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/music/ - Music

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I've seen this theory on 4/mu/ that krautrock was promoted by the British music press during the 70s to show the superiority of West Germany over East Germany, which is funny considering a lot of the bands were far-left themselves (CAN is an abbreviation for "communism, anarchism, nihilism").

What do you think about this?


It was literally created out of the '68 student movement as a reaction against standard Western pop music of the time lol


I'm an American millennial so I have no idea what the British press' take on it was, but I think now maybe we can see it more clearly for what it was, which was basically a leftist, vaguely hippie-ish reaction against old right wing nationalist sentiments. They embraced music from all over the world, especially Africa, and they were very interested in the avant-garde, which fascists would've dismissed as "degenerate."

I know what your first reaction might be since it's vice and for some reason they got the lispy guy from Rancid to narrate, but this is actually a pretty nice documentary on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne7M63P820g

regardless, I'm grateful that the Brits were interested, because krautrock influenced a lot of the best post-punk, noise rock, and industrial music.


>(CAN is an abbreviation for "communism, anarchism, nihilism")

That was a backronym the British press came up with that Jaki apparently liked.

4/mu/ is stupid anyhow. It's not impossible tho, but… also not that meaningful. It's not like Can and Amon Duul II were massive pop sensations in Britain afaik.


Stockhausen’s Refrain, is a part of the cultural superstructure of the largest-scale system of human oppression and exploitation the world has ever known: imperialism.

The way to attacking the heart of that system is through attacking the manifestations of that system, not only the emanations from the American war machine in Vietnam, not only the emanations from Stockhausen’s mind, but also the infesations of this system in our own minds, as deep-rooted wrong ideas.

And we must attack them not only on the superficial level, as physical cruelty or artistic nonsense or muddled thinking, but also on the fundamental level for what they are: manifestations of imperialism.

My saying something doesn’t necessarily make it true.

The task of this article is to make clear that Stockhausen’s Refrain is in fact not just in my opinion - a part of the cultural super-structure of imperialism.

The task falls into three parts.

To expose the essential character of the musical avant garde in general; to outline the particular development of the avant garde in which Stockhausen plays a role; and to indicate the position and content of Refrain within that development.

The avant garde period (consisting of successive avant gardes) is not the latest, but the last chapter in the history of bourgeois music.

The bourgeois class audience turns away from the contemporary musical expression of its death agony, and contemporary bourgeois music becomes the concern of a tiny clique taking a morbid interest in the process of decay.

I must avoid giving the impression that this tiny clique of the avant garde has its own kind of purity and honesty in representing the collapse of imperialism and bourgeois values in general.

No, imperialism is rotten to the core and so is its culture.

However, the ruling classes - the big business men, the politicians, the field marshals, the media controllers, etc. - don’t just ‘turn away’ to groan and expire gracefully.

They fight to stave off their collapse and in this fight they use all the means at their disposal - economic, military, political, cultural, ideological.

The aim of the establishment is to use ideas not as a liberating force for clarification and enlightenment and the releasing of people’s initiative, but as an enslaving force, for confusion and deception and the perversion of talent.

In this way they hope to stave off collapse.

There has always been a mass of talent in the avant garde and some of this talent is keen to leave the restricted world of the avant garde and its preoccupations behind and take up a more definite role in the service of imperialism, a role with a larger following and bigger rewards.

In 1959, the year he wrote Refrain, Stockhausen was ripe for this role.

At that time he was a leading figure in the Darmstadt School which had been set up after the Second World War to propagate the music and ideas that the Nazis had banished.

The Nazis branded the avant garde ‘degenerate’ and publicly disgraced it and suppressed it.

In post-war Germany a subtler technique was used; instead of suppression, repressive tolerance.

The European avant garde found a nucleus in Darmstadt where its abstruse, pseudo-scientific tendencies were encouraged in ivory tower conditions.

By 1959 it was ready to crack from its own internal contradictions and the leading figures were experiencing keenly the need for a broader audience.

For this the music had to change. Refrain was probably the first manifestation of this change in Stockhausen’s work.

Since then his work has become quite clearly mystical in character.

In a recent interview he says that a musician when he walks on stage ‘should give that fabulous impression of a man who is doing a sacred service’ (note the showmanship underlying that remark).

