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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #170
Those Wacky Stockhausens
David Gunn

Karlheinz Stockhausen, composer and culinary gadfly was born on this date in 1928, or 23 years ago, Celsius. When he was 15 years old, he gained musical notoriety as a big band gospel singer in his native Germantown, Pennsylvania. The operative word here is big -- he was over six meters tall with an accompanying girth that suggested an ancestral link to sperm whales. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his uncle, Ambergris von Stockhausen, whose massive head bore an uncanny likeness to those "tractor trailers of the deep." Young Karl sported other whalish traits, including a taste for plankton, a proclivity for wearing sharkskin suits, and a large blowhole in his forehead. This last anatomical anomaly landed him a choice gig with the Clinton Avenue A.M.E. Big Band Baptist Church Choir in North Philadelphia, where he learned to flatulate high harmony with himself on the aleatoric gospel hymns the church favored. Occasionally joining him in the choir loft was his Uncle Arthur, a tenor of more modest girthage who shared Karl's foreblow headhole feature. Together they wheezed the most amazing four-part harmony, a feat that in 1943 put them on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. Or would have, had Arthur not backed out at the last minute. The two of them were working on a catchy new tune for the famous radio program, one that incorporated the sound of a chugging steam engine -- a realistic noise that Arthur could make with ease. It was an improvised piece, with eight vocal riffs written down. The day before the show, however, Karl showed up at rehearsal with a full score entitled "Pacific 230, by K. Stockhausen," with no attribution to Arthur. His uncle, left off of the Fame Gravy Train once again, strongly demurred, demanding, at gunpoint, that Karl hand over the music. He later back-dated the composition to 1923, changed the name to Pacific 231, changed his own name to Honegger, and moved to Paris, Texas.

Disappointed, Karlheinz left the church choir and moved to North Miami Beach to live with his estranged parents, Moribundo and Stella Stockhausen, where he got a part-time job writing music for the local forecast on The Weather Channel. Suppressing his urge to compose more abrasive melodies with wacky lyrics led to his after-hours dabbling in musique concrete, which in turn led to his first three important compositions, Gruppen, Stimmung, and Le Flambeau Oriange, or, Picnic in the Park. Based partly on the avant-gardliness of the music's vocal lines and partly on a set of compromising photographs of the staff held in escrow by Karlheinz's German cousins, Betty Sue and Steve Stockhausen, the Cologne Yodeling Academy immediately offered him a teaching position. Stella urged him to take the job, but Mo advised him to stay in Florida, where he hoped to continue to skim off ten percent of the lad's monthly social security checks.

Karlheinz did neither, opting instead to enter Julliard as a theater major. His twin nieces, Stagger Lee and Stigmata Stockhausen, were already there, hoping to parlay their colossal noggins into thespian notoriety and follow in the footstools of their brother, Ambergris. For two years, Karl studied method acting with Konstantin Stockhausen-Stanislavsky -- who was not related -- but never got beyond miming walking against the wind. However, in one improv class, he divided his classmates into four choral groups, gave instruments to 13 others, assigned Konstantin the role of soprano, and dubbed the ensuing musical caterwauling "In a Minute." A favorably restrained review from brother-in-law Levi von Stockhausen led to the first in a series of commissions, and the rest is avant-garde history and adipose tissue cleavage.

Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is making its own history today with Episode 170, the number in the Fibonacci sequence most likely to qualify for financial assistance, a topic that will be bandied about later by the progressively fiduciarially needy Kalvos.