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Why, as a total layman, I did three days AUS LIGHT. And came out as a different person.

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Music critics were unabatedly enthusiastic. And even opera lovers came, saw and were pleased. Of course, there was the chorus of monuments, led by a Flemish antiquity, who liked Maria Calllas better 70 years ago, but its members are only the necessary minority needed for something as unprecedented as AUS LICHT, the Magnum opus of the 72nd Holland Festival.

Beforehand, the whole Stockhausen thing seemed to me to be mainly something for the initiated in the secrets of modern, abstract music. A celebration full of squeak and grunt for old geeks. As a child of the 1970s raised with Bowie, Waits, Eno and consorts, what did I have to do there? Sure, the pre-publicity invariably referred to Stockhausen as a great inspiration for exactly my idols, but when I looked for evidence, I always found the same few quotes from pop musicians who do tend to shout something, and marketers who like to deploy such quotes.

About the lungs

So armed with the necessary cynicism, I started my three days. I had resolved to inhale the entire package of AUS LIGHT in one go. Over the lungs, undiluted. And that's even though I can't stand opera voices very well, used as I am to the microphone whispering of Chet Baker, Tom Waits, Brian Eno and David Bowie in his finest works.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that after about 10 minutes, my resistance was broken. Here I heard what I had not read in all those interviews and previews: pure joy of playing, music conceived, written and performed in the most free-spirited way imaginable. Here I did not hear the perfectionist Stockhausen, the megalomaniacal music innovator who was as good at dividing as he was at raising hands. All I heard was the soundtrack of the twentieth century. Perfectly performed, in all its extremity, from highway to aeroplane to Warzawa, to - indeed - Björk.

Sense of doubt

All the Berlin years of my hero Bowie came along, but in the primal version. During day two, I saw the great inspiration for the phenomenon Rammstein, and heard heavenly children's voices finding tones that hung just against the pleasant for so long that I found myself on another planet. Anyway: it can hardly be otherwise when you spend all day in the soundscapes that form the sound décor of all the great science fiction of the last century.

And then the helicopters were yet to come, and that duet between a beautiful singer and a trumpet, and that Elton John descending straight from hell. Or that war... or...

Am I overwhelmed? Of course. But this was an event that, in all its intensity, proves exactly why a festival like the Holland Festival exists. People from all over the world came to Amsterdam for this, and they were not disappointed. The show was overwhelming, the technology flawless, apart from some irritating latency in the video footage on day three, the Gashouder on the Westergasfabriek terrain the venue you will dream about for a long time to come. Happy those who experienced it.

Next year again?

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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