they already knew would have been too disturbing? To whom, the CEOs of Warner? I can see that.
You've let your argument get all bass-ackwards, Matthew. I'm not claiming that the music on the Times lists wasn't minimalist - in fact, I appreciate the fact that, except for The Wound Dresser and Klinghoffer, they picked Adams pieces that I consider minimalist as well. But I think most music-lovers, if you played them some Tom Johnson or Charlemagne Palestine and asked them what they thought, would respond something like, "Well, it's pretty minimalist." I'm not using the term in any remotely specialized sense.
(Come to think of it, if you played random concertgoers The Wound Dresser and then Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone, and then asked which was the minimalist piece, I think it's pretty damn obvious that almost no one would pick The Wound Dresser.)
Samuel Vriezen says: So why beat up on the NYT for considering Minimalism to be, well, what most of their even not-entirely-uninformed readers would consider it to be?
Wasn't it once the function of newspapers to inform their readers, rather than copy them?
KG replies: I agree, though I fear it may be a little worse than that. At the risk of starting another argument, the Times war reportage has been far too credulous about letting the White House tell them what's really going on in Iraq, and not checking it out for themselves. And, in a slightly similar way, I think the critics tend to believe that Nonesuch has done all its research about what is the best minimalist music out there, and is letting Nonesuch (Warner) call the shots, without doing independent research into the smaller, independent labels. I don't think they're mirroring their readers' beliefs; I think they're reporting that the largest record companies are by definition doing the best job, and this belief coincides with what the readers already believe because they've been similarly brainwashed by the marketing that the largest companies can afford. Criticism, as Virgil said, "is the only antidote we have to paid publicity" - but I fear that, just as the American media no longer check or dispute the White House, our critics no longer look much past what the large corporations offer them, and no longer provide an antidote.
Matthew says: Kyle: Well, by that argument, what's wrong with putting Ruders and Basie on the list? Tommasini and Holland made it pretty clear what about that music they found "minimalist," and....
Ah, enough. I feel like I'm just picking a fight to pick a fight at this point, and I hate when I find myself doing that with people I like. You know what my bottom line is? I looked at the NYT lists and I thought, that's pretty close to a list I would give someone who didn't know anything about the style and was curious as to what the big deal was. It's a list for beginners-at least that's how it read to me-and on that count, I guess I thought they did a respectable job, because I was a beginner at some point, and those are the pieces that I started with, and it was enough to inspire me to go beyond the marquee names and really dig into the style. Of course the style is far deeper than their list-that's why I read you, so I can find the stuff that's not on a daily newspaper's generalist radar. But I thought they approached the task with, if not unexpected breadth, nonetheless a certain amount of thought and consideration. That's in short enough supply today that my reflex is to stick up for it.
One of these days, if I'm up there or you're down here, we can have a civilized argument about it over some good cheap champagne. That way, if somebody walks by and points out that champagne only comes from Champagne, and what I'm sipping is really just "methode champenoise," I'm a happy enough drunk that I'll just nod my head and smile.
P.S. I was thinking this morning: you know what would have been a really provocative, interesting, stretching-the definition-to-the-breaking-point choice? Into the Woods.
KG replies: Thanks - I thought this argument was remaining pretty civilized. I didn't say there was anything wrong with including Poul Ruders, but if I *were* making a minimalist list for beginners, I wouldn't include Cage or Count Basie - that doesn't really get the point of what minimalism is across, does it? Nor very much Adams.
andrea says: schoene gruesse aus berlin!
a small point of interest: rca was bought out by bmg, who was subsequently bought out by sony. so that changes the numbers a wee bit.
KG replies: Thanks, Andrea. I was sure that the strands of ownership were even more insidious than I knew. It's difficult to keep track of who the Big Five own. I mean the Big Four. Uh, the Big Three. Umm....
Miguel Frasconi says: Hey Kyle, and y'all.
