Monday, January 26, 2009

Eric Lyon, a teacher and programmer, relates this story:

During an exchange of ideas between Karlheinz Stockhausen and several younger
electronic musicians (Witts 1995) Stockausen observed, ”I
heard the piece Aphex Twin of Richard James carefully: I
think it would be very helpful if he listens to my work Song
Of The Youth, which is electronic music, and a young boy’s
voice singing with himself. Because he would then immediately
stop with all these post-African repetitions, and he
would look for changing tempi and changing rhythms, and
he would not allow to repeat any rhythm if it were varied to
some extent and if it did not have a direction in its sequence
of variations.” Richard D. James responded from a different
perspective, ”I didn’t agree with him. I thought he should
listen to a couple of tracks of mine: ”Didgeridoo”, then he’d
stop making abstract, random patterns you can’t dance to.”
Brilliant exchange. Love the way Richard D. James (ie Aphex Twin, a spectacularly talented electronica composer) makes the point that Stockhausen is judging his (James) music by inappropriate standards by deliberately making a parallel error and judging Stockhausen by techno standards. 

Old man Stockhausen still labors under the impression that the road of musical progress lies along a single historical trajectory mapped out by the serialists. That serious music should  avoid steady time signatures and harmony and look for new forms of serial variation. James refuses to be intimidated, and asserts the right of new musical form and traditions to exist not as primitive or retrograde traditions, but simply as different traditions that may value/focus on/emphasize variation and creativity on different fronts. African drumming may be very poor harmonically, and have no narrative structure to speak of, but it's very complex rhythmically and great to dance to. Classical Indian music is monophonic, but has complex beat cycles, exploits microtones, and boasts a wealth of scales. And so on.