Perfect Sound Forever

Karlheinz Stockhausen

A Tribute
by David Toop
(February 2008)

There was a point when I felt a lot of resistance to Stockhausen, and I must say that has never changed. I disliked his autocratic and mystical air, the suspicion that he no longer knew the difference between silly and profound, but when I first heard "Telemusik," probably in 1970, I experienced a strange feeling of understanding the present and hearing into the future. I also felt inside myself, somehow, as if all the fragments of memories and thoughts, the weird internal whistlings and external randomness of sound were projected into a composition. Stockhausen's idea, that this was not his piece, but a composition of the whole world, still seems dubious, but I know that I felt that this was my piece as much as his because it expressed something deep and private of my own inner life, the life that I was struggling to externalise through my own writing and music.

Thirty five years later, in Stavanger, Norway, I heard "Telemusik" again, played in a huge space over a fantastic spatialized loudspeaker system and controlled by Stockhausen himself, sitting just a few feet away from me at a vast mixing desk. I had the sense that much of the piece exists at frequencies beyond those we actually hear. Stockhausen inferred something like this in an entertaining talk given before the music was played.

The next day, I was waiting for my taxi in the hotel lobby and he appeared, waiting for his own taxi.

I took the opportunity to introduce myself and mentioned this idea of the inaudible component of "Telemusik." I asked him, 'do you think that what we can't hear can affect us?'

'I think that's possible,' he said, and then he was gone.

See the rest of our Stockhausen tribute

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER