Telegraph | Arts | Stockhausen and the nostalgic whistle of a badly tuned short-wave radio
That ageing mystagogue of new music, Karlheinz Stockhausen, has clearly lost none of his mystique. On Monday, the Queen Elizabeth Hall was filled to bursting for a performance of his Mixtur from 1967, a piece that looms large in histories of new music, as it was one of the first to combine a large body of instrumental players with live electronics.
By today’s standards, the electronics are pretty primitive; the sound of each of the 30-odd players is fed into a device that “mixes” it with pure sine waves, and the result broadcast into the hall through loudspeakers. From time to time, the pure electronic signal filters through, and suddenly there’s that faint, quavering electronic whistle you get from a badly tuned short-wave radio.
That sound is a nostalgic one now, and indeed the whole enterprise of reviving these pieces of high modernism could be said to have a nostalgic ring to it. That was certainly my feeling when the Sinfonietta recently revived Telemusik, another of Stockhausen’s “cosmic” pieces from the 1960s. It was moving, in a way, but the flavour of 1960s wooziness did tend to overwhelm every other sensation. But this occasion felt different. The music seemed completely alive, engrossing and contemporary, largely due to the strangeness of the aural mix, which was brilliantly handled by Sound Intermedia.