In the Sky I Am Walking: Karlheinz Stockhausen

“This is a new secret science, to master the emptiness and turn it into something that is filled with sound and visual images.”
– Karlheinz Stockhausen

Stockhausen has died, aged 79. Depending on who you talk to, he was either one of the most revered or reviled composers of the 20th century. A student of Olivier Messiaen with little interest in conventional “classical” modes of composition, Stockhausen’s sonic innovations range from the sublimely understated (Mantra, 1970) to the grandiose (Spiral, 1968) to the bombastic and beautifully absurd (Helikopter-Streichquartett, 1993).

Throughout his life, Stockhausen was obsessed with the concept of flight. As early as the 1950s, he was already discussing his desire to “liberate musicians from the constraints of gravity.” He even consulted with recording technicians to see if there was a way to harness performers in specially rigged chairs that could be swung through the studio on ropes. The aforementioned Helikopter Streichquartett was in many ways a culmination of his lifelong dream to see music truly take flight. Many people have said, will undoubtedly continue to say “I don’t get it.” Indeed, not long ago the entire world shouted in disbelief at the aging iconoclast when he dared to refer to the attacks on the World Trade Center as “the greatest work of art imaginable.”

Regardless, even Stockhausen’s harshest detractors can never argue that he was not a swashbuckling pioneer of sound and vision. A relentless seeker, he never allowed the circumscriptions of others to stand in his way. Somewhere in the expansive aleatory of the cosmos, an echo of Stockhausen’s voice speaks with more conviction than ever: “I no longer limit myself.”

9 Responses to “In the Sky I Am Walking: Karlheinz Stockhausen”

  1. q gauti Says:

    low point. i think heli-streichquartett came up on the playlist sometime earlier today, before i learned of his passing from joshua’s comment. rotten luck this year for everyone it seems.

  2. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Wow…that statement about 9/11…too accurate for most people, I imagine. We’ve these precepts of how we’re supposed to even think of ze event, but they’re trash, mostly. Wonderful to see someone address it all with a sense of history und foresight. Sad to see such a voice has left ze building. Of course, thankfully, his work remains.

  3. Skerror Says:

    Stockhausen was a grand master. I think give it a few years and he’ll get vindicated on the 9/11 thing…that stuff he said just reminded me of old Futurist manifestos. War and battle being beautiful because of the organization, linearity, singularity of purpose, unity of vision etc. He picked a bad time to say it cuz nearly everyone had lost their minds…but I kind of like him more for it. He always said/did what he wanted and everyone else could fuck off :)

  4. Mer Says:

    Listening to Gesang der Junglinge right now, his “masterpiece” where a choir boy is heard singing in this inferno of electronically produced blips and sine wave oscillators. Another great example of devout religiosity improving upon a creator’s work rather than stifling it. Arvo Part and Messiaen are the same way… hell, BACH is that way if played with any feeling at all. So lovely.

  5. Tequila Says:

    Didn’t really enjoy his work but admired the fact he was at least trying something new as opposed to living in the shadows like other composers. The 9/11 comment was no worse than similar comments made about WWII (with the most interesting being the film “The Architecture of Doom”)

    He always struck me as the type of person you’d either appreciate off the bat or learn to over time. Though on a purely technical level…it’s hard not to love the man. Kinda like a mad hatter of sound…

  6. Mer Says:

    Yes. He really was a mad scientist of sorts.

    Whether taken out of context or not, that WTC comment was mind-boggling insensitive. At the time, my hackles went up, for sure. But self-made guru idealist egomaniacs are not known for their tact. As artist/activist William Osborne put it: “Again we see an artist-prophet’s transcendentalist view that art must be a revelation, a process of spiritual death, remorse and rebirth, or it is valueless.”

    Later on Stockhausen formally apologized and seemed to genuinely regret hurting the friends and families of those lost in the attack. While I acknowledge his statement’s legitimacy, I hope it doesn’t become his lasting legacy. In my opinion that would reduce him and his accomplishments.

    Ooo, Tequila, good call. The Architecture of Doom is a shocking film. Commendable for how rationally and carefully its hypothesis is laid out. We’re so reluctant to address the “cult of beauty” aspect of Nazism and acknowledge the Third Reich as being an aesthetic movement in addition to everything else. It’s hard to imagine an entire group of people being convinced they could return the beauty aesthetics of some idealized Greco-Roman past to the world through supreme acts of violence, negation and ugliness. Hard to imagine, but so important to try… just to understand where that conviction comes from and what human beings are capable of.

  7. Ben Morris Says:

    Well, damn. Haven’t been much paying attention to the internet this weekend due to another death, one more personal, so I’d missed this.

    Another one of this past century’s musical revolutionaries gone. He charted his own path and followed it, discovering new territory filled with riches.

  8. Mer Says:

    Ben, my condolences.

  9. Ben Morris Says:

    Thank you Mer.