I went to music school from the age of five and then, when I was 12 or 13, I was into musicology and this Icelandic composer and teacher at the school
introduced me to Stockhausen. I remember being almost the fighter in the school, the odd kid out, with a real passion for music, but against all this retro,
constant Beethoven and Bach bollocks. Most of it was this frustration with the school's obsession with the past. When I was introduced to Stockhausen it
was like 'aaah'! Finally somebody was speaking my language. Stockhausen has said phrases like, "We should listen to 'old' music one day a year and the
other 364 days we should listen to 'now' music. And we should do it in the same way as we look through photo albums of when we were children. If you
look at old photo albums too often they just become pointless. You start indulging in something that doesn't matter, and you stop worrying about the
present. And that's how he looked at all those people who are obsessed with old music. For a kid born of my generation who was 12 at that time it was
brilliant, because at the same time I was also being introduced to the electronic music of bands like Kraftwerk and DAF.
I think when it comes to electronic music and atonal music, Stockhausen's the best. He was the first person to make electronic music before synthesis-
ers were even invented. I like to compare him to Picasso for this century, because like him he's had so many periods. There are so many musicians who've
made a whole career out of one of his periods. He goes one step ahead, discovers something that's never even been done before musically and by the
time other people have even grasped it he's onto the next thing. Like all scientific geniuses, Stockhausen seems obsessed with the marriage between
mystery and science, although they are opposites. Normal scientists are obsessed with facts: genius scientists are obsessed with mystery. The more
Stockhausen finds out about sound, the more he finds out that he doesn't know jack shit; that he's lost. Stockhausen told me about the house he built
himself in the forest and lived in for ten years. It's made from hexagonal pieces of glass and no two rooms are the same, so they are all irregular. It's built
out of angles that are reflective and it's full of spotlights. The forest becomes mirrored inside the house. He was explaining to me how, even after ten
years, there would still be moments when he didn't know where he was, and he said it with wonder in his eyes. And I said, "That's brilliant: you can be
innocent even in your own home", and he replied, "Not only innocent, but curious." He's such a humorist.
Björk Gudmundsdottir: It seems to me that your electronic music is more like
your voice and your other pieces are less personal, somehow. Do you feel that
Karlheinz Stockhausen: Yes, because a lot of things that I do sound like a
very alien world. Then a notion like 'personal' is irrelevant. It is not important,
because it is something that we don't know, but I like it, and I make it.
BG: It seems to me that you just put your antennae out, and that is like your
voice, your point of view, like from the outside. Or something like... (pause) I
can't really explain it.
KS: No, neither can I. The most important thing is it is not like a personal
world, but something that we all don't know. We have to study it, we have to
experience it. If we catch something like that, then we have had luck.
BG: Are you sure it's not you?
KS: Oh I am surprised myself, very often. And the more I discover something
that I haven't experienced before, then the more excited I become. Because
then I think that it is important
BG: I've got a problem that I get very excited about music. I panic because I
feel I don't have time to do it all, does that worry you?
KS: Yes and no, because I have learned now in my life that even the very
early works made 46 years ago are not understood by most of the people. So
this is a natural process that if you find something that surprises you, then for
others it's even harder to incorporate that into their being. So it would take
sometimes 200 years before a large group of people, or even for individuals to
have reached the same stage that I have reached after having spent, let's say,
three years eight hours in the studio to make something. You need as much
time as I did just to hear it. Let's not even talk about understanding what it
means. So that is the natural process that certain musicians make something
that needs a lot of time to be listened to many, many times, and that's very
BG: Yeah, but I am also talking about the relationship between you and your-
self, and the time that you have between birth and when you die. If it is
enough to do all of the things you want..
KS: No, you can only do a very small portion of what you want to do. That is
BG: Yeah, maybe I'm very impatient. It's hard for me to...
KS: 80 or 90 years is nothing. There are a lot of very beautiful pieces of
music of the past which the majority of the people alive now will never hear.
These pieces are extraordinarily precious, full of mystery and intelligence and
invention. I'm thinking at this moment of certain works by Johan Sebastian
Bach, or even earlier composers. There are so many fantastic compositions,
five or six hundred years old, not even known to the majority of human
beings. So it will take a lot of time. There are billions of precious things in the
universe that we have no time to study.
