March 28, 2005

Playing Nicely with Other People

“Process music” was among the many classifications first thrust upon what's now usually called minimalism. While not always applicable, a lot of early minimalism was based on the slow realization of a few simple instructions. Some music out of the New York School could be described in a similar way. One of the effects of this attitude is to shift listener attention away from a large-scale developmental thrust towards the beauty of individual moments.

Classical concerts don't engender a lot of social interaction during the concert because development-oriented music requires one's undivided attention. Music that flows between individual moments produces a different kind of relationship between the music and its audience. Since events aren't tied to a large scale trajectory, you can breath a little more while listening to process-oriented music. The experience can become more social. If you want to make a comment to someone you're sitting with, the rest of the piece won't become lost on you. In this way, process-oriented music has a lot in common with jazz and popular music. The larger structure (the band's set) has value as a totality, but its pieces (the songs) are worth something on their own.

It can be hard to get friends interested in a lot of the music I like, but I had a great time listening to Indeterminacy with someone. Its structure allowed us to comment on Cage's stories while we listened. We may have missed out on an entire piece every now and then, but the bits we did talk were absorbed that much more. Listening to the music became a positive shared experience, one centered around the music. Most composers would agree that getting their music entered into part of someone's life is a Good Thing. Writing “process music” is certainly not for everyone, but exploring different forms and how they relate to social experiences is one way to help your music to do this.

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