[Adapted — often loosely — from interviews Stockhausen gave in the early 1970s. Vera Frenkel performs the voice over.]



My Name is Karlheinz Stockhausen


This is the atomic age; the material itself must be part of the creative act. One no longer forms a given material, one must also create the material. We must make our own sounds, like plastic. The same thing's happening in the synthetic industry – they can now make any material from a few basic components and structures. And the great dream is that you can make different beings rise by going into the cell structure, by going into the nucleus. The discovery of the dna code, for example, focuses on how you can create different species of being from scratch, starting from the very smallest particles and most basic forms.

You make a sound with an inner life because you want it to have a chance – not merely to survive, but to reproduce. To engender new sounds and states of being. You make a sound with an inner life because otherwise you're just mucking about the charnel house. You might be a chef, but you won't be an artist, a composer.

I wake up and I have entire pieces in me. I've heard them and remember them. My visions are sound visions. Synaes- thetic visions, yes, but rooted in aurality. I've had very strong visions of a war between Russia and China, not in abstract thoughts but quite plainly vivid pictures, pictures with sound. And I've seen American cities being destroyed – not the ones you'd expect, but Cleveland, Minneapolis – America joining Russia in the big conflict, and then the Japanese, Iran. And then I see the aftermath, pictures of the aftermath: purifying shock. I know these visions are visions of the future as the events have yet to occur.

You see, I finally felt strong enough to create a new world in which a known object doesn't become stronger than you. The great danger is that if you make a citation in music, in literature or in painting, and you quote something that, because it is old, is stronger, then there's a natural tendency for it to wipe out the new things, which you haven't heard or seen before – they're weak, you've seen them only once and so you can't remember them. You cannot grasp them; they will not enter you.

I can go into certain parts of my body, like a woman, like a cosmic woman. Sometimes I have a precise experience of my body's individual cells. It will take some time before I can penetrate the molecules and bring the electric juice that's me, the electric structure, into these molecular struc- tures and conduct them the way I want, make them collab- orate. I am sometimes already able to feel the precise moment when bacteria or viruses enter into me. I some- times have trouble with my right ear – I've had moments when I could chase the viruses out of my ear. Literally chase them out. I felt the moment when they were leaving or when I killed them and they lay on the floor of my ear canal until they were swept out. I've gone to doctors and found out what these viruses were doing in me – reproducing, trying to change internal chemical structures – and I threw them out.

When I was sixteen I was in an ambulance crew that helped get the heavily wounded to the hospital. And I saw trees cluttered with pieces of human flesh after the strafing by the planes. And it's hard to imagine the sexual behaviour in the midst of dying bodies at the hospital. Dying makes you horny for death. The rows of slim white beds didn't help! I have no illusions about people who give up God but keep fucking.

After the war I worked as a pianist in bars. This was during the height of the black market. I collected cigarette butts when everyone left, made new cigarettes out of them, and traded them for butter. I have no illusions about the dark forces. The most evil people request the most sentimental songs. A title I could never use: Music for the Next to Die.

Think of the distribution of leaves on a tree. You could change the position of each of them and it wouldn't change the tree at all.