Indistinct Minimalisms

At the time of its first appearance in downtown New York press in the 1970s, it was not entirely clear what “minimal” or its related “minimalism” meant. While scholars like Edward Strickland, Keith Potter, and Peter Shelley have meticulously tracked the term’s appearance in relation to the composers that we most directly associate with it—La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass—in this paper, I point out how the term was initially used to label a variety of anti-authorial modes of performance and presentation. Against perspectives that have presented the downtown scene as an exemplary, postmodern blurring of “high” and “low” art forms, I argue that the term minimalism specifically marked a lack of distinction between genres and styles, performance practices and art forms, bands and composers. Pointing to the rise of “no wave” and the attendant indistinction produced as artists played on the authorial tensions introduced by working under pseudonyms and improper names, I focus on how minimalism was used as a term of authorial refusal more associated with the Ramones and Talking Heads than Reich and Glass.


Patrick Nickleson is visiting assistant professor of music history at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. His dissertation, “The Names of Minimalism: Authorship and the Historiography of Dispute in New York Minimalism, 1960-1982,” presents an alternate history of minimalism as a radical politics of authorship, emanating out from the early collaborative ventures of Conrad and Young, Reich and Glass, and Branca and Chatham. Nickleson’s work has also focused on indigenous-settler collaboration in art music, particularly in collaboration with Jeremy Strachan and Dylan Robinson. Patrick is also closely involved in the work of the French philosopher Jacques Rancière, and is co-editor, with João Pedro Cachopo and Chris Stover, of Rancière and Music, forthcoming from Edinburgh University Press. His article “Transcription, Recording, and Authority in ‘Classic’ Minimalism” is forthcoming in Twentieth Century Music.