Almost everything that German 20th-century composer Karlheinz Stockhausen has done has invigorated or fascinated me in a number of different ways. I stumbled across an LP of his legendary tape piece Kontakte in the public library and was forever fascinated by this electronic music that predated everything we’ve come to accept as modern in music by almost fifty years. Actually, “predated” is the wrong word — he started it all, although with that recording he was looking to create a pure sound that was unfettered by any earthly constraints whatsoever. He succeeded wildly.
Mantra is in many ways far more conservative, but it’s no less startling and lovely. Dating from 1971, it shows how Stockhausen went from pure sound to flamboyant and sometimes iconoclastic usages of more traditional instruments (in this case, two pianos), but combined with electronics and non-musical instruments (a short-wave radio) to yield a new whole. It’s rare in that it’s both abstract and warm, coolly precise and playful. Read more