Saturday, October 23, 2010

More minimalism

The recent trip to Chicago had more than just one irritating bit of minimalism.

The nature of the Real Doctor's meetings is that they take place in fairly swanky hotels, and the nature of my attendance at these affairs is that I spend some time waiting for the Real Doctor in the lobbies of these swanky hotels. While I am not the ultimate connoisseur of swanky hotel lobbies, I recognize the different types and I have my preferences.

There is the old-money swanky lobby, which I favor. This has rugs on top of carpet or marble, overstuffed chairs and sofas, and large urns of flowers. There are probably formal side tables, some nice marble, maybe even a grandfather clock; the dominant color scheme is reds, pinks, and yellows. These lobbies tend not to have muzak, or if they do, it is quiet and classical.
Then, there is the moderne chic lobby, which where I passed time in Chicago. This has no rugs, dramatic low-lying brown and black leather sofas and oddly-shaped chairs. No flowers, but boldly-shaped ceramic or glass vessels of artsy twigs or cactuses. Tables are lower than the sofas, and there is lots of glass. The dominant color scheme is earth tones. These lobbies invariably have a weird, more-minimal-than-minimalist muzak that is just a smidge too loud.
The muzak imitates "smooth jazz"--a pulsing beat, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch...with some dreary repeating sax figure on top, perfectly in synch. This goes on without change for a while, then some new figure gets added, replacing one of the nauseam. There's nothing that could be called a melody--it's essentially a backing track for some infinitely long, one-chord solo. The music is absolutely static for minutes at a time. It is modern(ish), sophisticated (sounding), upbeat and unctuous, the perfect audio backdrop for a soulless lobby.

Brice Marden's "Rodeo" is minimalist, and I don't like it. However, both it and the lobby music made me wonder why it is that I do like some minimalist music. So, I went home and listened to some Steve Reich and some John Adams and Terry Riley and even some Philip Glass. Comparing these composers to that hotel lobby music made me realize just how much is going on in a "minimalist" composition. When you listen to "In C" or "Music for Eighteen Musicians", there is always something going on--and in fact, like any good piece of music, it engages you, and keeps you aware and slightly off-balance for what will happen next.

This is not what you want in your lobby music. The key to the lobby music is that nothing happens. Nothing will disturb you. And despite the bulls#!t about Marden's "Rodeo," there's even less happening there than there is in the hotel lobby music. The visual equivalent of listening to the lobby music is staring at plaid upholstery; the aural equivalent of viewing "Rodeo" is a being subjected to a vast, blaring, E-flat major chord and nothing more.

One last blast on the subject later.

Of course, one of the "tags" for this post is "vexations." See here, and here.

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