A car journey in the American state of New England gave him the idea for Mantra. “I was humming to myself,” Stockhausen recounts, “and heard this melody – it all came together very quickly. I had the idea of a musical figure or formula of my own that would be stretched out over a very long period of time. And these notes were the centres around which I would continually represent the same formula in smaller form.” This formula is a pendulum movement on the one hand and on the other a melody whose notes are selected by characteristic movements.
This dual formula is repeated, spread apart, stretched out and compressed. It determines the various timescales of the work: its overall form, its sections and extracts and phrases within these. The micro- and macrocosms of this music are communicated though each other in many ways as in an ideal created work. The formula has an organizing function in the background but its elements also determine events in the foreground. Repetitions and permutations make everything that happens plausible. The ring modulators that are connected to the pianos suggest ethereal distortions and raptures of sound. Ancient cymbals provide ritual signals that indicate the structural form of the evening, divided into thirteen acts.