Saturday, December 8, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen, R.I.P.

I saw in the news today that Karlheinz Stockhausen passed away on December 5. It is difficult to overstate how important and formative Stockhausen was for me, although now it is difficult to put my reflections into any kind of organized form.

A late night (and consciousness altered) listening to his big electronic work Hymnen turned my listening tastes forever away from the saccharine pop music that was so prevalent, then and now. Never before had I heard such a large scale work that used so many different kinds of sounds. I thought it was a movie for the ears, and had a flash recognition many years later at Jérôme Noetinger's series of that name on the Metamkine label. Stimmung was a relatively late acquisition, and demonstrated that he still had the capacity to astonish. The quiet vocals on the overtone series of a single note were one of the earliest drones I had ever heard. The two works represent two poles of my current listening tastes.

His book-length interview with Jonathan Cott, Conversations with the Composer, was my constant companion for a couple of years, to the point of pushing it on people who had no interest at all. I made my own index of the book so I could quickly track down references to specific works.

Back in the vinyl days, I had more albums by him than by any other composer, seeking out missing recordings for years, my own search for various holy grails. I didn't complete the set of intuitive music, From the Seven Days, until the advent of CDs, when I ordered a set from the composer directly. This was before the internet, when I had to request a catalog through the mail, but he accepted checks drawn on US banks (but not a credit card). The other grail recording was the two-lp set of Kurzwellen, which I finally found at a library and taped, writing out the extensive liner notes by hand.

I traveled to New York to see a New York Philharmonic concert where they played his Jubilee Overture, a work so minor in his output it still hasn't been recorded. In later years, I lost interest in Light, his big opera (which takes seven days to perform). But his use of a wide variety of different sound sources within the same piece, his acknowledged (albeit uniquely personal) spirituality, his pioneering use of mobile forms and improvisation with live electronics, all are threads that I continue to follow, in music that I play and music that I hear.

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