Tell me about Karlheinz Stockhausen

I don't know anything about Stockhausen besides "great pioneer", "inspired Kraftwerk and Bjork", "not good for parties" and "made music for four helicopters". Anyone got any good stories?


sorry to post such an obvious link !
The New York Times has an obituary,

He was a pretty influential figure but the stuff he wrote after the Seventies I found harder and harder to get into.

I think he is like when you throw a rock in a pond, the spalsh is over pretty quick but the ripples hang around for a long time and change how you see things.

I always liked "Contact" but I can't remembered the last time I listened to it.

My two cents.
I was lucky enough to see him at a rare concert at Old Billingsgate Market, London in 2005. He performed 2 pieces, Kontakte (35 mins) and Oktophonie (69 mins) which were composed just over 30 years apart. The audience of 1000 sat within a bank of 8 speakers (one in each corner, 4 at floor level and 4 and ceiling height) as Stockhausen controlled the sound from a mixing desk in the centre. He gave a short talk before each piece giving guidance on how the sound moves about within the space and things to listen out for.
He requested that the air conditioning be turned off as "the sound is like music to me"
During the interval he stayed in the auditorium and casually chatted with members of the audience.
Spotted in the audience were Jarvis Cocker, Matthew Herbert and Richard D James aka Aphex Twin, plus probably every professor of music in the UK and beyond.
Whether you understand his music or not, anyone who makes electronic music owes a debt of gratitude to this man.
Rest in peace.
It is impossible to overstate both Stockhausen's talent and his influence on modern music.

Stockhausen was a pioneer in the German musique concrete school. To give you an idea of the discipline and planning he had (and how easy we have it today), go listen to "Song of the Children" and realize that he made that entire thing with 2 tape machines and one fixed pitch oscillator.

So when he wanted a synth sound, he built it up one sine wave at a time by "playing" the oscillator to tape, then playing the tape while adding the next harmonic on top, repeating over and he could have one tiny fragment of sound which he would later splice into another tape. It took YEARS to make pieces, and the level of complexity in his scores is incredible - there are "themes" in pitches, but also durations, panning, timbres, etc.

No two of his pieces are alike, and his writings and thoughts on music are as important as John Cage's.

Like many "serious" composers, frequently the IDEAS in his music are more interesting or important than the music itself.

I don't put a lot of Stockhausen on for "fun", for the gym, or for dancing, or at dinner, but I do try to listen to much of his work to practice LISTENING.

Robin Maconie has written a number of great books based on Stockhausen interviews. If you can find "Stockhausen on Music", it's well worth owning.

Also his website posts excerpts of many of his pieces...but the excerpts are really the equivalent of a :30 clip of a pop song. They don't give you the whole picture.

Essential listening:
"Song of the Children"
If you have time for one thing by the master, I recommend the last few minutes of Kontact. He takes a electronic sounding high pulse wave down so low that it becomes a percussion, then adds heavy reverb until it sounds like it's in a cave. The transition shows how waveforms are just clicks, only faster. And clicks are just tones, only slower.
ANABlog has posted a brief discussion of Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge, including an mp3 of the complete work.

For getting into his music, try Stimmung, an hypnotic, meditative piece for six voices singing overtones of a single note, or Mantra, a dazzling tour de force for two pianos played through a ring modulator. Both of these are on easily-available recordings (other than Stockhausen's own expensive mail-order service), and both show flashes of his sweet, corny sense of humour.

Oh, you wanted a story? This gives a good insight into where his head was at:

"One of the instructions in Aufwärts (from Aus den Sieben Tagen) reads, “Play a vibration in the rhythm of the universe.” When a musician asked how he would know when he was playing in the rhythm of the universe, Stockhausen replied, “I will tell you.”"
No one will say that his music sucked ? I will. I understand his theory, but the results are similar to randomly created computer music. But made by hand.

Of course that you can hate me back and say that i am an ignorant, but i'v never heard one single Stockhausen piece that i liked.
Him and John Cage didn't get along,and he wouldn't admit he couldn't figure out how to work MOOG's early synth,lol!
Stockhausen's music doesn't suck. That's why no one is saying that.

Stockhausen's music is as far from "random" as you can get.

Saying "it sounds the same" is ignorance.

I would follow by saying that there is more to music than just "how it sounds", especially for non-pop music.

For "serious" music, things like "How it is made" and what ideas are behind it are just as important, if not more important, than the resulting sounds.

In many ways, Stockhausen is the anti-Cage.
I'd just come home from college with a disk of Michaels Reise in my backpack. No one else was downstairs and I was about to make lunch, so I put it on to give it a good listen.

My mom came halfway down the stairs and looked under the banister with this concerned look on her face.

"You've got to be kidding," she said.
The problem I find in this thread is the idea that he is a "serious" musician. Or that anything thing he did is "serious." Do you take it "seriously"?? If so that seems to me to be a problem. Why? Because music is not "serious." Music is about play. You don't work a piano. You PLAY a piano. We PLAY music. If you are "serious" about music, well, I think the divine forces of the universe are having a good laugh at you. Stockhausen to me is about the dance of ideas, the dance of the intellect. It can be quite interesting in this respect. .it. Cos see, music is not at it's core about ideas. Music is about going doo bee doo bee doo. Music is at its core completely pointless. And if you don't get that and I mean really get it and internalize it, then you how can you be a real musician or a real music lover? My musical appreciation of Stockhausen focuses on his unique creations and his determination to pursue sonic concepts for no reason other than the pleasure of enacting them.
" is not at it's core about ideas. Music is about going doo bee doo bee doo. Music is at its core completely pointless..."

i like this. right now anyway.
I was looking up some of his stuff on

I got through 3 different pieces and was trying to skip ahead in the helicopter quartet. I didn't realize it for about 8 or seconds but the player istelf was skipping and repeating single sound...k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k....

anyways, I get the same feeling from this as I did when I was learning about early video pioneers. Things we take for granted now days were at one time difficult to do and no one had done them before and as someone said above it's the idea that someone is TRYING and THINKING that is important not so much the result.

