Archive for March, 2010

Secret Understanding: The Idiomatic Breadth Between Maximalism and Minimalism

March 3, 2010

Over the course of a creative cycle spanning the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, the incendiary musical form known as rock underwent a series of categorical reductions. But since most of those categories were devoid of musical concretes, their meanings were all but trivial. For when rock is broken down to its core foundations, there are merely two distinct outgrowths of the music: maximalism and minimalism. This is not to say that those two streams were devoid of any stylistic range; but that the developments were more associative than the factionalists cared to recognize. Therefore, I set out to chart the genesis of maximalism and minimalism in the annals of rock, and examine the variables of idiomatic breadth which the two streams attained.

First we need to define the traits which embody minimalism and maximalism within the context of rock. Minimalism in rock is an eschewal of musicality, marked by skeletal, abrasive and atonal sonic scars of the rawest nature. Skeletal traits are bore through a paucity of instrumentation and compositional breadth; rudimental songs played by tiny combos. Abrasiveness stems from tunnel frequency, in which traits like bludgeoning volume and fogbound murk are employed to lock listeners into a single state of mind. Atonality is symptomatic of carpus inertia, in which the player’s lack of tactility obliterates the fundaments of musicality for un-centered and often shapeless noises.

Maximalism in rock is an embrace of musicality, embodied through expressions of complexity, eclecticism and grandeur at the highest level. Complexity is achieved when musicians maximize the elements of composition and musicality, exploring variant song structures to the utmost extent, with full regard to melody, harmony, rhythm, sonority, lyrics, meter and counterpoint. Eclecticism is mastered when musicians achieve a synthesis of styles with adept instrumental latitude, fusing various idiomatic impulses in the spirit of creation. Grandeur is reached through presentational dynamism, in which performers transcend themselves through theatrical showmanship, elaborate stagecraft and heroic virtuosity; frozen through time in lavish, state of the art productions.

Background: From Static to Flexible Foundationalism

Rock n’ roll coalesced during the mid-1950s, as touring blues and country players throughout the eastern and southern regions of the United States fed from the musical breadth of the cross-cultural landscape; mutually radiating this explosive new form. The music swiftly caught hold because of its accessibility to upstart musicians, who could easily adopt to this raw idiom and cut cheap records with their own lean combo’s; free from the constricts of formal training and costly orchestration which had been the requisites of pre-rock pop. But rock n’ roll rescinded after a few short years due to its stylistic limitations, with performers having exhausted the twelve-bar blues structure inherent to this primarily rhythmic form. Likewise, the American public shifted upstream, for rock n’ roll started to sound uniform once the racy novelty of its chief performers had worn off. In retrospect, rock n’ roll of the 1950s could be viewed as the makeshift form of budding musicians who ultimately aspired to attain mastery of their formative idioms: country, bluegrass and blues.

Rock didn’t die entirely, however, for its torch soon passed overseas. By the dawn of the 1960s, rock itself had become a formative idiom for the young musicians of England, who stripped the music to its unfettered core, dressed it with the flexible strum of folk, and applied the melodic idiosyncrasies of their own music hall tradition, thereupon fusing a new and revitalized form of rock which, owing to its locale of origin, became known to the world as Merseybeat. Given the broadened musicality now embedded into rock, the music could only progress from this point forward. The static nature of 1950s rock had rendered the music a passing fad; the expansive richness of 1960s rock transformed the music into an art form of global vitality and cross-generational sustenance.

The rock generation’s march to the maximalist summit commenced in 1964, spearheaded by the worldwide outbreak of Beatlemania and the attendant British Invasion. Buoyed by the notion that rock could now comprise a multitude of shapes, thousands of new musicians arose during the second half of the 1960s to expand upon this vast creative template. Over the ensuing lustrum, dynamic strides were made in developing the musicological tenets of melody, harmony, sonority, meter and compositional syntax within the framework of rock, with each successive year comprising an epoch unto itself. (more…)