Letter to The Wire, October 2008

As someone who enjoys the music of both Stockhausen and Cecil Taylor, a position which Tony Herrington would presumably find untenable, I’d like to respond to his Masthead in The Wire 295. In one sense, of course, Herrington is right – improvised music provides a feast for the mind, body and soul that the likes of Stockhausen are largely powerless to deliver. But one could, in truth, say the same thing about composed music from any era. Besides which, Stockhausen’s music has its own individual appeal, based on the premise (hammered home in every single pre-concert talk by him that I ever attended) that the most important thing was for the audience to pay attention. If improvisation is about letting yourself be invigorated and carried away by the music, Stockhausen is about alertness and active listening as the gateway to a rich and complex personal cosmology. And whatever the merits of the German’s “feral children” might be, it is more relevant and interesting at this point to mention Anthony Braxton, who draws on influences from both jazz and Stockhausen to form a body of work that is both philosophically coherent and utterly exhilarating.

One other thing. Edwin Pouncey uses the old journalist’s standby “allegedly” in writing about Varg Vikernes’ crimes (Soundcheck, The Wire 295), even though, as he goes on to point out, Vikernes was sent to prison. In other words, Vikernes was found guilty, so in the eyes of the law he committed the crimes; there’s no “allegedly” about it.

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