The Names of Minimalism
Authorship, Art Music, and Historiography in Dispute
A retelling of the history of minimalism and its impact on the concept of authorship
Minimalism stands as the key representative of 1960s radicalism in art music histories—but always as a failed project. In The Names of Minimalism, Patrick Nickleson holds in tension collaborative composers in the period of their collaboration, as well as the musicological policing of authorship in the wake of their eventual disputes. Through examinations of the droning of the Theatre of Eternal Music, Reich’s Pendulum Music, Glass’s work for multiple organs, the austere performances of punk and no wave bands, and Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca’s works for massed electric guitars, Nickleson argues for authorship as always impure, buzzing, and indistinct.
Expanding the place of Jacques Rancière’s philosophy within musicology, Nickleson draws attention to disciplinary practices of guarding compositional authority against artists who set out to undermine it. The book reimagines the canonic artists and works of minimalism as “(early) minimalism,” to show that art music histories refuse to take seriously challenges to conventional authorship as a means of defending the very category “art music.” Ultimately, Nickleson asks where we end up if we imagine the early minimalist project—artists forming bands to perform their own music, rejecting the score in favor of recording, making extensive use of magnetic type as compositional and archival medium, hosting performances in lofts and art galleries rather than concert halls—not as a utopian moment within a 1960s counterculture doomed to fail, but as the beginning of a process with a long and influential afterlife.
Patrick Nickleson is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Alberta.
Praise / Awards
"The dialectical discussion is enlivened no end by entertaining anecdotes about spiky relationships between what Nickleson terms the "Big Four" composers. . . he provides a methodological toolkit that, in a different way to On Minimalism but to similar effect, seeks a poetic justice that will enrich our engagement with these musics."
“The Names of Minimalism contributes to the effort of producing the historiography of minimal music while introducing and exploring the specific (and crucial) topic of authorship in the field. Nickleson addresses these important questions methodically and with care.”
—Christophe Levaux, author of We Have Always Been Minimalist: The Construction and Triumph of a Musical Style
“This book presents a total reimagining of minimalism’s early history. Rather than narrating this history through musical style or composer biography, Nickleson examines minimalism's history through its politics of authorship, pedagogy, propriety, and egalitarianism. This book makes a significant contribution to scholarship on minimalism and, more broadly, has the potential to reorient any scholarly mind doing historical work.”
—Kerry O’Brien, co-editor of On Minimalism: Documenting a Musical Movement
"There is no other book like this on minimalism. Staging a meeting point of Rancière’s egalitarian philosophy and the historiography of musical minimalism, Nickleson ponders authorship quandaries in the music of the “big four” white male minimalists and their successors in downtown New York's no wave scene, the radical potential of their collective musicking, their complicated relationships to notation and literacy, and the arguably dubious emplacement of minimalism as another entry in the succession of -isms in Western art music histories. Challenging, bracing, and ultimately essential, The Names of Minimalism is very much worth your while."
—Sumanth Gopinath, University of Minnesota
"Writing with wit, literary subtlety, and a striking attention to words, Nickleson explores disorder in minimalism and the historiographic methods that mask it. Through the dialectical framework of Rancière’s dissensus, he exposes the white patriarchal foundation of those methods, and how they contain disputed concepts of the listener, author, pedagogy, and genre. What an exhilarating achievement, and what hope for the future of music studies! Bravo!"
—Tamara Levitz, UCLA
“Patrick Nickleson’s The Names of Minimalism offers a potent critique of the means and methods by which minimalism has been canonized in conventional music histories. Drawing on the writings of Jacques Rancière and Kristin Ross, Nickleson deftly and trenchantly interrogates the lineage that runs—whether via collaboration or contention—from La Monte Young and Tony Conrad to Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca in order to recover the aesthetic and political challenges that early minimalism proffered at its most radical junctures.”
—Branden W. Joseph, Columbia University
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