Layers, Textures, and Structures: Towards a Theory of Narrative Space in Post-Minimal Music

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Minimalism, and the post-minimalist styles that followed it, arguably constitute some of the most influential musical developments of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. However, one of minimalism’s most innovative features—its conception of time—has often been understood in relation to principles that govern Western Classical tonality, albeit at the opposite end of the temporal spectrum: a-teleological rather than teleological, non-narrative rather than narrative.
Starting from the premise that traditional narrative perspectives have largely failed to fully capture its forms and functions, this chapter will set out a theoretical and interpretative paradigm for analyzing minimalist music based on concepts relating to narrative space. Tropes relating to narrative space have been applied in literature and film but have rarely been considered in relation to music. The main part of this chapter will consider three examples from the post-minimalist repertory—by Michael Torke, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass respectively—to illustrate how concepts relating to narrative space operate in each case. In Torke’s Adjustable Wrench (1987), space acts as a container for the composer’s application of a layering technique that creates gradual terraced transitions across each section. In Reich’s Proverb (1995), the music and text’s sense of perspective is spatially magnified and intensified in the way textural space is used to control and regulate elements such as repetition and augmentation. In Glass’s Etude No. 20 (2012), for piano, the music’s architectonic dimensions are the result of a network of interconnected paradigmatic sections. If narrative threads are to be found in minimalist and post-minimalist music, it is necessary to conceptualize them according to notions of space, by drawing on concepts such as frames, places, settings, locations, and arrangements, which in turn can be understood according to existing music-analytical parameters, such as layers, textures, and structures.


  • Minimalism, Post-minimalism, Narrative Space, Michael Torke, Steve Reich, Philip Glass
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMusic and its Narrative Potential
EditorsCarolien Van Nerom, Ann Peeters, Bart Bouckaert
Number of pages33
ISBN (electronic)978-3-8467-6772-6
ISBN (print)9783770567720
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024
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