Tuesday, February 28, 2006

OHM video and the cult of Cage/Stockhausen

OK, so I take pride in my work... Ellipsis Arts has now put out the OHM video separately- that means if you had OHM version 1 without the video, you can now pick up this nice little extra that was included in OHM version 2. We have everything from cartoons to ballet to bizarre performance art to psychedelic graphics of the works of some of electronic music's greatest composers including John Cage, Milton Babbitt, Morton Subotnick, Iannis Xenakis, Robert Ashley, Holger Czukay and more...

Around the time that we were working on this, I was being interviewed about some of these modern composers and the topic of influences came up. Specifically, where did this music lead outside of the realm of modern classical music. I thought about that before for an EMP paper that I presented a few years ago but maybe there was some unfinished business that I hadn't considered. Performers like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, DJ Spooky, Spring Heel Jack and others obviously and explicitly were guided by this music as well as its relative, avant jazz. All of which was good, healthy and all even if it didn't always present the most memorable music that these performers had done.

In terms of influence though, it struck me that two names would keep cropping up when a pop/rock/techno artist needed to name-check a 20th century composer whose spell they were under: Cage and Stockhausen. Even rock fans who aren't familiar with classical music have heard those names, which is why I think they keep coming up again and again. It's safe to cite them because they are somewhat known quantities that people'll recognize and because they keep coming up again and again, you've got to be in good company when you bring them up.

But what does it mean to say that you're a fan of Cage or Stockhausen? For Cage, his work spans about seven decades and covers everything from piano etudes to string quartets to orchestra pieces to tape pieces. It also runs the gamut in terms of style with everything from "4'33"" (aka the silent piece) to "Williams Mix" (which is a sonic barrage of thousands of tapes). There are different periods of his work also. The same thing can be said of Stockhausen's catalog of works. There's orchestral pieces, electronic works, woodwind quartets, percussion pieces and recently, a helicopter quartet. Part of the wonder of these two composers is the breadth of their work.

So when someone says that dig Johnny or Karl, you might wonder what they mean exactly. Think of it this way: though there's many Beatles fans who'll dig everything they did, they're definitely not ALL going to say that they liked "Love Me Do" or "She Loves You" equally as much as "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" or "A Day In the Life" and even less will tell you that they honestly loved "Revolution #9" as much (unless they're a Cage or Stockhausen fan).

The reason that this bothers me is that a lot of other composers whose work should be well-known and have crept into pop and rock aren't going to get the props they deserve. This occurred to me also when I was recently writing a piece about Frank Zappa. Obviously, the guy wasn't jiving when he said that he adored Edgard Varese (just listen to Lumpy Gravy for proof). Listen to the wild tape interruptions on We're Only In It For the Money. Wonder where that came from? I wondered myself so I dug around and found that there were more influences at play: Vladimir Ussachevsky's minimalist early/mid 50's tape pieces (see Pioneers of Electronic Music on CRI Records), Gyorgy Ligeti's bizarre electronic pieces from the 50's (see WDR- Early Electronic Music on BV Haast Records) and Todd Dockstader's brutal early 60's tape pieces (see Apocalypse on Starkland Records).

Ideally, I'd more people outside of modern classical world to know more about these composers. I'm sure that they'd appreciate them more than they think and that today, they might sound a little less foreign than they did decades ago though truth be known, they still are a little outre. Just enough to give you the thrill of exploring an other-worldly realm...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are (again) right, Jason. It's also my experience: people like to name-drop "Cage" and "Stockhausen". Simply because they don't know better (or much :-)

Klaus D. Mueller

12:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home