One of minimalism’s elder statesmen tells Clive Paget why he’s rewriting Radiohead

When you started out back in the 1960s, were you aware, as a young American composer, of the European Avant-garde, and was there a definite pressure to go in that direction with your music?

Absolutely. As a matter of fact it was like a stone wall – you either wrote that way or you were laughed at. It had an iron grip on the American academic community and those composers who wrote a ton of music were just dismissed; laughed at. I was studying with Luciano Berio in California from 1961 to 1963. Berio was very flexible, a very intellectual guy. He was quite open to other things but there was no question about what he was doing, there was no question. It extended all the way to Igor Stravinsky – if he felt the pressure to do that you can be sure everybody else did.

The way I dealt with it was like this: I had to write twelve-tone music, but I never inverted a row; I never retrograded a row; I never transposed a row. I repeated it over and over again. When I showed that...