People used to go apeshit over looping video and playing it backwards and cutting every second...because it was hard as hell and expensive to do with film but semi-easy and cheap with video.
Stockhausen is not such a simple composer to pigeon-hole - he has an evolution of music making that is not only very personal, but is also very musical.

The early 50's musique concrete piece "Voices Of Youth" represents a young Stockhausen - emotional and explosive.

His second style was as a "post-Webern serialist" - a style that Pierre Boulez, Milton Babbitt and Stockhausen characterized during the late 50's and early 60's. "Plus Minus" epitomizes this style - it is a series of instructions that, when you have followed all of them, you would have written a Stockhausen piece - truly one of the first conceptual algorithmic compositions ever made. (You might say that when you patch up a Buchla, you are playing a Buchla algorithmic composition).

The third style comes after Buddhism becomes a big influence on Stockhausen's life. Pieces such as "Stimmung" (performed by nude singers, BTW) characterize this period. This is his "John Cage" period (he met Cage at Darmstadt in 1963).

I can understand how one can say, "but this isn't doo bee doo bee doo" music!" All that I can say is that Stockhausen is one of the most prolific and most frequently played of the composers of his time.

In each period, he displayed a genius and ingenuity that sets him apart from other composers of the time.

Stockhausen's "gesang de juglang" was one of the first works in the Western Tradition of Art Music to splice tape and morph sound electronically. He manipulated the sounds of a singing boy to sound like a choir, very eerie but very cool at the same time. My university is one of the few to have a recording of the piece!
"Music is about going doo bee doo bee doo"?

If you read Theodor Adorno you would be frightened!

Man... Beethoven wasn't for sure doo bee doo bee dooing. Neither Bach. Nor Monteverdi. If you understand that Stockhausen was following western tradicional music, than you may be able to understand his music.

Yes, he has influenced Bjork, Beatles and Kraftwerk, but his music has nothing to do with pop music. It's, actually, anti-pop.

Art is not only doo bee doo bee doo. Otherwise, people like Francis Bacon or Samuel Beckett wouldn't exist.

There's right time for intelectual music and for entertainment music.
Jeez, the level of pomp in these comments is alarming. As an experimental classical composer myself, I think it is totally reasonable to think Stockhausen's music is stupid and unlistenable. I think it is totally idiotic for you to write off someone else's opinions as just "not getting it". Is there really no way someone could get this guy's music and just not think it is at all interesting?

I don't personally think music is about going boodeeboodeedoo. That's not what it's about for me. But who are you to say what music is all about? And who am I? To say that other people are missing the point because they aren't looking for the same things in music as you is really lame and childish (I'm directing this at both sides of this debate here; you are all equally closed-minded).

I don't personally see a difference between "serious" and "fun" music. I have as much fun listening to Messiaen, Schoenberg or Partch as I do Tom Waits. They come at music from different angles, but I enjoy all the music I like with the same parts of my brain.

The way I feel about music that is more about ideas than music is that these people should write papers instead of making records. A pulse wave is just made of clicks? Yes, I know that, as does anyone who's ever played around with synthesis. Why don't you just TELL me that instead of asking me to listen to a 90 minute piece and acting like you think you are a genius.

If anyone needs proof that Stockhausen was at least partially a tool, check out this interview, where he comments on Aphex Twin's music:

How jaw-droppingly condescending is that? This guy could have driven one of Ed Begley's cars powered by one's own sense of self-satisfaction.
These discussions have the same problem as almost every single discussion on the Internet: People express their personal tastes and then say that anyone who doesn't agree with them doesn't know what they are talking about.

The world of music is incredibly huge, stylistically. It's quite natural that many people who like one kind of music aren't going to like another. Luckily there are some people who like lots of kinds of music.

I personally find Carre, Gruppen, Momente, and my favorite, Kontakte, to be extremely *beautiful* and I have a profound emotional experience when I listen to them. (And I also love Machaut, Dufay, Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg, as well as Balinese, Javanese, and Indian music, not to mention some jazz, some rock, some pop, and some hiphop.) Obviously I can't agree with the opinion that Stockhausen's music is only about ideas -- for me it's about sounds, beautiful complex sounds, and the pleasure of listening to them. If someone else doesn't have that experience, then they don't, that's all that can be said.

By the way, to say that someone "doesn't get it" is not really an insult; it just means "you don't hear it the way I do."

And just because Stockhausen had complicated ideas that led him to write his music, doesn't mean that you should listen to it for ideas. In my opinion, and my experience, you should *just listen*. if you don't like it, fine. I love it. It's not like it's politics, where there *is* a right and a wrong. ;^)

I think that the "dialogue" between Stockhausen and the three contemporary electronic composers was stupid though; he and they come from such entirely different musical worlds, with completely different expectations about music, that I don't know how anyone could have thought that they would have anything meaningful to say to each other. His comments were completely irrelevant to them, and vice versa. Basically all he and they did was describe their individual tastes, and they were *all* wrong to say "you *should* do this."
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