We’re delighted to have Rob Young at this year’s No.6, co-author of the epic All Gates Open, The Story of CAN, which has been published this week. Thanks to Faber for giving us this extract from the Can Kiosk section of the brilliant book, in which Irmin Schmidt discusses CAN with various other musicians and cultural figures including Bobby Gillespie (of Primal Scream, who headlined the first Festival No.6) and Max Dax.
IS: I spent night after night glued to the radio when electronic music was invented in the fifties. Initially I thought that most of the things were just ugly. Then one night they played Gesang der Jünglinge im Feuerofen by Stockhausen. That’s when lightning struck. It was a masterpiece. I wanted to study with him.
MD: You heard Gesang der Jünglinge on the radio and then enrolled with Stockhausen?
IS: It didn’t happen quite that fast. I first heard him on the radio, long before I studied with him. I was probably even still in school. I was already totally fascinated by him. This was, in my opinion, the first time that a real piece of music had been made with electronics. I don’t know of any other piece from that time that has such lustre.
BG: How did you manage to become a student of Stockhausen? Were you assigned to him at university?
IS: No, it was active on my part. I wanted to study with him. Simple as that. Because I had heard his Gesang der Jünglinge on the radio. Before that, however, I studied composition and conducting at the Folkwang Academy in Essen, and also piano in the masterclass. This study wasn’t free, but I had a scholarship, so I didn’t have to pay anything. But it was almost taken away from me when I spent an entire semester with Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time – reading, thinking about what I had read, going out, dreaming . . . Thank God my conducting professor understood this literary escapade. After my conducting exam, I finally went to Cologne in 1964 to study with Stockhausen at his Cologne Courses for New Music. Earle Brown, Luciano Berio and Henri Pousseur also taught there. But for me it was mainly about Stockhausen and the WDR Studio for Electronic Music.
BG: What most attracted you to Stockhausen?
IS: In addition to his music, it was Stockhausen himself as a character, as a person, a teacher and a thinker.
BG: Did you ever play the music of Can for Stockhausen?
IS: Not personally. But one time Stockhausen was supposed to evaluate rock music from Germany for a German music journalist – it must have been around 1970 or ’71. He listened to it all and found everything terrible – except for ‘Aumgn’ by Can. He thought that was really good. He asked the journalist who it was – it was a kind of musical blind date. And when he told him, Stockhausen said, ‘No wonder. They were my students.’
BG: My boys . . .
IS: Exactly. That was sensational for us, because he didn’t really appreciate anything after Monteverdi.
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