German composer and Sgt. Pepper cutout Karlheinz Stockhausen helped popularize electronic music and the idea of aleatory (controlled chance) in serial composition with his interesting, often controversial, approach to composition. My favorite Stockhausen piece is “Helicopter String Quartet,” in which a quartet literally performs in flying helicopters. He also thought 9/11 was a work of art.
Stockhausen’s most famous work is likely “Kontakte” (“Contacts”), completed in 1960. According to AllMusic, The score is divided into sixteen sections with many subsections, numbered I A–F, II, III, IV A–F, V A–F, VI, VII A–F,VIII A–F, IX A–F, X, XI A–F, XII A1BA2, XIII A, Ab, Ad, Ae, Af B–F, XIV, XV A–F, and XVI A–E [and F], but the idea of the piece is that you’re not supposed to know that there is any structure. A piano plays throughout, but it often comes and goes along with scattered noises both soft and booming. It all sounds like random noise, yet it’s all structured. Every noise has a place in the piece and serves a specific purpose.
I’m not going to pretend like I actually know what any of this means, but the piece has many moments of joy and dread. It sounds like some vile creature trying to bash and dance his head out of a piano. It’s unsettling, and it’s often very beautiful.
Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber