43 Reich

Steve Reich (b. 1936) is considered "one of the four major early minimalist composers," with his feet in the experimental music as well. Reich is known for his "process music," which he describes in the article.

Reich describes musical processes as systems that set up the "note-to-note details and overall form simultaneously." He compares musical processes to watching the sand run to the bottom of an hourglass or pulling back a swing and watching it gradually come to rest. A human must set up the process, but once the process begins it runs by itself and the outcome is already determined. In some ways, this gives the composer complete control because the outcome is already determined by the process; in other ways, the composer loses control because he must accept whatever outcome results without changing it.

Musical processes exist in which the process cannot be heard when the piece is performed. Serial music and John Cage's experiments with I Ching are examples of musical processes which lead to a specific outcome but cannot necessarily be heard when the piece is performed. Reich is more interested in music in which the compositional process and the music heard are the same thing. He also explains that improvisation, even in modal music that results in a droning sound, is not process music, and is in fact the very opposite. Process music is driven by the nature of the process, while improvisation is driven by humans.

Reich believes that process music is liberating in its impersonal nature. The process and its realization by electro-mechanical properties draw focus away from the composer and performers and allow the listener to focus solely on the music.

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