Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Essays before a composition (1)

When I was young I discovered the record section of Birmingham Central Library (something that sadly would be all but impossible now in more than one way, and will become utterly impossible if this government gets its way). I discovered many things within those thing cardboard sleeves, sounds that I’d never heard or imagined could be made. I devoured Nielsen’s symphonies, Stockhausen’s Telemusik and Miles Davies’ Bitches Brew with equal enthusiasm, if not immediate understanding. I pored over the sleeve notes for the Stockhausen. They were all but impenetrable, and if I’d been relying on them to guide me into the music I doubt I’d have made it far. Fortunately I just liked the sounds and didn’t worry about what I was supposed to think about them. It was gratifying years later to hear Stockhausen himself introduce his music. His advice on how to listen to his music mentioned nothing of tone rows or retrograde inversions, but boiled down to: you will hear some sounds. Listen to them and hear what happens to them. It turned out Karlheinz was a lot easier to get my head round than Miles.

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