bombarded from all angles

08Aug12

Yesterday the MTO took possession of a giant Tam-Tam, courtesy of the BCMG, in preparation for Modified Stockhausen, a concert celebrating the legacy and impact of the German composer in contemporary sound-making. Wrestling the Tam-Tam out of it’s storage hole in the basement of Symphony Hall was no mean feat. It proved too big for the first van (not thankfully the second), and whilst manipulating it into the modest environs of the MTO’s rehearsal space across town the giant disk showed its mettle by bouncing off my face and giving me a black eye. Brian, Dazz and Loz will now work up their chosen pieces – Spiral, Mikrophonie (featuring the Tam-Tam) and Cosmic Pulses – by utilising the technologies appropriate to a treatment by the Modified Toy Orchestra.

I was first introduced to the music of Stockhausen in a Sixth Form ‘General Studies’ class in 1983. A dozen or so of us were bussed down to the neighbouring Bartley Green Girls’ School (later Hillcrest) and given the opportunity to play LPs to, importantly, a small group of unknown, nerdish girls from the host school. Teen-frot Prog in lurid gatefold sleeves, Krautrock, Electro-poseur musique and C20th classical Americana all had their moment, but it was the playing of Stockhausen’s Kontakte that most stays in the memory. The record had clearly been gathering dust in the back of a music-room cupboard and it seriously divided opinion when it was put on the turntable. Rick Chew was already clued-up with the oeuvre (of course), and Komi Fawkes had experimented with what he called his ‘Ring Modulator’. But until then ‘musique concrete’ was not something I had encountered on Radio 1, nor in my dad’s record collection. Listening to Kontakte I became totally immersed in this sound world, “as if it bombarded me from all angles“. This phrase was repeated back to me many times by a couple of skeptics who found my animated response surprisingly comical, but the truth is it left quite an impression on me.

This month Karlheinz Stockhausen’s music returns to Birmingham for what will be a landmark event. Birmingham Opera will perform the premiere of Mittwoch Aus Licht, and there are a series of accompanying events in support of this, under the banner of Festival of Light, featuring a symposium, talks and performances. The Modified Toy Orchestra (as trio) will be playing on monday 20th August alongside Raffertie and Ostrich Box. It’s a one-off and is not to be missed.

Link to Modified Stockhausen, MAC, Birmingham. (programme starts with a talk by Dick Witts, entitled ‘Without Wires at The Speed of Light: How to understand, or misunderstand, Stockhausen’, 6.30pm).

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