Recently two of my most favourite musicians have past away. Fred Chichin of Les Rita Mitsouko died on the 28th of November from cancer and Karlheinz Stockhausen died on the 5th of December. It’s a strange coincidence that also my all time favourite artist, Frank Zappa,also died around the same period (on the 4th of December in 1993). Maybe it’s the time of the year.
I think some form of tribute would be appropriate. I already posted music from Les Rita Mitsouko so I won’t be doing that right now. Just nice pictures.
Gee, I’m really glad that I had the chance to see them play live again this year, twice even, and in fine shape. Looking back, it now makes sense why Fred Chinchin was rather silent and staying in the back, out of the spotlight, where as I remember him from older days as amore active sidekick for Catherine Ringer.
What Stockhausen is concerned. I’ve noticed that there are quite some blogs paying respect to the old master of electro acoustics but hardly any of them ads music to it.
I always had this notion that people own one or more of his records but that they hardly listen to them. It’s something you had in your collection to be hip and fashionable, like in the sixties when his face was on the famous Sergeant Pepper’s album cover, or because of some sort of historical awareness. He’s a seminal figure in 20th century music and his name is often mentioned, usually in the context of electronic music, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people listen to your music. Today off course his music, or the results of his aesthetics, are everywhere, so why go back to one of the main sources?
For me he’s a true original. I remember a story of a famous Belgian Rock musician who loved Tom Waits. He was mad at Waits when he learned about Captain Beefheart and found out that Waits stole his style from the Captain. Lather on he was mad again but this time at Beefheart when he learned about Howlin’ Wolf and that The Captain stole his style of singing from the Wolf, and so on and on…
I learned about Stockhausen because Frank Zappa talked about him in interviews and his books. Hearing Gesang Der Jünglinge for the first time stuff Like Help I’m a Rock and Son of Monster Magnet, his early experiments with electronics and edits and all those funny voices he uses all the time, started to make sense. I liked all of it instinctively but from that moment on a kind of reference frame was starting to form which is still shaping itself, even today.
One of the sources of Zappa’s music is Stockhausen but when you start looking further back in search of origins you realise that in terms of electro acoustics Stockhausen is the origin. His works with Klank Gruppen (groups or formations of sounds, colors or atmosheres, aural spaces, whatever) wasn't new, Varése did it in the twenties, but he applies his own sounds and ideas of space to it. One of the results is sampling, for instance.
This is what make him influential and important and hey, it still sounds great ;-) some of it is off course pretty challenging stuff. The basics of his musical universe have become widely available and acceptable though over the last decades his music has become more and more metaphysical and fuzzy, applying his own cosmology to it, so I lost some of my initial interest. I’m not really into 29 hours of Licht. I can hardly stand the Ring. The Ring has a story to it and is pretty visual but Licht is rather… light-headed.
Nevertheless, his early compositions stand out as key works of 20th century music. I have some funny comments of Holger Czukay of the famous Krautrock band Can on two of Stockhausen’s well known works.
This piece is one of the most exciting and also astonishing experiences a music eater can have. Stockhausen in his composition course 1963: “if I could explain everything I knew something would be wrong and that’s why I have a deep religious feeling.”
It must have been in the year 1958 when Stockhausen appeared live with his percussionist Christoph Caskel in the heavy metal production city Duisburg. I had heard him several times in the radio and among other “weird sounding composers” (forgive me I was young!) he was somehow sticking out of them all. Now I was sitting in the audience and listened to his fascinating way of telling people what was moving him to become a creative man as he is. Then we heard Gesang der Jünglinge. Some people were laughing. Stockhausen: "I’ve seen people laughing on traffic accidents”. Hmm, silence. A man sitting beside me rose up his hand and said: "Mr. Stockhausen, you are doing this all to shock people and then make out a lot of money with it." That was a typical music teachers' ammunition. But not Karlheinz though: "I can assure you that I have done this all out of musical reasons. Where money is concerned I have married a rich wife, so I don’t need it."
And what remains to be said? More than forty years later this music remains being an outstanding musical jewel though the technical development makes one think this being an old hat. Wrong dear, listening to Gesang der Jünglinge makes modern technique sometimes look old.
Kontakte 1959/1960 (edit)
Kontakte is probably the first 4 channel music production ever. Stockhausen invented a special rotating loudspeaker with a horn, which got picked up with four microphones standing in a circle. Thus the four channels got organically connected and the Dolby Surround System is a logical continuation of this idea.
But how did Stockhausen invent this never heard and imagined rhythm’n’ sound universe? Being students of his, he told us that he first created special rhythm profiles unlike the profiles of a car tire. Speeding them up, these rhythm patterns got converted into sounds (remember the Hammond organ principle or test stripe profiles on the motor way?) and the overtones of those creations “were going out the chimney” as he said. It seems that he was going to redifine what a tone is from its very beginning embedded in floods of emptiness. That might sound a bit far out for you but don’t forget he really created what he called flood sounds. And Stockhausen wouldn’t be Stockhausen if his mighty soul wouldn’t have taken care of it all like a mother of the universe. Forget about all these pattern-level-rhythm-tone-floods or whatever emptinesses and let it leave your chimney. Be surprised how new this music still sounds as if it never grows old.