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Karlheinz Stockhausen 1928-2007

December 7, 2007


Stockhausen has gone.  In the words of his long-time companions and colleagues, clarinettist Suzanne Stephens and flautist Kathinka Pasveer, “on December 5, he ascended with joy through heaven’s door in order to continue to compose in paradise with cosmic pulses in eternal harmony.”

 The first I heard of Stockhausen was as a teenage lad, in 1996, when his Helicopter String Quartet was first performed, and a feature on it was insultingly included in the “Also in the news…” section alongside other humorous and quirky reports.  I remembered the insult as an example of the British press’s hostility to anything beyond mediocrity, and a couple of years later I was “playing” my amplified guitar with the interference created by an electric shaver.  Later still I bought cheap CD copies of Stimmung and Kontakte, and I was disquieted.  Stangely, starting to like Stockhausen was what allowed me to start liking pop music again.  Something to do with cosmic pulse and eternal harmony mentioned above.

Of course he faced hostility later, when his comments on September the 11th — “the greatest work of art ever”, he is translated as saying — were misunderstood as being symptomatic of modernism’s intellectual coldness.  That’s the kind of complaint that people without ears would make.  His comment, meant to be a bewildered recognition that the artist’s familiar strategies of spectacle and spontaneity were used for such brutal purposes, was maybe giddy and silly, but not heartless. 

I don’t know about heaven, but I do know about the air and the atmospheres, and how they conduct sounds and voices… I learnt about these things, in part, from Stockhausen, and so did anyone else who’s felt a tape come to life or heard machines sing.  Thankyou and farewell, Stockhausen.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather permalink
    December 8, 2007 4:26 am

    I’m shocked.

  2. December 8, 2007 5:05 pm

    RIP. Some Helicopter String Quartet is definitely in order this evening, over a glass of brandy. I also have flu. The universe is out of joint today, it seems.

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