Helicopter Quartet – Stockhausen

I was first introduced to this video a few years ago and my first thoughts, (before my general revulsion towards the aesthetics of the work manifested) were that this work is a seriously poor allocation of resources.  If you think about the money sunk into the work to contract and fly the four helicopters for the day, along with their retrofitting to make it possible to record, it becomes very clear that the grant money, or private funds expended could have been used to put on so many other works (hell, even by the same composer) here on the ground where other people can listen, live.

I know that half of the point of the work is its luxurious irony, but at the time of Helicopter String Quartet’s premiere (1995), classical music was already overextending itself in that many great composers thought they could write anything and it would be successful (critically or economically).  This is part of the reason why new classical music is viewed as out of touch or irrelevant to many people, the artists have radicalized the art form into something unapproachable for the lay listener.  Alex Ross underscores this nicely in the context of the String Quartet:

It was not, as Mr. Stockhausen claimed, important research into new sound materials, nor anything of consequence in purely musical terms. It was a grandiose absurdist entertainment, not unlike Christo’s wrapping of the Reichstag back in Berlin.

Aside from my aesthetic rejection of the music, the concept of the work is quite entertaining, surely it was meant to press buttons (it has mine).  But once again I find myself returning to my original, economic peeve; there must be a cheaper way to piss listeners off?

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