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This essay offers my personal responses to pieces of repetitive music by composers Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, Louis Andriessen and the electronica duo Autechre. The essay engages issues such as the disorienting effect of repetition, the role of repetition in shaping large-scale continuity, and the surprising fact that literally repeating patterns may sound different as they continue. These issues, and others, are considered in the course of reporting and investigating my listening experiences, through detailed analyses of specific musical passages.
I elaborate a notion of meditative listening, which stands in contrast to narrative listening. A narrative listener follows a developing musical story, understands how current events emerge from previous ones, and sometimes makes predictions about future events. A meditative listener focuses on the present moment, appreciating its qualities without thinking about the connection of this moment to the surrounding music. I show how Feldman's Piano and String Quartet encourages meditative listening, while making narrative listening a somewhat frustrating experience. By contrast, I claim that narrative listening is ultimately appropriate for Andriessen's De Materie, Part IV, even though it begins, just as the Feldman piece does, with a series of repeating gestures.
While analyzing several selections from Autechre's Chiastic Slide and Tri Repetae, I explore my perceptions of foreground and background repetitive layers. In Reich's early tape-loop piece, Come Out, ambiguity arises between actual change in a repeating pattern and change taking place only in the mind of a listener.
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