Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 March 2012
I remember reading a series of interviews with Karlheinz Stockhausen. This was in the eighties, when the composer was at the height of his fame. I was particularly struck by his account of a visit to Japan, which made a deep impression on him. The Japanese, he noted, did not have the same sense of time as we have in the West. For them time was either something that passed extremely swiftly or extremely slowly, and the large middle range we inhabit did not seem to exist. An example of this was Sumo wrestling. The two enormous combatants, artificially fattened for years for this sport, would size each other up in total stillness for what seemed an eternity, and then suddenly, almost before the spectator could see it, one had thrown the other out of the ring. Stockhausen, whose own music had from the start followed a route far removed from the major traditions of the West, was enchanted. He was also much taken by the Japanese attitudes to space. He grew fascinated by the Japanese use of sliding doors and windows, which had the effect, he said in the interview, of blurring the threshold between inside and outside, an effect heightened in many of the temples by the winding and labyrinthine paths which led to them, so that as one approached one felt oneself to be sometimes almost on top of them and then, seconds later, as far away as ever.