Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen died Wednesday (obit.). I had heard him mentioned several times as an electronic pioneer and an avant-garde composer who influenced popular music from the Beatles (he was on the Sgt. Pepper cover collage) to Sonic Youth, yet I admittedly (like most I presume) had heard little of his music. Like any kind of music, if you're interested in it, look to the pioneers and heavyweights, and if you missed their contributions while they were alive, a wake is an appropriate time to take a moment to examine somebody's work, so for the last couple days I've been diving in. I learned that Stockhausen (wiki) did much more than tinker with electronics, he was a quixotic visionary who (along with John Cage) pioneered the use of chance in music, even having musical scores which could be read by the performer upside down or begun at a random page. Stockhausen also experimented with atonal music, which even today sounds challenging, and probably much more so to audiences of the fifties and sixties. He was always looking for new possibilities in sound, and the music I've heard from him has very different styles, from noise to abstract choral arrangements to strange silence>note cluster collages. He is most influentially noted, though, for his electronic experiments, incorporating new musical equipment with his atonality and serialism experiments, like in his Kontakte, recorded from 1958-1960 in his studio in Cologne:

Below is an intriguing later example (early 90's) of his exploratory composing enititled "Helikopter String Quartet" (part of his LICHT [light] cycle of operas), featuring four classical instrumentalists matching dizzying tremolos to the rotary sound of the four helicopters they are riding in while performing. Here is a more in-depth description.

Karlheinz Stockhausen "Helikopter String Quartet" (edit)

If you take the time to explore Karlheinz Stockhausen, you'll inevitably come upon many internet opinions regarding him as everything from " unparalleled genius" to "unlistenable". As with virtually any artist, there is talk about how the later stuff is not as good as the earlier stuff. As with any music that is new (to you), try to ignore all of the words and focus on the sounds. They can be difficult piece to listen through, but good or bad, it brings up a quote I saw in an interview with Stockhausen, where he said that all music and sound effects you. You are different after listening to anything. Certainly the "Helikopter String Quartet" will, at least unconsciously, make you more aware of the interplay between what you think of as music and what you think of as daily noise.

Don't miss the multimedia page at the official Stockhausen site for more audio.

Amazon has a wide selection of interesting-looking Stockhausen CDs

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