- pg 10 -
In dance as in other media, Minimalism is now associated primarily with New York but like the music has California roots, specifically in the work of Ann (now Anna) Halprin. Halprin's work in the Bay area -- she founded the Dancers Workshop Company in 1955-- is sometimes dubbed Minimal merely because her musical accompaniment was provided in 1959-60 by co-musical directors Young and Riley, but the quality of the Cage-influenced "noise" they produced for her, and her aesthetic of multi-media sensory bombardment at that time, are probably equally resistant to the label. Riley's later tape-looped accompaniment was more strictly Minimal. So was Halprin's desegregation of the diurnal and artistic in dances composed of everyday tasks/objects and featuring motion closer to walking than either ballet, modern dance, or Cunningham's mannerism, or based on functional movements like bathing and eating.
The reductive element in her work was developed in distinctive ways by students of Halprin like Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, and Simone Forti (Simone Morris during her marriage to Robert Morris from 1956-61), as well as by Steve Paxton, Lucinda Childs, and others....
In 1959 and 1960 Riley and Young worked together with choreographer Ann Halprin. Young had been put in touch with her by John Cage at a time when she was making, in Birds of America, what she described as "a specific break with what I had been doing previously as a traditional modern dancer" [Kostelanetz 1968 67]. Although Halprin danced to Young's Trio, the sounds he and Riley produced to accompany her troupe were of another order. They were described by Wim Mertens as "unusual sounds . . . held for minutes or sometimes hours on end." [Mertens 21], a tame synopsis since these timbral experiments consisted largely of ear-splitting sounds created by metal objects being scraped against glass, wood, or other metal surfaces. John Cage had joined Webern as an influence on early Minimalism seven years after 4'33".
Young's next work, in April 1960, was an outgrowth of his live accompaniment for Ann Halprin's dancers. In recorded form, the piece followed Stockhausen into tape composition, using two tapes, each devoted to a different sound. On the first, Young scraped two cans against a glass door while Riley scraped a single larger (no. 10) can against a window. On the second and shorter tape, which normally begins after and ends before the first, Young played a gong with drumsticks. The piece was called simply 2 sounds, although it originally contained a third sound -- a triangle rattled inside a bucket -- soon discarded. The piece was in a sense an extract from the months of experimentation with assorted friction sounds Young and Riley had produced for Halprin by scraping metal, glass, and wood against various substances. In one realization Young did not drum the gong but dragged it over the concrete floor while Riley scraped a wastebasket against the wall. This particular performance led the audience to burst into both loud swearing and The Star-Spangled Banner in self-defense.
The twelve-minute tape Young made of 2 sounds was used, in turn, by Halprin's former student Simone Forti to accompany her rope piece in which the performer suspended by a rope was rotated and let go to ride the unwinding. It should be noted, however, that Forti listed the piece as and accompaniment to 2 sounds rather than vice versa [Forti 64]. Merce Cunningham use the same tape in 1964 to accompany his choreography in Winterbranch...