Doing a lot with very little.

Keep It Simple

Minimalism is an approach that champions simplicity. It is a rejection of complication and usually involves very small (but often important) changes.

The composers who became interested in this music were not impressed by the large, showy and complex pieces of music as composed by many musicians. They wanted something simple.

Minimalist Musical Example

This is an excerpt from Simon Atkinson’s ‘Interiorities III’. It is a minimalist piece of Electroacoustic Music which uses sounds that have been transformed and stretched to their extremes.

What Does This Music Involve?

However, this doesn’t mean that nothing happens. Minimalist pieces can change a great deal between their beginning and end, but change so smoothly and slowly that the change almost goes unnoticed.

One composer, Terry Riley, explained this:

“I [noticed] that things didn’t sound the same when you heard them more than once. And the more that you heard them, the more different they did sound. Even though something was staying the same, it was changing.”
Terry Riley (in Cox and Warner 2004: 285)

So, even if the same sound is repeated over and over again, the way that we
hear that sound will change.

This is exactly the same effect that we get when looping sounds, and our mode of listening is changed.

Creating Minimal Music

But how can we create minimalist pieces, or experiment with this type of listening? Another composer, Steve Reich, used the following descriptions to try and explain gradual and minimal processes:

“Performing and listening to a gradual musical process resembles:

  • Pulling back on a swing, releasing it, and observing it gradually come to rest;
  • Turning over an hour glass and watching the sand slowly run through to the bottom;
  • Placing your feet in the sand by the ocean’s edge and watching, feeling and listening to the waves gradually bury them.”

Steve Reich (in Cox and Warner 2004: 304)


Why not try to use these descriptive examples from Steve Reich to try and create your own piece. Use looping and subtle changes to create a work that evolves slowly over time.

Perhaps you could use looping, time-stretching and very slow automation.


Minimalism is also found in other arts: painting, architecture, design, performance, etc.


Cox, C. Warner, D. (2004) Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. Continuum.