He sees his social function as bringing an ‘atmosphere of peaceful spiritual work to a society that is under so much strain from technical and commercial forces’.

In Refrain we can see the beginnings of the tendencies that his present music exhibits alongside the remains of his Darmstadt work.

The score itself is a gimmick typical of Darmstadt thinking.

The music is obliged quite mechanically to accommodate itself to a crude piece of mobile two-dimensional design.

It is written on a large card with music staves that bow into partial circles centred on the middle of the card.

Anchored to this middle point is a strip of transparent plastic with some notations on it.

These notations are the recurring refrain that gives the piece its title.

The instrumentation is piano, vibraphone, celeste, each of the three players also using auxiliary instruments as well as vocal exclamations and tongue clicks.

Visualising the kind of musicians required for this, we see the beginnings of the specially trained band of players that are necessary for the presentation of his recent work.

The performance itself creates a situation of intense concentration and listening for the musicians.

This listening activity of the musicians communicates itself to the audience and it is this intense concentration and contemplation of sounds for their own sake that reveals the beginnings of the mystical atmosphere that Stockhausen has cultivated more and more theatrically since then.

Some may criticise Stockhausen on the grounds that he presents mystical ideas in a debased and vulgar form.

This is true, but it is not enough. To attack debasement and vulgarity in themselves is meaningless.

We have to penetrate the nature of the ideas that are being debased and vulgarised and if they are reactionary, attack them.

What is this mysticism that is being peddled in a thousand guises, lofty and debased, throughout the imperialist world?

Throughout its long history in India and the Far East, mysticism has been used as a tool for the suppression of the masses.

Salesmen like Stockhausen would have you believe that slipping off into cosmic consciousness removes you from the reach of the painful contradictions that surround you in the real world.

At bottom, the mystical idea is that the world is illusion, just an idea inside out heads.

Then are the millions of oppressed and exploited people throughout the world just another aspect of that illusion in our minds?

No, they aren’t. The world is real, and so are the people, and they are struggling towards a momentous revolutionary change.


Mysticism says ‘everything that lives is holy’, so don’t walk on the grass and above all don’t harm a hair on the head of an imperialist.

It omits to mention that the cells on our bodies are dying daily, that life cannot flourish without death, that holiness disintegrates and vanishes with no trace when it is profaned, and that imperialism has to die so that the people can live.

Well, that’s about all I wish to say about Refrain.

To go into it in greater detail would simply invest the work with an importance that it doesn’t have.

No, my job is not to ‘sell’ you Refrain. I see my job as raising the level of consciousness in regard to cultural affairs.

At the outset I said Refrain is part of the cultural superstructure of imperialism.

These terms: ‘superstructure’, ‘imperialism’, require some explanation if the level of consciousness with regard to cultural affairs is to be raised, if we want to grasp the deeper roots of such surface phenomena as avant garde music.

These terms are essential to Marxism, and yet a lot of people seem to regard them as some sort of jargon or mumbo-jumbo.

The truth is that in an imperialist country like Britain it would be a miracle indeed to find Marxism being taught in schools, since Marxism is directed towards the overthrow of imperialism, whereas the education system of an imperialist country must be directed towards maintaining imperialism.

It is as well to bear this hard fact in mind.

In Marx’s analysis, society consists of an economic base, and rising above this foundation, and determined by it, a super-structure of laws, politics, ideas and customs.

The following quotation is to be found in Lenin’s pamphlet entitled Karl Marx, which I have found the most concise and useful introduction to Marxism.

Marx writes: ‘In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces.

The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general.

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or - what is but a legal expression for the same thing - with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto.

From being forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution.

With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense super-structure is more or less rapidly transformed.

In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic - in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.’

Marx lived in the age of the development of capitalism.

He describes the development towards monopoly capitalism, which he calls ‘the immanent law of capitalistic production itself, the centralisation of capital’.

He says: ‘One capitalist always kills many.

Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime.

Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.

The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it.

Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder.’

Marx, who died in 1883, did not live to see the imperialist wars of this century.

It fell to Lenin to describe the development of imperialism in his pamphlet Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism which he wrote in 1917.

Here is what he says, with some omissions for the sake of brevity: ‘Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general.

But capitalism only became capitalist imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development, when certain of its fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites …

Free competition is the fundamental characteristic of capitalism, and of commodity production generally; monopoly is the exact opposite of free competition, but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our eyes …

At the same time, the monopolies, which have grown out of free competition, do not eliminate the latter, but exist over it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts.

