Music as a gradual process

By the expression «music as a gradual process», Steve Reich does not mean the process of composing, but rather the musical pieces that themselves represent processes. He too draws comparisons to process in human everyday life in order to explain the graduality: the trickle of sand in an hourglass, a swing set in motion that slowly comes to a standstill, waves that gradually bury feet in the sand at the beach. He discovers, experiments with processes and composes musical material with clear tonal centres that he subjects to them. However, when the process is set, it runs on its own. Steve Reich accepts the outcome. He is interested in bringing the process of composing and the resulting music to congruence. But in order that this process is fully perceptible to the listener, it has to be, according to Reich, extremely gradual and totally controlled. The tonal details should be liberated from all intentions and only have to meet their own acoustic rules.

«The specific to musical processes is that they regulate both the detailed relationship between note and note as well as the overall shape.»
– Steve Reich

Experiments on gradual processes

With regard to all approaches, it becomes apparent how much the concept of a gradual process is important to the composition. In an experimental phase several gradual processes in nature were analysed (tree structures, the branching of vein systems, absorption of liquid with a sponge). These processes can be described fractally, they form fractal patterns.

The most promising are experiments with the process of crystallisation, since Edgar Varèse mentioned it as an analogy. Phenomenologically the short, hard sounds point to it, structuralistically the fractal order of the piece. For closer inspection of the structure of the crystal, an experiment was commenced to grow crystals. For this purpose, metallic salts, table salt and sugar were used in turn.

«A certain material can suggest you which kind of process it is meant to be subjected to (content causes form) and certain processes can suggest you which kind of material is meant to be subjected to them (form causes content). If the shoe fits, I will wear it.»

Graphic translations

How can the morphing of content through different stages point the designer to new formal approaches?

While growing the crystals, at first an object was created which then was turned via photography into a perspective atmospheric depiction and then from this state further abstracted to vector lines. Through the documentation in photographic sequences, the idea of the real world object mutates to an abstract shape on paper. Therefore, the approach from the other direction is from the note to the line, to the line in space, to an area and then to an object.