Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stockhausen is dead

But didn't he die a long time ago? What about the people I overheard in Huddersfield in 1996, dismissive and contemptuous of pretty much anything he'd written since the 70s? Wasn't he regarded as someone who'd long since ceased to be worth paying attention to, who'd disappeared down a path of self-indulgent, egomaniacal mysticism? I used to hear such opinions regularly. The he died and no-one wanted to say that anymore.

I was thinking more about that Brian Eno interview, where he suggested that he was more interested in Stockhausen's ideas than his music. Is the actual music so ungrateful? John Humphreys lapped up any suggestion that you wouldn't want to listen to it, of course. Personally I never found his music that hard to listen to. Thorny, certainly. But those people in Huddersfield were berating him for producing music they regarded as too accessible, too easy on the ear, too melodic, not confrontational enough.

So, to the avant-gardists (or at least former avant-gardists; is there actually any such thing as an avant-garde anymore?) he's frozen in amber, a figure from a long time ago, when giants walked the earth. To the anti-modernists he's the bogeyman, the frightening creature under the bed who ruined it for everyone, who can't be buried quickly enough. There's precious little room for Stockhausen himself, underneath all the opinions about him. Either way, there seems to be a consensus between the two poles that he's a figure of the past, whether a past you wish to revive or to bury is up to you to decide.

To the vast majority of people, of course, he means absolutely nothing. Innovation, adventure, risk; these are qualities that find little resonance today in our lowest common denominator Tesco world. Is Stockhausen dead? Did he ever live? The avant-garde is no longer the terrible threat it once was, not something to be railed against, just a curiosity, maybe worth a snigger, then brushed aside. Not relevant. To many people it never was, if they even stopped to think about it, or even became aware of it, however briefly.

Stockhausen is dead, and all we have left is ourselves. And what shall we do with that?

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