Taking Stock – The Technology Of Karlheinz

Stockhausen is one of the legendary names of experimental music, developing music concréte and arcane audio technology in ways that were both pioneering and remarkably complex. He passed away on December 5th, but many people may only have a vague notion of him as the guy who made weird noises using trains and helicopters – and he was the one who called 9/11 a “work of art”…

A Different Perspective On Music

As a composer, he was quite unorthodox. Much of his work is centred on ideas, progression, space and technology – but rarely features what would be commonly described as ‘melody’. Performance is an important aspect of his pieces, and he would often have elaborate setups involving multiple speakers or musicians surrounding the audience. At one concert, he is reported to have requested the air conditioning to be turned off, saying “it sounds like music to me”.

His work ‘Sirius’ took 20 years to complete, but many of his pieces are quite lengthy in themselves and require attentive listening as well as an understanding of their technical background to fully appreciate. His work with tape loops and synthesis was painstaking, iterative and meticulously planned – but the ideas he developed then are commonplace today in digital recording studios, and those remarkable looping and layering procedures can now be performed with a single mouse-click. It’s easy to take such power for granted in the modern computer age, but many of our techniques in common usage today owe a great deal to the innovation of Stockhausen.

Here’s an interesting comment thread on Stockhausen over at Music Thing. In 2001, a controversy flared up over certain quotes taken out of context in which Stockhausen referred to 9/11 as Lucifer’s greatest work of art – you can read his response here.


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