One of the gifts I got this year was the lovely two-volume set of Lynd Ward's wordless stories. Made using woodcuts inspired equally by German expressionism and Albrecht Durer, Ward's "graphic novels" were made between 1929 and 1937. This set from the Library of America collects all six novels, and the title of one, Song Without Words, put me in mind of artworks that are similarly constrained. I have other wordless books, such as Laurence Hyde's Southern Cross and, um, well maybe that's the only other one I have.
I've long been drawn to songs without words. Not just classical, jazz, or jam-band type rock, but actual instrumental rock and pop songs that manage to be catchy and even hot the charts without words. Some are cheesy pop, like "Popcorn"; some are ambitious, like "Classical Gas"; and some are just downright great, like "Sleep Walk." (Funny to listen to Popcorn again and hear it as a precursor to electronica.) "Taps" is a wonderful example of a well-known instrumental -- nearly everyone can hum it, and it manages to retain its emotional impact. (This scene in From Here to Eternity, in which Montgomery Clift's character honors his dead friend, conveys the mournful feeling so well. That's Al Hirt playing.)
What else can you remove from music? A cappella groups dispense with instruments. Brian Eno's ambient music presents textures of sound that proceed without discernible rhythm. Early Steve Reich works used rhythm without harmonic or melodic development.
What's the visual art equivalent? Expressionist painters (some of them) used shapes and color instead of recognizable figures. Jackson Pollack painted without brushes; artists like Christo or Andy Goldsworthy create ephemeral visual works without canvas or paint. Man Ray created his "ray-o-grams" using photographic paper without a camera.
Films began as "moving pictures" without any sound, so we have to find other essential elements to delete. Chris Marker's La jetée from 1962 is a 28-minute montage of still images (with one brief exception), its science-fiction story told only in narration. Early surrealist experiments like Un Chien Andalu did without plot, and there must be many versions of character-less films like Koyaanisqatsi.
I'm sure I'm missing other examples.
(By the way, the title here comes from an old set of LPs for musicians to practice over, Music Minus One. Oh, it looks like they still exist!)