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Repeating Ourselves

American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice

Robert Fink

Publication Year: 2005

Where did musical minimalism come from—and what does it mean? In this significant revisionist account of minimalist music, Robert Fink connects repetitive music to the postwar evolution of an American mass consumer society. Abandoning the ingrained formalism of minimalist aesthetics, Repeating Ourselves considers the cultural significance of American repetitive music exemplified by composers such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. Fink juxtaposes repetitive minimal music with 1970s disco; assesses it in relation to the selling structure of mass-media advertising campaigns; traces it back to the innovations in hi-fi technology that turned baroque concertos into ambient "easy listening"; and appraises its meditative kinship to the spiritual path of musical mastery offered by Japan's Suzuki Method of Talent Education.

Published by: University of California Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, About the Series, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

By custom and precedent, the cover of this book should have been a smooth, uniform gray, white, or black broken only by contrasting lettering, preferably lowercase, in an unobtrusive sans serif type. If an image on the cover were needed, it ought to have been a carefully lit art object of reductive purity— ...

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Introduction. The Culture of Repetition

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pp. 1-22

In a converted warehouse near the urban core, hundreds of dancers are moving in rhythm to highly repetitive electronic music; many of them are under the influence of controlled substances, most notably 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), known to them as E, X, or Ecstasy. ...

Part One: The Culture of Eros: Repetition as Desire Creation

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1. Do It (’til You’re Satisfied): Repetitive Musics and Recombinant Desires

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pp. 25-61

During the spring, summer, and fall of 1976, a radically new type of musical experience—strictly patterned, tonally static, beat-driven—insinuated its way into the mainstream of Western music culture. Opportunities to respond with the whole body to extremely long, extremely loud stretches of repetitious music ...

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2. “A Colorful Installment in the Twentieth-Century Drama of Consumer Subjectivity”: Minimalism and the Phenomenology of Consumer Desire

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pp. 62-119

Why compare minimal music to, of all things, advertising? As I observed in the Preface, it is hard to imagine any cultural interpretation breaching the radical formalism of minimalism’s true believers; but to bypass all the attractive, exotic hermeneutic excursions that seem so close at hand— ecology, meditative spirituality, ...

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3. The Media Sublime: Minimalism, Advertising, and Television

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pp. 120-166

The fundamental truth of advertising as a cultural form is that it has been designed, through most of its history, by what to its practitioners seemed stark, scientific necessity, to be highly repetitious. Conceptualized as incremental in its effect, advertising has always been understood as a gradual process requiring multiple iterations of the same stimulus ...

Part Two: The Culture of Thanatos: Repetition as Mood Regulation

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4. “A Pox on Manfredini”: The Long-Playing Record, the Baroque Revival, and the Birth of Ambient Music

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pp. 169-207

Build up a minimalist string pulsation in C major, over which a pianist begins playing the first bar of the first prelude from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier—very fast and mechanical. Repeat it eight times. Repeat the next bar eight times. The next, eight times more. Continue at glacial pace through the familiar chord progression, cueing in the whirring arpeggios, ...

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5. “I Did This Exercise 100,000 Times”: Zen, Minimalism, and the Suzuki Method

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pp. 208-236

The one thing that H. C. Robbins Landon’s “A Pox on Manfredini” did not complain about in its savaging of the barococo revival was, surprisingly enough, the quality of performance enshrined on those multiple-disc sets. This may be because his attack was primarily on the consumption habits of musical “snobs,” ...


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pp. 237-266

List of Illustrations

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pp. 267-268


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pp. 269-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780520938946
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520245501

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 61730530
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Repeating Ourselves

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Minimal music -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Music -- Social aspects.
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