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Learnings in minimalism


Major inspirations for this song come from minimalist/ambient composers, including Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, Moby's Live Ambient Improvised Recordings, Vol 1, and Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol II.

In college, I was strongly influenced by Steve Reich, and composed a short marimba piece along the style of his Music for 18 Musicians, which included an element of room for improvisation throughout the piece, space for the players to explore the interrelationship of the parts freely. Improvisation has always been a large part of my composition process, both as songwriting tool and integrated aspect in final pieces.

Approaching this piece, I was coming from an ongoing study of minimalism through synthesized sound, and so employed the following tools to help realize this sonic landscape:

Equipment Used:

Casio SA-2

Juno 06A

Lowrey Organ

Teenage Engineering OP-1

Practical Mechanics:

The process of creating a song like this is somewhat straightforward, in that it centers around a repeating refrain in the Juno synthesizer, the clicky arpeggio that goes from low to high. The intention was to explore a repeating and hypnotic refrain which would continually invite the listener deeper, while adding other elements to enhance and shift the mood.

It's amazing to me just how infinite the possibilities are, within creating a song. Every junction and decision is a choice to add or subtract, to move toward complexity or simplicity, in tone or rhythm, and each layer then creates new decisions from a new foundation and tapestry. Like a painting, as the pallette evolves, the technique evolve with it, to move toward the realized version of the piece. Adaptability is essential, as the canvas realizes itself underneath my hands.

What I have been enjoying about a minimalist approach is that the leaning is toward doing less rather than more. This helps simplify some of the necessary decisions, providing an orientation toward adding fewer rather than more elements, simpler rather than more complex rhythms.

The addition of the Lowrey organ is the slowly descending background line, which reminds me of Hans Zimmer's soundtrack to the movie Dunkirk. There is a repeating ascending phrase, in that case, which gives a feeling of an infinite rising of tension. In the case of this song, the perpetual downward motion encourages settling, calming, and grounding.


As is often the case, the process is very fluid and spontaneous, and with a piece like this there is only a rough and nascent inclination initially, toward doing something and seeing where it will lead. As mentioned, that initial impulse was around a repeating arpeggio line. One hope with this piece was to explore texture more deeply, add some distortion artifacts, and challenge myself to be warbly and evolutionary, to evolve the piece over time, explore how small changes affect mood.

Having acquired many different approaches to music and theory over the years, through classical opera training, vocal jazz, house dance music, and folk guitar songs, I want to explore how minimalism creates specific feeling states within the body that can help to gently awaken the senses, while relaxing and calming the nervous system. So much of music can be very jarring, and it seems to me that much of the culture spends its time being immersed by very splashy, highly stimulating, and jarring soundscapes, without thinking twice about it.

What I notice I need, and so what I want to create, is generally music which brings in a high degree of listening, sensory awareness, embracing the space between tones, and enhanced subtle textures, all to create landscapes that are activating, awakening, intriguing, and calming, healing, revitalizing. This is specifically for music that I want to immerse in throughout the day, listen to during the tasks of life, running errands, traveling, and the like. And of course I like very activating music in shorter doses, like heavy rock songs or deep dance jams.

Lessons Learned:

This song taught me how simple things are often the most beautiful. It taught me to explore doing less, that I am enough as a musician if i'm not trying to 'wow' people with technique or layers of composition and additions of instruments, layers, and complex mixing technique. I don't really know what to call this genre that I explore other than that it's, of course, "me." The loren style? a combination of classical, folk, and electronic elements.

I was watching the new Top Gun movie the other day, and re-realized just how profoundly I am affected by cinematic movie soundtracks. They are partly so amazing to me because they can be almost invisible ... a superb soundtrack so thoroughly meshes with the images of the movie that it becomes the movie, the images, the entirety of the emotional/energetic of the experience and world that we are invited into. Major examples that come to mind of profound merging of image and sound are: Arrival, Dunkirk, Moon, Waking Life (among many many others).

So, perhaps i'll intentionally compose for film some day. It could be fun.

Thank you for listening, and reading



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