Thursday, July 2, 2015

a little bit more on Stockhausen

When I said "Stockhausen was a big influence on pretty much everybody," I was really thinking about the Beatles, and Light Into Ashes reminded me about Miles Davis as well.  Paul McCartney was one of Stockhausen's more famous fans, and his influence on the Beatles (starting with "Tomorrow Never Knows") was even acknowledged on the cover of Sgt. Pepper.  This fine piece by Alex Ross does a nice succinct job of mapping the influence more specifically.

I dug out the two books that I'd seen connecting the Dead with Stockhausen: Alex Ross' excellent The Rest is Noise and Mark Pendergast's The Ambient Century both make passing mention of Stockhausen's lectures at UCLA in 1966-67 that were attended by "members of" the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane (Ross 474, Pendergast 54).  While I'd bet that Phil Lesh was the Dead's chief representative (he had already been studying this stuff prior to joining the Dead anyway), that still seems like a thread worthy of investigation.  Stockhausen himself also apparently took in some concerts at the Fillmore.

LIA also pointed out that Garcia himself shows no sign of having listened to anything like this, whereas Lesh and Weir have mentioned classical influences in interviews.  At the risk of sounding like even more of a dilettante, I'll suggest that music like Stockhausen's Kontakte may not need a lot of repeat listenings to completely re-wire one's sensibilities, particularly if one is possibly under the influence of a psychotropic substance like LSD.  Unlike, say, John Coltrane, who's impact in live performance was certainly just as visceral and potentially life-changing (cf David Crosby's great story), figuring out exactly what his band was doing probably required you to sit down and listen repeatedly to the record -- which is apparently what various members of the Dead did, Garcia included.  Certainly there is far more to music like Stockhausen's than one will ever appreciate at first listen (not that I know what it is yet), but I don't know that much of the internal workings of something like Kontakte would have really impacted the Dead.  My guess is that, outside of Phil Lesh (who, again, was already well-studied in this kind of music), no one was sitting down with the scores for this stuff and incorporating those techniques into the Dead's own musical approach.  Outside of Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa, there really wasn't much experimentation with tape loops and electronics, was there?  And by 1968, that influence was probably more directly traceable to the Beatles than to Stockhausen himself.  I'm also putting aside Seastones and Phil & Ned for now; clearly Ned Lagin owed a great deal to Stockhausen.

I would think -- and I'm just guessing here -- that someone like Garcia could have spent a couple of evenings bugging out over a record like Kontakte and then never intentionally listened to it again.  But that could have been enough: it still could have had a profound impact on his still relatively fresh and still-expanding conception of music.  I can see how just a couple of listens could prompt the kind of thinking that led to the Feedback meltdowns of the 60's, the sparse interior jams in the 1969-1970 era Dark Stars, that sort of thing.

edit: I went back through David Malvinni's The Grateful Dead and the Art of Rock Improvisation (2013), and he touches on Stockhausen a bit in one of his chapters on Dark Star, although not really in a way that answers any of my questions.  In short: 
  • Tom Constanten actually studied with Stockhausen in 1967, prior to joining the Dead.  That experience rubbed off directly on Anthem of the Sun [although maybe more in theory than in practice; I always had the sense the Anthem sessions were pretty chaotic].
  • Lesh was a devout admirer of Stockhausen, modeling his own early (pre-Dead) orchestral writing on Stockhausen's work.  Lesh also "ran the controls" for performances of Stockhausen's tape compositions.
  • "'Kontakte' is spatial music with swirling electronic effects, based serially on the placement of speakers in a room for its full effect; it clearly is the sonic godfather of the Dead's concept of 'Space,' a rhymthically free region relying on electronic effects both within sections of pieces like 'Dark Star' and as the middle point of the second set after Drums." (Malvinni 107)
  • There's another mention of members of the Dead attending Stockhausen's 1966-67 lectures (at UC Davis, according to this source, not UCLA), but no further details.
  • Stockhausen redefined his music as "intuitive" and "beyond improvisation," embracing the belief that humans were on an evolutionary cusp of experiencing universal consciousness, telepathy, etc.  The Dead (and Lesh in particular) embraced similar ideas of group-consciousness (both with each other and with the audience), though that seems more like a parallel aesthetic and less like an influence.
  • Stockhausen and his students may have attended the 4/24/72 Dusseldorf show… that's according to Rock Scully's book, though, so a grain of salt for that one.
So still not much in the way of specifics, beyond Kontakte begetting all the weird stuff in Dark Star, Space, etc.  I wonder if there are transcriptions or notes of Stockhausen's lectures?


