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Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was an avant-garde composer regarded as the leader in his field. The son of a schoolmaster, he learned the piano at the age of 5 and made a living playing it in dance bands. His studies in Cologne and Darmstadt encompassed detailed analysis of the works of Schoenberg, Bartók and especially Webern, the greatest influence on his compositions. He realised how much further he could take Webern's techniques and evolved the theory of 'parameters' or dimensions of sound: pitch, intensity, duration, timbre and position in space. Famous compositions include Gesang Der Jünglinge (1955-6), which mixes the sounds of boy's voices altered by sound effects and filters, and the Orient-inspired Stimmung (1968), in which a group of singers intone one note for over 75 minutes in a trance-like, hypnotic fashion.

Stockhausen is an enormous influence not only on other composers but in jazz and popular music. The Beatles include his face among all the celebrities on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: the track A Day In The Life bears hallmarks of his style, and the band took this even further on the White Album (1968) with the track Revolution 9, composed entirely of musique concrète on tape.

Frank Zappa acknowledges Stockhausen in the liner notes of Freak Out!, his 1966 debut with The Mothers of Invention. On the back of The Who's second LP released in the US, "Happy Jack", Pete Townshend is said to have "an interest in Stockhausen". Rick Wright and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd also acknowledge Stockhausen as an influence. San Francisco psychedelic groups Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead are said to have done the same; Stockhausen himself said that the Grateful Dead were "well orientated toward new music". Founding members of Cologne-based experimental band Can, Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, both studied with Stockhausen at the Cologne Courses for New Music. German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk also say they studied with Stockhausen, and Icelandic vocalist Björk has acknowledged Stockhausen's influence.

Early in 1995, BBC Radio 3 sent Stockhausen a package of recordings from contemporary artists Aphex Twin, Richie Hawtin (Plastikman), Scanner and Daniel Pemberton, and asked him for his opinion on the music. In August of that year, Radio 3 reporter Dick Witts interviewed Stockhausen about these pieces for a broadcast in October, subsequently published in the November issue of the British publication The Wire asking what advice he would give these young musicians. Stockhausen made suggestions to each of the musicians, who were then invited to respond. All but Plastikman obliged.

Links to Peel

Peel never played Stockhausen's music, a fact that surprised Michael Berkeley when he interviewed him for Private Passions:

"He was the maverick, the intrepid explorer unimpressed by commercial success but with an insatiable appetite for the bold and the original. How would this, I wondered, translate into the classical world? Would we have Stockhausen, Ligeti and electronic music from IRCAM? Not at all: away from pop music, Peel's tastes, though eclectic, turned out to be soft-bellied and tended towards melodic sentiment...and the rhythmically driven." [1]

Stockhausen 200

John was, however, aware of the composer from as far back as his Perfumed Garden days. During a discussion of the Sgt. Pepper cover, he commented:

"Anyway, fifth from the left is a chap called Stockhausen, I think they told me his name was. And I didn’t find this out myself, you know – don’t give me the credit for it. He was a composer of electronic music who has influenced Paul McCartney’s ideas considerably. So there you are – there’s someone else you might not have know. Fifth from the left on the top row, with his head in his hands, a chap called Stockhausen. There you go, more vital information from the Perfumed Garden." [2]

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