Monopoly is the transition from capitalism to a higher system . . .

Imperialism is capitalism in that stage of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.’


Lenin brings out the aggressive, militaristic, brutal character of imperialism in his 1920 preface to the pamphlet.

He says: ‘Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries.

And this “booty” is shared between two or three powerful world marauders armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan), who involve the whole world in their war over the sharing of their booty.’

‘One capitalist always kills many’.

Marx here graphically indicates the ruthlessness of economic development.

In the economic base this produces the contradiction between free competition (i.e. private enterprise) and monopoly capitalism.

How does this contradiction manifest itself in the superstructure?

It manifests itself in multitudinous ways, but I will talk only about its manifestation in the field of art.

Here I must pause briefly to explain the word ‘bourgeois’.

The bourgeois class is that which becomes dominant with the development of capitalism.

It is the class that lives by employing the labour of others and deriving profit from it.

Bourgeois culture is the culture of this class.

Concurrent with the development of capitalistic private enterprise we see the corresponding development in bourgeois culture of the individual artistic genius.

The genius is the characteristic product of bourgeois culture.

And just as private enterprise declines in the face of monopolies, so the whole individualistic bourgeois world outlook declines and becomes degenerate, and the concept of genius with it.

Today, in the period of the collapse of imperialism any pretensions to artistic genius are a sham.

Earlier I drew attention to the fact that the ruling classes fight tooth and nail to stave off collapse.

What are their tactics on the cultural front, the musical front in particular?

The attention of the general public must not be drawn to the cultural expression of the collapse of imperialism, namely the degenerate avant garde.

To actively suppress it would draw attention.

We know that the Nazis’ suppression of the avant garde in fact gave the impetus for considerable developments of the avant garde.

So it is fostered as the concern of a tiny clique and thus prevented from doing any real damage to the ruling classes.

In this tiny clique genius is still cultivated, especially when some composer (like Stockhausen or Cage) appears eager to propagate an ideological line - such as mysticism or anarchism or reformism - that is in so far friendly to imperialism in that it opposes socialism and the ideas that would contribute to the organisation of the working class for the overthrow of imperialism.


So we see Stockhausen adopting all the hallmarks of the genius of popular legend: arrogance, intractability, irrationality, unconventional appearance, egomania.

But all this is a small-scale operation compared with the tactics of the ruling class against the direct class enemy, the working class.

In this area we find tactics comparable to the ‘saturation bombing’ technique of the Americans in Vietnam.

There are two main lines of attack.

First wide-scale promotion of the image of bourgeois culture in its prime, the music of the classical and romantic composers (the whole education system is geared to this).

Second, the promotion of massproduced music for mass consumption.

Besides bringing in enormous profits, their hope is that this derivative music (film music, pop music, musical comedy, etc.) will serve for the ideological subjugation of the working class.

Both these lines attempt to encourage working class opportunism.

The first through a kind of advertising campaign:’bourgeois is best’, and the second through encouraging degenerate tendencies, drugs, mass hypnosis, sentimentality.

Lenin remarked that the English working class could never be kept under by force, only by deception.

In other words, the ruling class maintains its domination over the working people by telling lies and distorting the truth.

The purpose of ideological struggle is to expose these lies and distortions.

You now have the opportunity to hear Stockhausen’s Refrain.

I’ve exposed the true character of the piece as part of the superstructure of imperialism.

I’ve shown that it promotes a mystical world outlook which is an ally of imperialism and an enemy of the working and oppressed people of the world.

If in the light of all this it still retains any shred of attractiveness, compare it with other manifestations of imperialism today: the British Army in Ireland, the mass of unemployed, for example.

Here the brutal character of imperialism is evident.

Any beauty that may be detected in Refrain is merely cosmetic, not even skin-deep.

You might ask: Should I now switch off and protect myself from such ideas by not listening?

Well, yes, by all means, that wouldn’t be a bad thing in itself.

But in the general context these ideas are too widely promoted to be ignored.

They must be confronted and their essence grasped.

They must be subjected to fierce criticism and a resolute stand taken against them.

What was the effect of the campaign against Cage and Stockhausen?