  1. "Outside of Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa, there really wasn't much experimentation with tape loops and electronics, was there?"

    Well....after those albums, the Dead didn't experiment much in the studio, period. They became a more straightforward pop band on their albums. You'd have to jump to the "spaces" of later years.
    I wouldn't trace a Stockhausen-via-Beatles influence on that '60s period of the Dead, either - I think these kinds of techniques come from the Lesh/Constanten wing of the band, straight from their mentors, not filtered through the Beatles. (The effects are, in any case, not very Beatlesque.)
    From their earlier studies, Lesh & Constanten were quite familiar with Stockhausean recordings & techniques - there really wouldn't have been a need for further close study during the Dead days. In his book, Lesh doesn't give any indication that he continued to attend lectures in the late '60s.
    Nonetheless, Stockhausen mentions it himself in one interview (rough translation) -
    "In my composition course in Davis, California in 1966 were all musicians, The Grateful Dead and also of Jefferson Airplane students. They came to see me regularly. I also went to Fillmore West in San Francisco and danced to the music of these bands."

    Stockhausen was a visiting lecturer at UC Davis from Nov '66 to April '67 - biographer Michael Kurtz wrote: "Some pop musicians, including The Grateful Dead, came to his public lectures, and at [the] Fillmore West...Stockhausen saw the group Jefferson Airplane, along with the psychedelic light shows."

    I wish more was known about the Dead's supposed attendance, but couldn't find more solid references, so it remains vague. (As for Scully's claim about 4/24/72, of course there's no other evidence.)

    Garcia did have his experimental-electronic side - the second side of his first solo album; the 11/28/73 show and some later trips with Lagin - but it was more like an occasional indulgence for him.

    Here's a little reading, on Stockhausen's influence on "everybody":

    Some more reading - on, specifically, John Cage's influence on the Dead:
    And the Dead's relationship to classical music:

  2. Stockhausen's specific influence on the Dead seems limited to a few (though important) areas:

    - possibly a conceptual influence on Anthem, with Constanten's contributions & the way different performances are mixed together - though I think this may stem more from John Cage & other avant-garde composers, rather than Stockhausen in particular.
    - What's Become of the Baby - quite unique in being electronic sound effects grafted onto a song. (Now somewhat obscure since Garcia mixed out most of the electronica on the CD version!)
    - the Phil & Ned sets.
    - the MIDI spaces of later years, which often sound uncannily just like a Stockhausen performance.

    The Dead didn't use "electronic" effects that much in the early days, aside from what noises they could get out of their guitars; that's something you find more in the days of MIDI & expanded Drums.
    I am not so sure Stockhausen had any effect on the Feedback segments of the '60s - conceptually the Dead could have arrived at that without him, just from playing with their guitars - but maybe there is an echo in the short-lived "random-sounds" spaces in Dark Star circa 1970.
    Live performances of his emphasized the "swirling" nature of the sounds as they bounced from speaker to speaker - you might say the Wall-of-Sound era Dead, or Pink Floyd, had similar effects, but these could just as well have been derived from the quadraphonic craze & multi-speaker stereo mixing common in rock music. Perhaps a case of two different music genres using similar techniques, or a common technology.

  3. From Phil Lesh's interview with ZigZag magazine in September 1974:
    "Stockhausen is getting more and more into this intuitive music, which is, amazingly enough, a lot similar to what we are trying to do. As far as improvisation is concerned, his style is a lot farther out than ours is, but the principles are the same, with the exception of the fact that he notates a lot of the stuff in intuitive ways like, 'play the longest sound that you can possibly play,' or 'play a flurry of the shortest sounds as fast as you possible can, on a given cue. Tune your shortwave radio to something that turns you on and work against it,' that sort of thing. Which is a lot like concept art, and I haven't really heard too much of that music so I couldn't tell how successful it would be. But everything he's done up to 1970 has been extremely impressive to my mind."