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Karlheinz Stockhausen composes modern classical music that is highly regarded by consumers of 'serious culture' and very rarely performed. Recently, the clarinettist Ian Stuart has been touring Britain with a show that includes a rendition of Stockhausen's Harlequin. Despite the status accorded to Stockhausen and Stuart as representatives of 'high art', their activities are completely vacuous. Ken Rea, writing in The Guardian on 21/5/93, had the following to say about Harlequin: "This extraordinary solo requires him (Ian Stuart) to dance while playing the clarinet... Written in 1975 as a showcase for Stockhausen's partner Suzanne Stephens, the composition was so taxing that she collapsed after the first performance... It is notable enough to see a classical musician play a 45-minute solo from memory, but dancing in lycra tights at the same time is another matter." What impresses 'critics' of 'serious culture' is the technique required to perform the piece. Rea leaves his readers with the impression that because giving a rendition of Harlequin is physically challenging, this validates the composition as a work of art. Clearly such a supposition is nonsense, Harlequin functions as 'serious culture' because Stockhausen and Stuart have successfully negotiated their way through a complex set of social and institutional practices. Put another way, Harlequin is 'high art' because those in positions of cultural power say it is a 'great' composition, while simultaneously treating other forms of music - for example Oi! - as worthless trash.

To draw attention to this state of affairs, the Neoist Alliance decided to disrupt Ian Stuart's performance of Harlequin at the Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, on 15 May 1993. This was not the first time Stockhausen had been targeted as a particularly obnoxious representative of 'high art'. Armed with placards bearing the slogan 'FIGHT RACIST MUSIC', Action Against Cultural Imperialism picketed his concert at the Judson Hall, New York, on 8 September 1964. Likewise, during the early seventies, Cornelius Cardew instigated a vociferous critique of idealism in culture that culminated with the publication of Stockhausen Serves Imperialism (Latimer, London 1974). Although the Neoist Alliance does not agree with all the points raised in these previous critiques of Stockhausen and his music, we felt the Ian Stuart concert provided an excellent opportunity to take militant action against the cultural faction of the ruling class.

The first thing we did was produce a leaflet asking the public to 'BOYCOTT STOCKHAUSEN'. A press release was also circulated in which it was stated that the Neoist Alliance would levitate the Pavilion Theatre during the concert. As a result, a story appeared in the Brighton and Hove Leader on 13/5/93 entitled 'Composer Is Set To Reach New Heights'. There was also coverage on Festival Radio, including a brief interview with a Neoist Alliance spokesperson. Stockhausen has claimed that much of his music is dictated to him by beings from a superior civilisation who live in a distant galaxy. The propaganda of the Neoist Alliance was designed to expose the mystical aura in which the composer shrouds his works as a blatant fraud.

As the Neoist Alliance and its supporters gathered outside the Pavilion Theatre prior to the Stockhausen concert, they were met by a counter-demonstration organised by the Temple Ov Psychic Youth. The TOPY activists were worried that if we successfully levitated the Pavilion Theatre, 'a negative vortex would be created which could seriously damage the ozone layer'. Neoist Alliance members were dressed in dark suits and ties, which contrasted sharply with the scruffy casual wear of the counter-demonstrators. We'd also brought placards. On one side of these there was a cartoon of a bomb and the words 'DEMOLISH SERIOUS CULTURE', on the other, a pyramid capped by the all seeing eye and the message 'WE'RE BACK'.

As the handful of individuals who'd decided to cross the picket line arrived for the concert, they were met with chants of 'Boycott Stockhausen' from our ranks, to which the TOPY activists replied with cries of 'Stop The Levitation'. The counter-demonstrators pleaded with concert-goers to remain outside the building so that they could participate in a set of breathing and visualisation exercises designed to prevent the levitation. Once the concert began, the two sets of demonstrators prepared themselves for a psychic battle outside the theatre. These street actions drew a far larger crowd than the Ian Stuart recital inside the building. Passers-by were reluctant to step in front of the waves of psychic energy we were generating and soon much of the street was at a standstill. The Brighton and Hove Leader of 20/5/93 quoted one shaken concert-goer as saying, 'I definitely felt my chair move. It shook for a minute and then stopped.' The Neoist Alliance also received reports of toilets overflowing and electrical equipment short-circuiting, although these went unreported by the press.

While TOPY were adamant that their actions prevented the Pavilion Theatre being raised 25 feet into the air, the Neoist Alliance considers the protest to have been a complete success. The campaign against Stockhausen is part of an on-going struggle that will continue until the last apologist for decadent 'high art' has been silenced! Actions like the one we undertook in Brighton chip away at the confidence of the arts establishment and expose 'serious culture' as a monstrous fraud perpetrated by a self-serving elite.

First published in Variant 15, Fall 1993

More about the Neoist Alliance



Protest against Stockhausen

Stewart Home levitates a building

Stewart Home with placard

Levitating the Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, to protest against Stockhausen.