Concepts in Practice

How do you conceptualize your approach to repetition? What kind of affects do you intend it to produce in listeners? What strikes me is that it’s something of a ‘false friend’ in your music (this isn't meant derogatorily)—whereas in some pulse or minimalist music, repetition provides a sense of  grounding for listeners your repetitions produce a sense of disorientation that is uniquely pleasurable.

It’s complicated. It’s actually very complicated.

When you mention repetition as a ‘false friend’ in my music you are spot-on correct. My music is not typically about creating stable, hypnotic states, but rather, to a large extent, it is about creating a sense of fleeting stability, and about generating unpredictability and surprise. It is also about revealing the complexities of how we identify, order and classify things and the myriad ways we connect and disconnect parts and sums.

I love the idea of repetition because it is a concept that at first seems so obvious, and yet, when considering the idea at length, it becomes much more difficult to pin down. It is really quite paradoxical, because it is impossible to actually repeat any event identically. Events may be simulated, but there really is no pure repetition. There are perhaps infinite degrees of difference—some very subtle, some very stark, and everything in between. But what then is a difference? Can something be totally or purely different from something else? I don’t think so, as some aspect of similarity can always be established.

The idea of repetition is a complex, connective form of being analogous while the idea of difference is a form of not being analogous (being other), which plays against the expectancy and identity presented by repetition. However, one cannot exist without the other. Difference and repetition feed into and off of one another. Complex differences hide in simple repetitions. Complex repetitions linger in various states of difference. Gilles Deleuze’s book, “Difference and Repetition,” has had a big influence on my work. Click here to view excerpt.

I think of repetition as a tool that functions to establish identity (of a structure, of a timbre, of a form). It establishes boundaries around something, allowing parts to be more clearly discerned from an otherwise more undifferentiated whole. These boundaries create expectations—of continuation, of change, (it depends on the context), and expectations are crucial to creating a feeling of contrast (of difference). On one hand, I use repetition to reveal subtle differences that linger in what might be, at first, thought of as identical. On the other hand, I use it to create stark contrasts that might have been only vaguely perceived otherwise.

Repetition amplifies, sharpens and clarifies the perception of difference. Most obvious to me - and I am astonished has not been more widely practiced - is that to generate surprise, you must first establish predictability.

Piano Quartet excerpt

You've mentioned to me that your piece Color, Form, Line is bound up with each of those aspects of sound. What aspects of each do you value in your work?

The title, Color, Form, Line, is a reference to the work by the visual artist Ellsworth Kelly, Line Form Color. In Kelly’s work - actually, a book he made - a succession of images proceeds from one to many lines, then to primary color fields, then mixed color fields, and finally shapes embedded in color. My own work follows roughly the same strategy in multiple, reversed orders, and emphasizes, like the Kelly, the futility of fully separating the experience of color from that of shape/gesture and how the order, or ‘form’ of these successions either intensifies or dilutes the perception of each.

More specifically, ‘Color’ refers to the individual quality of a sound, but more commonly, the quality of sounds in combination (mixed sounds). ‘Form’ refers to the overall order of the work—how events pass from one to the next. ‘Line’ refers to how the listener makes connections from sound to sound (i.e. melody), but also to how connections are made across the entire form of the work. For example, in a novel or play, there might be multiple plot lines that do not simply run their course at once, linearly, but which alternate with one another throughout the course of the work. While the overall ‘Form’ of the work might be A-B-C-D-B-A-A-D-C, four different ‘Lines’ can be traced through the form, each identifiable by specific instrumental ‘Color.’

What projects are currently in progress and what ideas do you find yourself working with?

Last year I wrote a lot of music for solo instruments. This was very difficult for me and changed my perspective and the way I approach writing for larger groups. It made me think much more about structure rather than color. Writing for larger forces can distract from the clarity of a structure because of the wide variety of instrumental colors and textures that are possible. In solo works, one has far fewer options. Right now I am trying to apply this new perspective to larger instrumental groups as well, striving for greater clarity and coherence.

I just finished writing a piece for ten instruments for Ensemble Cairn (Paris), and am currently working on a percussion trio for Line Upon Line (Austin, TX) and a piece for thirteen instruments for Ensemble Linea (Strasbourg). Perhaps my biggest project this year is a piece for large orchestra that will function as the tenth and final part of my ‘Pendulum’ series—a series of pieces focusing on representation; they are inspired by physical, temporal, and spatial phenomena demonstrated by the simple swinging motions of pendulums, along with some of the more complex forces, environments and mechanisms that make the pendulum’s movement continue or dissipate.

*Ryan Dohoney is a musicologist whose research and teaching focus
on 20th and 21st century modernism, experimentalism, ritualized performance, as well as affect studies and queer theory. Following appointments at Colby College and the University of Kansas, he will become assistant professor of musicology in the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University this fall.



“My music is not typically about creating stable, hypnotic states; to a large extent, it is about creating a sense of fleeting stability, and about generating unpredictability and surprise.” Alex Mincek

String Quartet


String Quartet excerpt

“It is impossible to actually repeat any event identically. Events may be simulated, but there really is no pure repetition.”
Alex Mincek


Poco a Poco
Alex Mincek, Poco a Poco, Linea Ensemble, 2011


Some of Poco a Poco



“Repetition amplifies, sharpens and clarifies the perception of difference…To generate surprise, you must first establish predictability.” Alex Mincek
“Complex differences hide in simple repetitions. Complex repetitions linger in various states of difference.” Alex Mincek


Composer Conversation: Audio podcast with Alex

Interview excerpt from Counterstream radio with Alex