I just posted my thoughts over at Steve's blog and wanted to say something here as well. I think the entire "musicology of minimalism" is missing a very important connection: that between Fluxus, "performance art," and minimalism. In fact Tom Johnson's first use of the term "minimal music" was in a review of what we would now call "performance art." As I say over at Steve's blog, Reich's Pendulum Music and Glass's 1+1 are well served by the context of LaMonte's "draw a straight line and follow it" and Terry Riley's feeding hay to a piano. Back then, playing a perfect fifth in a new music context was heresy, and quite a Fluxus statement.
Years ago, Kyle, I believe you said something to the effect that minimal music was dead (I'm probably over simplifying your point). I believe the populist strain of minimalism has indeed run its course, with Reich, Glass, and Adams now on to more maximalist worlds. But I believe minimalism is alive a well, and indeed still fresh and eloquent, in the works of those who mix sound, perception, and ritual, much like those early Fluxus experiments. Not that those sort of works would get much notice in the NYT.
But at least the Times has provided fodder for these wonderful forums.
KG replies: I agree with your every sentence, here and at Steve's. I never start a lecture on minimalism without talking about La Monte's Composition 1960 series and the concerts at Yoko Ono's loft, nor the tape loop as a pivot between Fluxus and minimalism. I may have said minimalism had bronchitis or shingles or something, but I hope I never wrote that it was dead. Of course it's still much alive in the works of some fantastic composers still working in that style, like Niblock, Palestine, and Radigue.
The danger with talking about minimalism as a living style is the tendency on the part of some people to call all recent tonal music minimalist, or even all music that departs from the now classically standard, post-12-tone, angst-laden rhetoric. There have been several important movements since minimalism, and to lump them all together as minimalist obscures the crucial differences among them. I wouldn't have *called* the essential element ritual: but I agree there's a kind of compression of the attention span that takes place with minimalist music that continues being sought after by some great composers who are unaccountably still walking among us.
robt says: I agree that the list is a farce: There's not a single mention of James Brown. Or George Clinton, who gave the best definition of minimalism I've ever heard: "To play the same thing over and over again and hold it. It becomes boring and then, two seconds past your attention span, it becomes great."
And as the music editor of a monthly magazine with a circulation of 800,000, who has published reviews of Table of the Elements releases and BEGGED them, without reply, to send me press releases and review copies, I think Kyle's argument fails to recognize that the smaller labels (however understandably, given their budgets) are complicit in not getting their music into the hands of people who might publicly celebrate it.
andrea says: the smaller labels (however understandably, given their budgets) are complicit in not getting their music into the hands of people who might publicly celebrate it.
be gentle: you say 'given their budgets' and then stab them anyway. i'm glad you have a readership of 800,000 - i can tell you the label i work for doesn't sell anywhere near that number of cds in a year, but we do swallow the costs of sending out promos. with that kind of circulation, maybe you can afford to cough up a few bucks to actually buy the cds you want to review, instead of chastising struggling labels for not giving away their recordings. we all have to make tough financial decisions.
robt says: be gentle: you say 'given their budgets' and then stab them anyway. i'm glad you have a readership of 800,000 - i can tell you the label i work for doesn't sell anywhere near that number of cds in a year, but we do swallow the costs of sending out promos. with that kind of circulation, maybe you can afford to cough up a few bucks to actually buy the cds you want to review, instead of chastising struggling labels for not giving away their recordings. we all have to make tough financial decisions.
That's not a knife, Andrea, it's a crying towel. Let me put it this way: If someone from a mass-circulation magazine had previously reviewed your releases and emailed to request a specific title, wouldn't you invest $2.30 on sending that title? Of course you would. Furthermore, do you send regular P.R. mailings to advise critics of upcoming or new releases? If so, how much of your budget does it take to add another name to that cc: list? And if you don't, how am I supposed to know about the releases, in order to buy them?*
(*I promise you this is not an issue of declining to support small labels. I get reimbursed for work-related CDs I buy. And I cough up plenty of money on stuff I'm not sent for free: Yesterday, I supported Sunnyside's Confluences series and an India-based label called Guerilla reissues. If there'd been more Eliane Radigue stock at Other Music, I'd have bought her as well.)