BG: You seem to be so patient, like you have all of this discipline to use time.
It freaks me out, I still haven't learned how to sit in my chair, it's very hard for
me. Do you always work eight hours a day?
BG: Do you think the core of your urge is more to show or record the things
out there: to prove they exist, like just for scientific reasons, or is it more
emotional to create an excuse for everybody to unite. So that maybe some-
thing will happen, like your music could achieve that?
KS: It's both.
KS: Of course. I am like a hunter, trying to find something, and at the same
time, well this is the scientific aspect, trying to discover. On the other hand, I
am emotionally in high tension whenever it comes to the moment when I
have to act with my fingers, with my hands and my ears, to move the sound,
to shape the sound. It is then I cannot separate thinking and acting with my
senses: both are equally important to me. But the total involvement happens
in both states: if I am more a thinker, or more an actor; I am totally involved,
I get involved.
BG: I used to travel with my little ghettoblaster, and have my pocket full of
tapes, and try to always find the right song. I didn't care what song it was, as
long as it would unite everybody in the room and get everybody together. But
sometimes that can be quite a cheap trick, you know? I remember once read-
ing that one of the reasons why you don't like regular rhythm is because of
KS: No, no, that's...
BG: That's a misunderstanding?
KS: Mmm, yes. When I dance I like regular music. With syncopation naturally.
It shouldn't always be like a machine. But when I compose, I use periodic
rhythms very rarely, and only at an intermediary stage, because I think there is
an evolution in the language of music in Europe which leads from very simple
periodic rhythms to more and more irregular rhythms. So I am careful with
music which emphasises this kind of minimalistic periodicity because that
brings out the most basic feelings and most basic impulses in every person.
When I say 'basic', that means the physical. But we are not only a body who
walks, who runs, who makes sexual movements, who has a heartbeat which is,
more or less, in a healthy body, 71 beats per minute, or who has certain brain
pulses, so we are a whole system of periodic rhythm. But already within the
body there are many periodicities superimposed, from very fast to very slow
ones. Breathing is, in a quiet situation, about every six or seven seconds.
There's periodicity. And all of these together build a very polymeric music in
the body, but when I make the art music I am part of that whole evolution,
and I am always looking for more and more differentiation. In form as well.
BG: Just because it's more honest, it's more real?
KS: Yes, but what most of the people like is a regular beat, nowadays they
make it even in pop music with a machine. I think that one should try to make
music which is a bit more... flexible, so to speak, a bit more irregular.
Irregularity is a challenge, you see. How far can we go in making music irregu-
lar? Only as far as a small moment when everything falls into synchronicity,
and then goes away again into different meters and rhythms. But that's how
history has been, anyway.
BG: I think that in popular music today people are trying to come to terms
with the fact that they are living with all of these machines, and trying to com-
bine machines and humans and trying to marry them in a happy marriage: try-
ing to be optimistic about it. I was brought up by a mother who believed
fiercely in nature and wanted me just to be barefoot 24 hours and all of these
things, so I was brought up with this big guilt complex of cars and skyscrap-
ers, and I was taught to hate them, and then I think I'm, like, in the middle. I
can see this generation who are ten years younger than me making music, try-
ing to live with it. But everything is with those regular rhythms and learning to
love them, but still be human, still be all gritty and organic.
KS: But regular rhythms are always in all cultures: the basis of the structure.
It's only very lately that they come to make a more complicated rhythm, so I
think it is not so that the machines have brought irregularity.
BG: Yeah, I think what makes me happiest is your optimism, especially about
the future. And I think, for me, here I'm also talking about my generation.
We've been taught the world is going down the drain and we're all gonna die
very soon, and to find someone as open as you, with optimism, is special. A
lot of young people are fascinated by what you are doing. Do you think it is
because of this optimism?
KS: Also I understand that the works I have composed give a lot for studying,
for learning and for experiencing. In particular, experiencing oneself, and that
gives people confidence, so they see there is a lot still to do.
