INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Observer DECEMBER 9, 2007 - by Ed Vulliamy
The Royal Opera House rarely echoes with emptiness, but there was a night back in the 1970s when it did. And, by definition, whatever was happening must have been interesting, and more than that: the final, ethereal, spectral and haunting moments of Donnerstag aus Licht by Karlheinz Stockhausen, ringing around what felt like a spiral of hypnotic sound across the empty gallery. The arena, however, was full of people who could not usually afford to be anywhere near the place: one lot with side partings, sandals, plastic bags and an oversized brainful of calculus mathematics; the other wearing peacock-feather robes, several hallucinogenic excursions on from last night.
This was the searing impact of Stockhausen, who died on Friday: he intended his music to speak - in his less than modest version of himself - to everyone in the universe (including the aliens; check out the vinyl cover of Donnerstag aus Licht). But it addressed the in-between; the people on the edge, the hinge, the bridge. Stockhausen's audience at that formative time was the musical constituency in between the by-then boring planet LSD and what gets called 'classical' Twentiethth-Century music. In between the dense mathematics of composition revolutionised by Schoenberg and the free-form insanity of Hendrix. Of course he influenced electronic Krautrock (good stuff, but so what) and of course the techno kids (the ones with a brain left, that is) know who the Zeus of their subterranean Olympus is. But the fact is: no Stockhausen, no Pink Floyd, no Stockhausen, no Velvet Underground or Yes, certainly no Brian Eno. Probably no Radiohead either.
This was the man who realised that Wagner was rock'n'roll and that rock'n'roll is Wagner - if only people would realise; the composer who arranged to have his ouevre stashed away on microfiche in a nuclear shelter, so that it would be the only art to survive an atomic holocaust. Another reason to thank God there wasn't one.