Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Interview with Karlheinz Stockhausen

Words like 'important' and 'controversial' inevitably surface when you examine the lengthy career of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. A few facts to kick off. He pioneered electronic music in "variable form". He has written graphical scores that can be read from any direction. Inspired by dreams of flying, he has written works for a string quartet where each participant performs from their own helicopter hovering above the concert hall. In short, he does things none of us really understand but sound really quite impressive.

Although he is said to have influenced notable artists from The Beatles to Bjork, approaching his work is not an easy sell for the uninitiated. "The loops," Stockhausen enthuses about his latest work, Cosmic Pulses, "were enlivened by manual regulation of the accelerandi and ritardandi around the respective tempo, and by quite narrow glissandi." It's certainly not anything you'll be jumping up and down to with a pint of lager on your head.

But if, like me, you have pretensions about enjoying music all the more when you don't have a clue what you're talking about, you may get a kick out of dipping a peregrinating toe into the choppy waters of the Stockhausen oeuvre. You'll find an incredibly deep seam of works (over 300) ranging from his early experiments with electronic music in Electronic Studies from the early 1950s, through to the celebrated seven-opera cycle of Licht, which he dedicated himself to during the majority of the 80s and 90s.

When we first contacted him in his hometown of Kuerten, Stockhausen's assistant told us that he "has literally disappeared in the production of Cosmic Pulses. Please accept his absence." We did accept it, but then we tried him again anyway a few days later. Eventually, he took a few moments away from his world of composition to answer our e-mailed questions... you can read his unexpurgated transmission in full below.

For someone coming completely new to your work, where should they start?

CD3 of the Stockhausen Complete Edition (see www.stockhausen.org).

When you disappear to compose, where do you go and what do you do?

To my light house – and compose.

Where does the narrative behind the Klang cycle come from?

From me – Veni Creator Spiritus – mostly no narrative – from Stockhausen again (and we will see).

Do you live (and compose) in a state of chaos, or strictly controlled?

Controlled, but not strictly (it depends on the weather because I love to walk when there is sunshine).

What music or sounds moves you in 2007?

My new works of Klang (Sound).

Do you still dream of flying?

Yes, but in outer space.

What are your unfulfilled ambitions as an artist?

Perfect performances of Licht (Light) and Momente.

What will your legacy be as an artist?

Up to now 361 compositions.

How has the sound of the world changed in the last 50 years?

My Electronic Music has changed the world of music.

What are your proudest achievements of your musical career?

My 361 individually performable works, about 250 printed scores, 94 CDs in my own edition.

What frightens you the most in 2007? Climate change or the political climate?

I don't feel fear.

What did you enjoy most about the 20th century?

The incomparable amount of new discoveries and inventions in my works.

What gives you hope?

That in many, many places of the globe already now all my scores and CDs are collected, and since 10 years every year many talented young musicians come to Kuerten, where I live, and study my works, participate in our courses.

Stockhausen performs compositions from Licht and Cosmic Pulses at the Dissonanze festival in Rome, June 1st and 2nd: http://www.dissonanze.it/

Written by: Gary Weasel

First Published on: 31st May 2007.


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