BG: And also maybe because you have done so many things that I think that
so many young people just have to find one per cent of its worth and they can
identify with what you've done.
KS: Maybe with different works, because they cannot know them all. I have
253 individually performable works now, in scores, and about 70 or 80 CDs
with different works on them, all different, so there is a lot to discover. It's like
a world in a world, and there's so many different aspects. That's probably
what they like: all of the pieces are very different. I don't like to repeat myself.
BG: Do you think it's our duty to push everything to its limits, use everything
that we have, like all the intelligence and all the time, and try out everything,
especially if it is difficult, or do you think it's more a question of just following
one's instincts, leaving out the things that don't turn us on?
KS: I am thinking at this moment of my children. I have six children, they are
quite different. In particular there are two, who are the youngest by the way,
who are still drawn into many different directions that concern taste, or excite-
ment, and there is one son who is a trumpeter who tried at a certain moment
a few years ago to become a spiritual teacher. To be a Yoga teacher and help
other people who were desperate to cheer up and to believe in a better world,
but then I told him there are enough preachers, and stick to your trumpet. It
took him a few years before he came back to his trumpet, and now he seems
to be concentrated and leaves out most of the things that are also possible for
him. I could have been a teacher, an architect, a philosopher, a professor in
God knows what amid many different faculties. I could be a gardener or a
farmer very easily: I was a farm hand for a long time, for a year and a half of
my life. I was in a car factory for a moment, and I liked that work as well, but
I understood at the end of my studies, when I still was working on a doctorate
and as a pianist I rehearsed four or five hours a day the piano, as a solo instru-
ment. I played every night in a bar to make a living, but since I composed the
first piece where I felt it sounded very different from all I know, I have con-
centrated on composition and I have missed almost everything that the world
offers to me, other faculties, other ways of living as you've just said, excite-
ment of all kind, entertainment of all kind. I have really concentrated day and
night on that one very narrow aspect, composing and performing and correct-
ing my scores and publishing my scores. And, for me, it was the right way. I
cannot give general advice, because if one does not hear that inner call, one
doesn't do it. So you have to hear the call and then there is no question.
BG: Yeah, it's like where you can go furthest.
KS: I don't know. I just think I couldn't achieve anything that makes sense to
myself if I don't concentrate entirely on that one thing. So I miss a lot of what
life has got to offer.
BG: And learn how to sit in a chair.
KS: You know I conduct also, it's not just sit in a chair. I conduct orchestras,
choirs, rehearse a lot, and run around and set up speakers with the techni-
cians and arrange all the rehearsals, so it's not just sitting on a chair, but I
know what you mean, yes, it's concentrating on that one vocation.
KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN TEXT: DESMOND K. HILL
Stockhausen is one of the 20th Century's most renowned composers, a domi- nant figure in Europe's avant-garde who is synonymous with experimental
music. A scientist and sound explorer, he was the first person to record elec- tronic music and among the first to perform it live. He was appointed as
Professor of Composition at Cologne Music College in 1970, and held the post for seven years. In 1990 he was awarded a Distinction by the Prix Ars
Electronica jury. In more than 250 pieces and over 80 CD releases, Stockhausen's challenging and complex music has always been the sound of tomorrow.
