Saturday night at Webster’s Bookstore Café won’t just be about music itself, but about how you hear it. As part of its Open Music Series, the State College coffee shop will host “Less is Much: The Complexity of Minimalism.” Featuring sets consisting of minimal music composed by genre heavyweights Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich and Terry Riley and performed by Penn State students, faculty members and more, “Less is Much” will be an evening of examination and appreciation of a rich and textured style of music.
Minimal music, which first gained traction in New York City in the 1960s, is experimental and places emphasis on repetition while building upon its initial sound to culminate in a cornucopia of unique sonic renderings.
“Minimalism is just one of many movements in music that blossomed in the second half of the 20th century that represent a commitment to moving beyond our traditional concert and conservatory models of music making,” organizer and performer Kevin Sims said. “These movements were led by composers and performers who played with the boundaries between genres, between the roles of listeners and performers, between distinctions like amateurs and professionals. This opening up of things makes room for new and unexpected sounds.”
“This music is pretty self-generating, so there’s no telling in what direction it’s going to sprout,” said Paul Barsom, an associate professor of music composition at Penn State who will also will perform. “That’s half the fun. ‘In C’ by Terry Riley is possibly the most-performed piece of minimalist music ever, yet I’ve never heard it sound quite the same twice, including when we play it.”
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One of the hardest things to do is to make art seem effortless and mask the tireless work put into a piece. Minimal music is a champion of masking the complicated calculations that make the end result so fascinating.
“While minimalism seeks to reduce the musical resources it uses, it also manages to reveal a vast and beautifully complex world inside of those reduced resources,” Sims said. “Instead of creating a dramatically, ever-transforming experience like we might get from Beethoven, we might find a single pattern or a single chord being repeated in different ways for 20 minutes or more. But as we keep listening to this pattern, it’s like turning a kaleidoscope, and new colors and shapes appear at every turn.”
The novice listener should not be discouraged from venturing to Webster’s for “Less is Much.” What’s even cooler about this concert is that it’s open-ended and can provide an incredible soundtrack to the artistic endeavors that have made Webster’s such a Centre County gem.
“It’s great music to come in and out of, walk up close to, move away from, draw or write along with,” Sims said.