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In the 1950s, New Music essentially meant one thing: maximum complexity and maximum remoteness from the audience. That changed radically at the end of the 1960s, when a group of freaks completely rewrote the rules of the musical avant-garde and achieved one of the last great breakthroughs in 20th-century art music.

Composers like Steve Reich freed classical music from the dogmas of serialism and created a new sound aesthetic with psychedelic pull, shaped by the rhythms of the Indonesian gamelan, the coolness of free jazz and the energy of rock music. They challenged the excessive intellectualism of European contemporary music with a new kind of performance culture: the lofts and clubs of the New York art scene became the new hot spots of the avant-garde, making Darmstadt and Donaueschingen look like forsaken temples of a long-since-abandoned religion.

 The Minimal Music of the 1960s emphasized a new simplicity of musical structure, repetitive elements, tonal harmony and uncompromising reduction of the musical material – the idea of “patterns” was born, without which the genres of ambient, techno and post-rock would never have emerged. It is an irony of fate that a form of classical music that was responsible only a few decades ago for the last great performance scandals of the 20th century should exercise unparalleled influence on mainstream culture to this day.

Taking his lead from Steve Reich’s masterwork “Electric Counterpoint” in a new arrangement for live and pre-recorded pianos, Kai Schumacher takes a musical look on his album Beauty in Simplicity at classical precursors and pop-culture inheritors of minimal music. So it is that Erik Satie’s fragile planes of sound prepare the way for the ambient music of such as Brian Eno while P.M. Hamel’s psychedelic piano works serve as inspiration for piano transcriptions by Moderat.

Rather than relying on digital sound, Kai Schumacher treats the concert grand as a fully analogue synthesizer, applying preparations and sound processing to what is surely the most classical of all instruments to generate apparently electronic sound worlds in the space between drum-machine and the Wall of Sound. 

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