I understand a small label can't afford to automatically send every title to large number of people -but I'd be shocked if you decided to defend the ToTE behavior I described above. I often hear champions of semi-popular music (a category in which I include myself, though I probably listen to more Hall & Oates than most readers of Kyle's blog) wonder why the music isn't reaching more people; then, they continue to solicit coverage from the same outlets, through the same methods. Is it possible that experimental labels are afraid of experimenting?
An anonymous radio presenter says: RE: "smaller labels (however understandably, given their budgets) are complicit in not getting their music into the hands of people who might publicly celebrate it."
sadly, as the presenter of pretty much the sole national 'new music' program in my country I often have to beg, borrow or (attempt to) steal releases from small-mid range indie labels, even when my show is really one of their only major outlets for airplay. i don't get it! surely the pay-off in sales would have to outmatch the initial cost of one copy of a mass-produced disc plus postage?
if a release is good I'll always spin it as often as i can and talk it up to the ceiling - two years ago i even initiated a monthly 'indie labels' two-hour focus, but my supply has dwindled to the point that i'm thinking of shelving it ...
BTW if you're an indie label reading this then jump online, do a search & start sending more discs - internationally! you may well make my annual 'top ten' list on-air.
KG replies: I'm sure this is all true, and it's sad, but it's not really an excuse for New York critics. If you're in New York City, all you have to do is go downtown to Other Music, and the whole history of minimalism is right there, on discs. Even when I was at the Voice, I didn't get everything automatically, but I went lookin'.
Sarah Cahill says: Unfortunately, a lot of us who do radio shows are more likely to play Nonesuch releases which get sent to us at home than to go out to the record store (Amoeba, in my case) and spend $15 each for recordings on smaller labels (where does the budget come from when we're volunteer producers?). We all do our best to balance things out and support those unknown minimalists, but sometimes get lazy and broadcast what's at hand. Also, what I hear from people close to Bob Hurwitz at Nonesuch is that he works really hard to advocate Reich, Glass, Adams, Rzewski, and others, who don't bring in the revenue that the more popular Nonesuch releases (musicals, "world music") do. So from the outside it may look like Nonesuch is a huge corporate label just raking in the cash, but I think there's more to the story.
KG replies: Well, maybe it's just me, Sarah. Over the '80s and '90s, the most interesting music gravitated toward smaller and smaller labels, and I followed it, even when I had to shell out from my pocketbook. But a critic sometimes has a different responsibility than a radio producer. You're just playing a record, not claiming it's the best record of 2006. If I'm going to claim something is the best record of 2006, I'd damn well better have listened to a good chunk of the records out there.
Eric Lin says: Well, I agree that the NYT list is underwhelming to say the least. Yet, I don't necessarily think it is the result of "critics" being "swayed by the companies that manage to put their CDs across their desks."
While I wouldn't consider the music of Andriessen pure minimalism (any more than I would consider The Death of Klinghoffer pure minimalism-actually, Klinghoffer would be a even harder case to prove), the fact that even his Nonesuch-produced records failed to make the list is probably the result of a short turn-around time for the article (thus, little time to truly contemplate...a sin, but a commonly occurring one in journalism)
KG replies: Yes, well, and to generalize it to the entire Times, I hate those issues of the Times magazine where they ask all their writers to write about the same theme - it results in a bunch of watered-down articles by people who don't seem at all passionate about the subject matter. And I think this was a smaller case of that. Bernard Holland, for instance, is an honest, unpretentious critic, and I always enjoy reading him, but I can't imagine he was thrilled to be asked to come up with a minimalism survey. Perhaps "swayed" was an overly accusatory word, but I imagine several of them simply went home and glumly looked through what was on their CD shelves, their choices pretty much limited to what Nonesuch and Sony had sent them.
