"This quartet is dedicated to all astronauts"

I know I’m starting to seem rather obsessive. But I promise this will be the last posting in a while about Karlheinz Stockhausen. But I just had to blog about the documentary I saw about him last night – Helicopter String Quartet by Frank Shaeffer.

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to Stockhausen. It was wonderful to see and hear him speak. In later age corpulent and rosy cheeked: he looks like a cuddly Bavarian in big white ruffled shirts with red-green braces. And his voice was warm and avuncular. He was friendly and explanatory to the four bemused helicopter pilots who were flying the four members of the Arditti Quartet as they played. He knew the pilots’ first names and worried about their health. With the musicians and technicians he was less indulgent – much more perfectionist. But still with that lovely warm voice that belies the ferociously complicated music he wrote.

And what arose strongly for me was his mysticism. He dreamed the musicians flying up from the concert hall in flying machines and their music being beamed down to four columns of screens that he could control. Everything, he said, that he has tried to do in his music has been about creating the uncreating. Imagining what has never been heard and making it audible.

Mysticism was scrubbed out of me at University.

I had tea with my friend Patrick the other day and he pointed to ‘growing up gay’ and ‘going to Oxbridge’ as the two unintentionally crippling factors of our lives. Neither of these things are intrinsically wrong or bad, of course. But integrating them properly is not easily done by a 6-yr-old or a 18-year-old respectively.

I’ve done lots of work in therapy, ayahuasca and meditation on the first of these. I’m fairly at ease with my sexuality and have shucked off most of the blindsided homophobia I carried around for so long. But the other blindspot: the taboo on mysticism is still there.

Basically, I grew up drawn to the mystical, to the fantastical and the imaginary. By the time I got to University at Cambridge – all that was so much embarassing childish nonsense which had to be quickly shrugged off in the bright, modern light of deconstruction, postmodernism: a sort of intellectual Maoism.

I kept a lifeline to it with choral singing and a love of poetry – but by the time I got to Berlin, the anti-mystical charge had gathered breakneck, blind momentum. Everythign was ironic. Nothing was serious and everything had to be undermined and questioned.

Of course, this was all to do with my psychic landscape too – but what has been most interesting in these last months has been a gradual re-acceptance of the unconscious, the mystic, the – dare I say it – transpersonal.

What to so many people seems like kooky mythology in late Stockhausen, seems like true bravery to me. To dream and give credence to dreams. To go to such extremes to follow a vision – to send four of the worlds finest string players up in helicopters and mix the results live, because you dreamed it. It’s inspriting.

I happened to come across a book of essays by Michael Tippet in a house we were filming today. He was talking about Schoenberg and his musical strictness – the fear of formlessness that drove him to serialize. He contrasts it to Joyce, who never had to have disciples and wrote obsessively, but driven from his inward landscape. In a sort of joyful gush. He quotes Ulysses:

Be on the side of the angels. Be a prism. You have that something within the higher self. […] Are you all in this vibration?
It’s a life-brightener, sure; the hottest stuff ever was. It’s the whole pie with jam in. It’s just the cutesy, shappiest line out. It’s immense. It’s supersumptuous. It restores.

That voice is all wrong, really. It’s not formal, it’s not ‘correct’ but it gushes and it’s unstoppable. It IS supersumptous. And that’s what attracts me to Stockhausen. He is a prism, he did side with the angels, he was in the vibration.

1 Comment

  1. Bill

    October 3, 2008 at 4:21 pm


    I read this post and the Bush post at the same time. I am not sure growing up in English public schools or in the U.S. public school (govt. supported) system in the southeastern U.S. is more difficult for a gay male. I suppose it adds to my anger at Bush and company as they wallow in the newest target groups-gays and muslims. The evangelical tradition of protestantism is so dark and hate-filled and it currently pervades the political rhetoric of the U.S. I am not sure why. A professor of mine feels it is not related to the “free love” and “open sexuality” of the 60’s but rather that those “feeling-filled” or “go with your emotions” has resulted in an increase in hysteria.Others have noted an increase in this sort of religiosity in the first twenty years of each century beginning with the turn of the 18th.century. Got any ideas?

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