I received a number of letters in response to the broadcast of ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’, and the publication of the first half of this talk in The Listener provoked a storm in its correspondence columns.

Seven letters were printed, most of them heatedly defending Stockhausen and attacking my music - but not my criticism.

A review by Keith Rowe criticising a concert and TV appearance by Cage from the same standpoint appeared in Microphone magazine in June 1972 and created an equivalent flurry of correspondence.

This led the editor, while contemptuously dismissing Rowe’s review, to propose an entire issue of the magazine devoted to the questions that had been raised.

These flurries demonstrated that there was a great eagerness to discuss artistic questions from a political point of view.

The contradictoriness of the response showed that them was widespread lack of clarity on the basic questions of aesthetics and politics and their interrelations.

Objectively there existed and still exists a need and a demand amongst musicians and their audiences for clarity on the question of the criteria to be used in evaluating music.

It was a symptom of this need that Hans Keller organised two series of talks on the BBC entitled Composers on Criticism and Critics on Criticism.

Naturally, in putting out these series, the BBC had no intention of achieving clarity on the question: rather the opposite.

Their technique was to set up a large number of individuals to give their opinions in separate broadcasts and not allow any discussions which might have led to the issues being sorted out.

My proposal for such a discussion was rejected on the grounds that it would require too much work! My own contribution to the series, which was commissioned about the time of the Stockhausen talk, was rejected on the grounds that it was irrelevant!

The real reason for its rejection was, of course, that it was in fact relevant: relevant to the need and demand for the sober critical atmosphere that I mentioned above.

I used the rejected talk as a lecture on a number of occasions and the discussions that it provoked proved its relevance.

Despite numerous imperfections, some of which are taken up in the notes, the talk is printed here in full in its original form.

This brings the chapter on the criticism of Cage and Stockhausen to an end.


The Nazi campaign against ‘degenerate’ art is viewed differently by different classes.

For the bourgeoisie, the main victims in this campaign were the bourgeois avantgardists: Klee, Kandinsky, Schonberg and others whose work did in fact reflect the ideological degeneration of the bourgeoisie into metaphysics.

From the proletarian point of view, the main victims were the Communist artists of the Weimar Republic: Georg Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz, Hanns Eisler, Bertold Brecht.

The German capitalists brought the fascists to power as a last resort, a desperate gamble to stave off collapse.

On the cultural front their attack was twopronged: on the one hand they suppressed the culture (the bourgeois avant garde) that reflected the bankruptcy and weakness of their own class, and on the other they suppressed the culture that reflected the growing consciousness and militancy of their enemy, the working class.

The antisemitic line of the campaign was just a red herring.

There was no need for the Nazis to ban Mahier’s works, for instance, but they did because he was a Jew.

Possibly the main advantage the Nazis derived from their racist antisemitic line on the ideological front was that it enabled them to outlaw Marxism (Communism) not because it was proletarian, but because Marx was a Jew!

When the Darmstadt Summer School for New Music was founded after the war its claimed intention was to reinstate and develop that music which had suffered persecution at the hands of the Nazis.

Because the West German state was again a bourgeois state, the Darmstadt Summer School of course reinstated the bourgeois composers who had been victimised by the Nazis, not the socialist composers.

Darmstadt propagated the socalled Second Viennese School Schdnberg, Berg and Webern and offered encouragement to young composers Boulez, Stockhausen and Nono became the leading names to proceed further along the road of serial music.

What they turned out was a kind of atomised ‘music for its own sake’, appreciated only by a tiny circle of composers, musicologists and their admirers, plus a certain number of even younger musicians who, because they felt alienated by the sterility and banality of the musical establishment, were attracted by certain progressive catchwords current in Darmstadt circles.

These catchwords were, as far as I remember, ‘science’, ‘democracy’, ‘consciousness’, ‘progress’, and we were to see them all turn into their opposites in subsequent years mysticism, dictatorship, anticonsciousness and reaction.

In the climate of political reaction of the 1950’s, with the Cold War, the death of Stalin and the growth of a new bourgeoisie in the Soviet Union, the Darmstadt school flourished.

By 1970, when the world political climate had changed dramatically for the better, with national liberation struggles on the increase throughout the world, great successes of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China and growing working class militancy in the imperialist heartlands, Darmstadt had become a stagnant backwater


stockhausen is for new age nerds

real chads listen to boulez

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