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Composer Stockhausen Dies at 79
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Composer Stockhausen Dies at 79


Avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen died on Wednesday at the age 79. Now, to the casual listener, a Stockhausen composition like this one can sound alien, even unmusical. But his work earned him the admiration of all kinds of musical luminaries - from Pierre Boulez to Daniel Barenboim to David Bowie, even the Beatles gave him a spot on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He's in the back row, fifth from the left. Stockhausen was a pioneer in the field of electronic music. In this 1972 demonstration, he described how he spent time working with sine wave generators to try to recreate the sounds of nature.

Mr. KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN (Music Composer): And I started very primitively to synthesize individual sound by super imposing sine waves in harmonic spectrums in order to make ah, oh, uh, oh, er, eh, ih(ph), eh, et cetera as all the vowels. Then I found, one by one, generators which produce what we call the white noise in order to produce colored noise, like shh(ph), sss(ph), whoo(ph), shh(ph), krr(ph), sss(ph), et cetera.

(Soundbite of composition, "Kontakte")

SEABROOK: Long before Dolby surround sound, Stockhausen created what's believed to be the first four-channel recording with this 1960 piece called "Kontakte."

(Soundbite of composition, "Kontakte")

Mr. TIM PAIGE (Music Writer, Washington Post): Some Stockhausen is very, very difficult listening indeed.

SEABROOK: Tim Paige is a music writer most recently with the Washington Post.

Mr. PAIGE: I remember one time when I was on WNYC in New York, I played all of his two-hour electronic epic "Hymnen," which is about 40 national anthems all diced up and changed around into really rather fearsome electronic music. And we got a lot of calls from the audience thinking that something had gone wrong with our transmitters.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Six years ago, Karlheinz Stockhausen made news with an unfortunate reference to 9/11 - he called the terrorist attacks Lucifer's greatest work of art. Stockhausen maintained he was misunderstood, but the line brought him a level of celebrity his compositions never could. Tim Paige says he hopes the controversy won't overshadow Stockhausen's musical legacy. Paige would like people to remember the inventive clever compositions like this one: a piece for six unamplified voices called "Stimmung."

Mr. PAIGE: It's sweet; it's funny; it's haunting; it's meditative. You really have the sense that he's kind of trying to write as if he came from Saturn or Pluto on it. It's very eerie and very other worldly.

(Soundbite of composition, "Stimmung")

SEABROOK: What may be Stockhausen's most elaborate work is his epic composition "Licht" - it depicts the seven days of the week. Thursday alone takes four hours to perform. Stockhausen spent 25 years writing the mammoth opera cycle, but he didn't live long enough to see it performed in its entirety. The first full performance of "Licht" is scheduled for next year in Dresden.

Karlheinz Stockhausen died at his home in western Germany this past Wednesday; he was 79, the cause of death is unknown.

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