Born near Cologne in 1928, Stockhausen was orphaned during the war years, and pursued higher education under conditions in which he had to struggle
to sustain material life. The piano had been his first instrument at school, and at the Cologne Hochschule für Musik he continued studying. Concurrently
he enrolled at Cologne University in musicology, philology and philosophy classes. Eagerly he absorbed the work of contemporary composers
Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Bartók, but it was not until he became acquainted with Webern's music and that of the new generation of serialist composers
at Darmstadt during the summer of 1951 that he found his own path and com- mitted himself to making music. In 1952 Stockhausen relocated to Paris to
study composition. His studies in analysis were complemented by a thorough investigation of the physical nature of sounds. At the musique concréte
studio of French radio, directed by Pierre Schaeffer, he penetrated the acoustic microworld of sounds and applied him- self to electronic music on return
to Cologne. At Cologne's WDR studio Stockhausen challenged general understanding of compositional technique by recording oscillators and tone
generators, literally the radio station's signal testing equipment, to create sound patterns. Stockhausen belongs to the first generation ever to hear music
through the wireless. The immediacy of the tuning dial profoundly influenced him. He has written interpretive scores for short wave receivers, cultivating
elegant methods to illustrate elaborate concepts. The intuitive music of Aus den sieben Tagen (1968) instructs performers to: live completely alone for
four days without food in complete silence without much movement sleep as little as necessary think as little as possible after four days, late at night
without conversation beforehand play single sounds WITHOUT THINKING which you are playing close your eyes just listen. Allowing performers to
infer themselves was a revolutionary gesture. A decoder of human technology, an author of concepts rather than compositions, Stockhausen has
consistently experimented with the way that sound is per ceived, almost to the point of grandiosity. At the World Fair EXPO '70 at Osaka, 20 performers
recited Stockhausen's work five hours a day for 180 days. In a metallic blue auditorium, pierced by tiny stars from light artist Otto Pien, visitors sat on
ochre-coloured cushions on a sound-transparent platform at equator level. Soloists occupied balconies whilst Stockhausen operated the mixing desk,
projecting sound from seven concentric rings and 55 loud-speakers, along circular and spiral paths. Over a million listeners immersed themselves in the
experience, hearing the move- ment and forms of layered sounds. Last year in Amsterdam the amplified strains of violins mixed with the beat- ing of
rotor-blades of helicopters, each carrying one member of a string quar- tet, rose in unison into the air. The strings mimicked the rotors, increasing in
intensity as the crafts ascended. The helicopters turned and banked to change the pitch and speed of the whirring blades. On-board cameras beamed live
pictures to the audience watching the performance on monitors positioned like a string quartet in the concert hall. Highly composed, with each
component an intrinsic part of Helicopter Quartet, all were directed by Stockhausen from the ground. At the frontier of composition and presentation,
Stockhausen has always man- aged to locate a position from which to implement his ideas. When these could no longer be expressed conventionally he
illustrated manuscripts with colours, lines, symbols. In his writing, Stockhausen has constantly related his music to abstract propositions of a religious
nature. He has been widely active as a teacher, and involved in many performances of his own music since founding his Ensemble in 1964. Although
academic conservatism and postmodernist critics have conspired against him, he has shunned expectation by buying the rights to his works. Stockhausen
Verlag is gradually remastering and reissuing his own catalogue. By introducing chance elements, Stockhausen liberated 20th Century compo- sition from
linearity and extended the established terrain of Western music. Absorbing spiritual impressions into the mainstream of artistic life, he has worked
through intellect toward intuition, gathering together all the means available to the composer of the 20th Century. In the breadth of the synthesis achieved
lies the justification for its grandeur. Stockhausen is the randomiser who has opened a myriad of musical doorways to an infinite universe of experi- ence,
life and thought. Karlheinz Stockhausen will be appearing in the UK as part of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 20th November - 1st
December Pieta and Tierkreis. Lawrence Batley Theatre, Friday 22nd November, 7.30pm. Annette Meriweather soprano. Kathinka Pasveer flute Suzanne
Stephens bass clar- inet Markus Stockhausen trumpet Karlheinz Stockhausen sound diffusion. Mantra for two pianos with ring modulators St. Paul's Hall,
Friday 22nd November, 9.45pm. Ellen Conrer & Sepp Grotenhuise pianos Jan Panis sound diffusion. Strange Beauty (Flemde Schonheit) West Mills,
University of Huddersfield, Saturday 23 November, 5pm. Karlheinz Stockhausen: Concert and lecture Orchestra Finalists (UK Premier)- operatic scene
for 13 orchestral soloists and tape with octaphonic sound diffusion. Huddersfield Town Hall, Saturday 23 November, 7.30pm Asko Ensemble (Holland)
Karlheinz Stockhausen Kathinkas Gesang(UK premiere), Libra (UK premiere) Lawrence Batley Theatre. Sunday 24th November, 5pm. Kathinka Pasveer
flute Suzanne Stephens bassethorn Karlheinz Stockhausen sound diffusion