I’ve been listening for the last six months quite a lot of minimalist music — it all started with this 2006 music overview article at Resident Advisor. Anyway, here’s my own private notes on how to make minimalist techno dance music. As with punk rock long time ago, there are certain patterns that need to be applied. If you know the patterns, then you also know how to break them, which is then important.
Start with a drum loop, if possible use TR808 or T909 sounds. The kick should not be as dry and hard pumping as in house music. Claps are in, also weird syncopated drum sounds, if possible created with synthesis driven drum machines such as Ultrabeat (Logic), microTonic, or something similar. Use simple hihats, no house pumping, either.
I think for a lot of the synth sounds, such as bass lines and lead lines, use an FM synthesis engine, EFM (Logic), NI FM8, Live’s Operator or Octopus (one of my favorite FM synths, as I could get gritty synth sounds from that one). But don’t indeed make gritty sounds, rather spectral sounds. The bass sounds could either be atonal, or somewhat tonal. You could paint the bass melody directly into the MIDI editor, no need to velocities and similar things.
The bass and lead melodies should if possible use odd scales, microtonal, or otherwise non-western. Also use syncopation again if possible.
Now, then you could copy the bass line into another MIDI track, change some notes and use another FM synthesis or similar sound. The leads should have a lot of verb, to make it spacy.
Add some odd pads, no strings, rather non-conventional ones, and also some effects.
Final production — there’s seldom any need to make heavy cuts and stutter effects in minimalism, rather tonal changes that carry into the space with reverbs and delays. Listen to early day Eno tracks and you get a feeling of the total production. Or, my favorite composer, Steve Reich (such as Magnificient Void).
Now when you know some of the rules, feel free to break them so new music will be created.