Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Voices From the Past

The other day, I followed a chain of comments from a post on another blog, the way one does, and I thought, from the comment, that I'd found a like minded person. As it happens, I was incorrect, but I was interested to find that this blogger (who's name I can't remember, nor how and where I found him) named 'Stimmung' by Karlheinz Stockhausen as one of his favourite pieces of music.

Now, Herr Stockhausen, for the odd one amongst you unfamiliar with his work, has perpetrated one of the 20th Century's greatest frauds upon the the cognisanti of classical music. He has convinced a whole group of people that random chords played discordantly, or voices intoning sounds ('mwh mwh mww mwh mwh, kommittt') for a very long period of time is great music. Or that is what I was given to understand when I was first introduced to it.

When the Chairman and I were first married, we were unable to get a flat that we could both like and afford in North London, and were forced to move south of the river for a couple of years. At that time, I was working in advertising, and the Chairman was auditioning for various rock 'n' roll bands. At one audition, hearing where he lived, another audionee said to him, 'Do you know Dudley Road?'. The Chairman was astonished, it was the road we lived in. 'Well, you must know my friend Sergei then. He's a ballet dancer, and he lives with his girlfriend and toddler at number 56'. More astonishment took place. Although we didn't know Sergei and/or his family, we lived virtually opposite him at number 53.

That evening, there was a knock on the door, and a tall, slim young man with dark, wavy, almost waist length hair, wearing bright orange 'loons' (extremely bell-bottomed trousers) and white pumps, stood on the step.

It was the mysterious Sergei. He was thrilled to find another artiste living in this very 'straight' suburban road in South West London, and invited us to cross the road and meet his family. Of course, we went. All our friends were in Hampstead and Kensington, and it would be great to meet some like minded people out in the boon-docks.

His girlfriend, Siobhan, was also wearing bright orange loons, and their 2 year old daughter, Yasmin, was precociously cute. The house was lit by candles, there was incense burning, and strange sounds were eminating from the stereo.

'What's that music, Man?' asked the Chairman. 'It's 'Stimmung' by Stockhausen.' piped Yasmin, 'It's my favourite music'. Well, it may have been her favourite music, but to me, pleb that I am, it was just boring. But I knew the rule. At no time must one appear uncool. So I assumed the position. Eyes closed, lips slightly parted, head nodding slowly. And I 'enjoyed' the piece.

The Chairman, however, was riveted, and I had to endure Stockhausen, not to mention the Chairman's own 'modern' compositions for some time.

About 18 months later, I came home from work to find an almost overwrought Chairman waiting for me. He had wonderful news. Not only was there going to be a live performance of 'Stimmung' at the Roundhouse at Chalk Farm, but he had bought tickets for us to go and see it. 'Are we all going?' I asked. I had discovered that Siobhan was a kindred spirit. She too hated Stockhausen and was cravenly pretending she loved it so as not to appear uncool. So if we all went, it would be OK, because we'd be able to giggle about it later. But no, it was just us. That meant that I would have to look rapt for 1 1/2 hours (and no laughing or yawning).

Anyway, we went. And I must confess that live, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Six people sitting on the floor with microphones and torches making weird, but strangely harmonic noises.

On the drive home, we made stimmung-like noises in the car. Then the Chairman had an idea. We'd go straight to Sergei and Siobhan's, and start doing our own version on their doorstep, to surprise them when they opened the door.

We got out the car, walked up the path, and stood on the doorstep. 'Mwh mwh mwh mwh mwh' I sung 'Ycon ycon ycon ycon' went the Chairman. We knocked on the door. Footsteps in the hall, the door started to open, we increased the decibels. ''Mwh mwh mwh mwh mwh'. 'Ycon ycon ycon ycon'. The door opened, and standing in the doorway was their 75 year old stern Russian landlord, Mickail Alexandervich.