Music is the Art of repetition - be it in terms of the sonorous object or the concept of the sonorous material or its composition.
Repetition is the main semiotic element of primeval music; in all oral civilisations, from the magical/ritual to tribalism, music is based on reiteration; in the throbbing and repetitive music of non-western cultures - particularly those of central Africa or India. There is a convention for particularly rhythmical reiteration in traditional European music; and today any musician using a computer is confronted with “loops”, which are repetitive units.
If we consider “silence” the elemental reason for the concept of repetition we have to consider the very notion of silence itself. There are various types of silence depending on their duration in time in relation to the sounds delimiting them. It is the sounds which determine the silence and, in music, the silence between the sounds is a kind of “minimal” interval. According to Gelstalt no silence is the same as another; repetition is based on silence as a minimalist concept which, by means of an underlying organisation, has shaped it through an awareness concerning various silences which are repeated in the transformation.
Repetition of a note - repeat two and you have music - the very nature of sound consists in vibration, which is a phenomenon of repetition.
“Bare” repetition consists in an unchanging chain of elements endlessly repeated, repetitions of gestures and conceptually pure; “dynamic” repetition is the result of the mixture of different layers of time, events altered by neighbouring or parasitic sounds; bare (naked, natural) and dynamic, clothed and masked.
In repetitivism, the composition of the aesthetic content is arranged in isochrones, repetition is the essence of the rhythm by reiteration and self-transformation and by “ostinato”.
The term reiteration means to take a new way or itinerary and all ostinati works are reiterative in the sense that they retake a route which has already been presented. Ostinato should not be confused with repetitivism; the former, is a structure which may appear in a differential discourse while the latter, repetitivism, is a plan for organising sounds.
Another concept is that of “isomorphism”, which implies the existence within the tempo of equal elements, with the same form.
We may consider two types of isomorphism: “isochrony” the note or pattern or harmony is repeated in the same tempo (chronos); and isorhythm, a rhythm which is repeated consecutively.
Repetition is the essence of the rhythm in the subtle transformation of isomorphs and the juxtaposition of isomorphic figures with irregular figures.
Reiteration is linked to the presence of the object of sound - repeat three notes and alter them, transform them, thus the three notes are statically definable, but repetition endows them with multiple values.
There are two kinds of repetition: the “discrete”, which is subliminal and the “reoccurring” with significant nuances within the repetition.
“Active” reiteration is recognition, and the “passive”, reminiscence.
The distance in time between one sound and the following repetition of the same sound makes us think about the distance itself; the greater the chronological length of the repetition, the more absorbing, atmospheric the repetitivism becomes.
When two sounds or the same musical figures start with a different beginning, for example a second ahead of the other, the effect of “dephasing” is created as a rhythmical or melodic unit.
Rhythm, generally, means the periodic repetition of elements in time or in space, it refers to the repetition of a movement; rhythm in design is created by repetition and variation. Repetition of forms, and the spaces between the forms, create a pattern of movement.
When we focus on the rhythm and the space, the intervals between the elements are just as important as the elements themselves.
Rhythm may be: “alternate”, with repetitive patterns created from the same element used consistently; “progressive” rhythm is a kind of repetition in which the elements change, but maintain a consistence within the repetition.
In 1936 Collins McPhee wrote the work “Tabuh-Tabuhang” inspired on the repetition of Balinese music. This composition would be responsible for the growth of minimalist music.
In the USA the beginnings of the 60s saw the appearance the so called aesthetic of “repetitive, minimal music”. It was responsible for the infra-structural tonic, leading to the future “soaring” rock and mass produced electronic music with its mesmerising beat.
The function of the minimal unit (pattern) is prospective, it is projected in the transformation of repetitions; in minimalism, the movement is iterative, it reinvents different figures within the transformation.
From the theoretical point of view we should understand minimalism not just as a musical grammar, with repetitive syntax and a scarcity of sound elements, but as a polyartistic movement which came up with a new simplicity, an aesthetic which was decisive for the language of progressive rock, it was also a predecessor of hip-hop, an intentionally informal and atmospheric music. The repetition attempts to surround the listener in stereo sounds, continuous cosmic vibrations and a rainfall of musical noise.
Minimal sounds gained prestige and became semiotic elements within the trend of minimal repetitive music.
At the core of minimalism is the variations of the rhythmical units, often reversing the sequence of notes, full of reprises, oscillations and a syntax which rises and falls.
The concept of “minimal” came to life as a musical discourse and the logic of repetition considered any figure as a musical pattern for meditation; short, small motifs which imperceptibly vary; a precise and fundamental beat, an unbroken continuous flow, polyrhythms and counter-rhythms, basic rhythmical regularity, the simultaneous production of similar but slightly different rhythms; the art of ritornello: riffs reiterated according to a series of proscriptive formulas; the term “riff” refers to the continuous and rhythmical back and forth of the music, it exercises an attraction over the preceding and subsequent tempos.
In minimalism, repetition is restrictive and obstinate and specific processes may be recognised: “addition” and “subtraction”, altering the existing figures to create new patterns; phase shifting, that is altering the repeated uniform pattern and ritornello which re-establishes trace elements.
Replacing the basso continuo of Baroque, the rhythm section of jazz, the theoretical influence of minimalism on pop/rock was determinant. In the musical styles of progressive, kraut, hip-hop, ambient …the rhythm section is present in almost all pop/rock, it establishes a relation of infra-structure to a foundation of beat for layers of repetition. The syncopation is distributed in the different polyrhythmical situations and the play on repeated figures (ostinato) is determinant in the reiterated melodies, in the binary beat, a repetitious massacre of a handful of notes, or even the same note, two, or just a few more discordant notes, the continuance of various noises…
The mono-structural minimalist aesthetic is present in syntagma occurring in all styles of contemporary music and in this way a new simplicity has been rediscovered, a physiological beat.
Minimalism established a structuralism which goes against exterior representation, it is the structure of the interior and that of concept; it represents a special policy in relation to the paucity of material used. The repetition comes later, it appears in the animation and movement of these basic units; even in its electronic form the composer uses effects such as phasing, sustain, sequencing, drone or hypnotic figures, with unending and undemanding variations.
Minimalism designates music in its simplest form.
The movement was inspired by the Minimalist movement in the American plastic arts of the 60s, “minimal, repetitive music” is one of the most important trends of contemporary music. Some of the most important names associated to the movement are: La Monte Young, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Bob Ashley, Philip Glass, Jon Hassell, John Adams.
This fascination with repetitive rhythm, trance and meditation and contemplation is a kind of return to the origins of human history and its music.