Saturday, December 08, 2007

leave enough silence... (when an avant-garde master brings to mind a crazy motorcyle daredevil)


play a vibration in the rhythm of your body
(of your body. the player's.)

play a vibration in the rhythm of your heart
(that's possible.)

play a vibration in the rhythm of your breathing
play a vibration in the rhythm of your thinking
play a vibration in the rhythm of your intuition
play a vibration in the rhythm of your enlightenment
play a vibration in the rhythm of the universe

mix these vibrations freely

leave enough silence between them

karlheinz stockhausen, score from aus den sieben tagen, 1969

well, first it was the death of evel knievel, now karlheinz stockhausen has passed. they say deaths come in threes, but i can't imagine there's a third person out there who's such a combination of genius and trainwreck.

the things they shared: humongous ego, a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, carving their own niche in the world like a maverick, and being rooted to ideas and ideals that were both beautiful and extremely ugly at the same time... so many ways they could leave you with your mouth agape.

like evel, one of my favorite recent stockhausen moments was also an interview. it wasn't the insane messiah-like tendencies of his post 9-11 comments; but an article in the wire magazine, where he listened to a variety of recent electronica and he tore most of it to bits. like knievel, he never compromised his vision, and never cut anyone any slack that did not approach the world (i.e. music) as he did.

of course, the great difference between them was that karlheinz was one of the most important composers of the last century, and evel jumped motorcycles. stockhausen never seemed as much a superhero as he did a kind of mega villian... he always seemed poised to take over the world.

my relationship to stockhausen's work has always been conflicted - for there is much of it i honestly can't listen to. there was a moment in my life that his writings/interviews had a huge influence on me, and i think that in many ways the ideas of his work until the mid 1980's are full of huge nuggets of inspiration. sternklang, the park music piece, is probably my favorite of his works for the simple fact that it must've been so beautiful in a landscape and that it approaches a large scale classical music concert as a sound installation. the scores for aus den sieben tagen are, for me, the right kind of spiritual hippy eastern mystic 1970's intuitive approach to artmaking (feeling connected to the texts of agnes martin, and the approach of alice coltrane).

unfortunately much of what he had been working on over the last 15 years or so, i couldn't find an entry point into. the music feeling more connected to traditional avant garde tendencies, and the writing either too ego inflated or verging on new age. the exception, perhaps, is the helicopter quartet - a marvel of grand schemes on the scale of p.t. barnum, and possibly the most eccentric piece of music ever realized. like a real genius, his creation knew no boundaries and he found a way to realize something that most people surely thought would be impossible (something again he shared with evel).

last night, after hearing about his death, i pulled down some of my books on him and by him, searching for a quote to post. the above text, from aus den sieben tagen is a good look at the kind of things he was writing in the late 60's. it was probably the single work of his that had the most inspiration for me... and i've never heard it. i've always been afraid that it would'nt live up to the images in my mind that come from reading the score and thinking about what it might genuinely be able to generate. for stockhausen, it was written for musicians to try to move beyond what is known, and towards a kind of improvisation that is totally free (disconnected from free jazz, which he says has it's own rules). it also suggests (perhaps unintentionally) that anyone can create music, and that music can be birthed from a spiritual place - certainly not new ideas, but good ideas that one can mull over, when considering the work and the man.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"leave enough silence"

a fine instruction.

well said.

9:26 AM  
Blogger jill said...

steve - where did that image come from? what is he doing at disneyland, and why is he so gloomy about it? (being the happiest place on earth and all...)

6:43 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

oh, betty freeman took it ages ago, she took some great photos of a lot of composers, not sure if there's a book or not of them, but this one i have to admit i swiped off the web. it's my favorite picture of him for exactly what you said - he looks a bit gloomy in front of the it's a small world, and i can only imagine him listening to that song over and over and over on the ride until he, like the rest of us, wants it to go away....:-)

7:12 PM  

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