andrea says: after more thinking, i realized that the label i work for (and part time at that)has probably not sold 800,000 cds in its thirty year existence, let alone monthly. in my five years there, i've beefed up our promo list considerably, but added more radio stations than print media. if someone emails us out of the blue to add us, then i add them; i also try to warn them that we put out 1-3 releases per year, so it may be a while before they get anything. i like to think our sales have increased a wee bit because of my efforts, but i'm not privy to the budget as a part-timer and all.
surely the pay-off in sales would have to outmatch the initial cost of one copy of a mass-produced disc plus postage?
that's if there were an obvious increase in sales. we send to a radio station in macedonia, but no one in macedonia has ordered directly from our site, so i have no idea what effect that promo has on our sales, if any. if you can only afford so much for marketing, then you have to choose who gets the promos and who doesn't. yes, it sucks all around. but i still find it duplicitous to say 'i love your label and want to help you promote' but then get your panties bunched up because you don't want to shell out for a label you supposedly love. (that's you-general, not you-personal -- unless your panties are bunched up. then i can't help you.)
richard says: I know I've said this before, but the days of "spinning plastic" are almost over, the time is coming when all music will be streamed or downloaded and Nonesuch and Lovely Music will be playing on the same field. For that matter, print newspapers will fade away and with that the power of the traditional musical "Gatekeepers". Mine is Don Giovanni too.
Galen H. Brown says: I'm coming late to this and I'm going to stay out of most of the discussion, but I wanted to add an observation about another factor that might have lead to the rather exclusively mainstream lists: the cultivation of authority.
My sense is that critics rely to a certain extent on the fact that their readers are pre-disposed to agree with them. If I'm a lay listener who loves Reich and Glass and Adams but hasn't ever hear of Elaine Radigue or Tom Johnson I'm going to assume that the critic who lists the people I like must be trustworthy and I'll listen to his suggestions about things I don't already know. If Kyle Gann's list of Young, Riley, Palestine, Johnson, and Radigue were included among the NYT lists I suspect that lay listeners would say "this Gann guy is listing all sorts of people I've never heard of and none of the stuff I like -- he's probably not worth paying attention to."
This pressure would be especially strong at a large organization like the Times which has a broad readership. In such circumstances the kinds of things you have to support to cultivate your authority need to be pretty broadly popular to begin with.
I don't mean at all to say that the reviewers in question were intellectually dishonest -- merely that their actual exposure to minimalism would have been partly driven by the overriding need to be knowledgeable about the minimalist music that's already the most popular.
It's kind of like how you _have_ to cover Anna Nicole Smith's death if you want to be taken seriously as a news organization, not because she's important but because the audience is alredy interested and already has opinions and knowledge, and their assesment of your overall quality as a news organization rests on how well you cover the stuff they already care and know about. So the reporters are experts on Anna Nicole Smith at the expense of expertise on something else, even if they'd rather be expert on something else.
Not to compare Reich, Glass, and Adams, all of whom I love, with Anna Nicole Smith, about whom I couldn't care less.
KG replies: Well, personally, I was a lot more attracted to Anna Nicole Smith than I am to Reich, Glass, or Adams. But I think there is something of a feedback loop that goes on such as you describe. John Rockwell would probably agree with you in exactly those terms; he's made it clear that he thinks I waste my time championing 400 composers "no one has ever heard of," whereas if I'd relent and write about Adams, Golijov, Carter, and the same 40 composers as everyone else every day, I'd qualify as a "serious" critic. As I say: diversity of taste is for losers.
Lisa Hirsch says: Re the cost of marketing and getting the music out, this is what email and downloadable MP3s are about. Small labels can reach an awful lot of people that way, without sending out CDs.
Re the size of NY Times critics' record collections: I'd swear one of them said, in print, that he owned about 300 LPs. Alas, no cite, and the Times search function is not finding me what I want.
KG replies: Let's trust it was one of the younger ones.
andrea says: Small labels can reach an awful lot of people that way, without sending out CDs.
except for the surprising amount of people (esp. radio) who explicitly say they don't want mp3s; they want hard-copy. they don't want to be on your mass mailing list, because that would mean sifting through too many emails, etc., etc.
i have noticed a few composition competitions, however, accepting electronic submissions, and that just makes me swoon with happiness. it would be sweet if media outlets began to provide protocols for submitting materials in a similar manner.
jon abbey says: glad someone else jumped on this, terrible, lazy initial lists from the Times (sorry, Steve).
the only thing I want to take issue with is that you can fill in the gaps in a collection at Other Music. this was much more true 5 years ago, now the way to go is online shopping, more comprehensive selection and better prices.
Kyle, I kind of think Barooni is defunct, but I'm not sure at all about that.
KG replies: Ouch again. I did notice Other Music's more exotic stock was low last time I was there, but wasn't aware it was a trend. On the other hand, Amazon currently lists seven Charlemagne Palestine CDs. I just ordered the one I didn't have.
jon abbey says: I was talking more about someplace like Forced Exposure:
the other Palestine classic, arguably his best disc and unmentioned here thus far, is Four Manifestations on Six Elements (Barooni).
Steve says: glad someone else jumped on this, terrible, lazy initial lists from the Times (sorry, Steve).
You know me better than that, Jon. No need to apologize!
Andrea, if you e-mail me directly, I could tell you about a specific web-based interface a number of labels are using to send lossless music files via the net, suitable for both print and radio. (I started to explain it here, then realized that it seemed like an advertorial and a major derailment of the conversation at hand.
michael@othermusic says: Other Music carries every single Charlemagne Palestine disc FE does, and if you live in New York you'll save on shipping. They may not always be in stock because he happens to be one of the best selling composers we carry. And try to name me another physical store in New York, or the entire country no less, that can sell more than fifty copies of a Charlemagne Palestine album, or a Tony Conrad, or a Peter Garland, or a Sorabji, or a Melnyk, or a Radigue, or a Niblock, or a Feldman, or a Gann....? Or an indie store that sells digital downloads of the Cold Blue and New Albion catalogs, as we recently started doing? There are plenty of exotic discs still to be found at Other Music, trust me.
jon abbey says: hey, Michael...
"try to name me another physical store"
that's the point, I wasn't talking about physical stores. I was also referring to your experimental section in general, not just the minimal classical part. not trying to start a fight, but if you're really under the impression that the selection and prices in this area of your store haven't declined in recent years in favor of other areas that can sell better, we're going to have to agree to disagree. I used to be one of OM's best customers in the early days, ask Chris or Josh, but very little reason for me to shop there these days.
"There are plenty of exotic discs still to be found at Other Music, trust me."
sure, and plenty more at generally better prices to be found with a bit of WWW shopping. that's all I was saying.
john rockwell says: Kyle --
As I recall, our exchange about obscure composers was on one of Doug McLennan's Artsjournal.com conversations. Whatever I said then,or whatever you think I said or meant, what I think now is that it is admirable and important to have you out there listening and championing composers most people have never heard of. But I think it's a little self-righteous if you imply that yours is the only honorable way to go and that anyone who also likes better-known composers is a sell-out or a shill.
KG replies: Hello, John. I never said mine was the only noble way, or that no one should settle for well-known composers. My point was that when six critics, with widely diverse backgrounds and tastes, all happen to fall on the same three names in their best-of lists, then any argument in accordance with Ockham's razor must suggest a significant corporate influence, or some outside force limiting the possibilities. Had Critic A listed Glass, Reich and Adams, and Critic B Palestine, Bryars, and Part, and Critic C Glass, Riley, and Nyman, and so on, I would never have speculated about Critic A just because his tastes were arguably mainstream.
CM Zimmermann says: Corporate media reviewing the artifacts of corporate media. "All the news that's fit to print." Why are Kyle Gann's comments so surprising and controversial to many of you?
Copyright 2007 by Kyle Gann
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