Aleksandra Mir

(The World May Be) Fantastic

Catalogue, Sydney, 2002
ed. Biennale of Sydney

The photograph of Stockhausen and me standing together in the late afternoon was taken on Friday, March 12, 1999. The photographer, Philip Lethen, used infrared film. We are in the car park outside the town hall in K¸rten, a tiny village in the hills outside Cologne in Western Germany. Behind us is a mobile recording studio on loan from radio station WDR Eins, which Stockhausen had been using to mix down versions of his Helikopter-Streichquartett for release on his own label that summer. The work was completed a few minutes before Philip and I arrived by car from central Cologne. The huge semi-trailer had been parked there since the middle of February and would be gone the next day. It was all a matter of convenience. Not everything is significant.

I was there to interview Karlheinz Stockhausen for The Wire, a magazine that specializes in modern music. I hadn't slept much in the previous 48 hours, having left Heathrow Airport on a very early flight that morning. Philip was due to pick me up from my hotel in the mid-afternoon. By then I had already broken down, sobbing uncontrollably in the suite's tiny windowless bathroom. I don't know why.

You cannot tell one story without telling others. The hotel was on the corner of Ursulaplatz, just a few doors down from the church where the bones of St. Ursula and the 1000 virgins who were slaughtered along with her are kept neatly stacked and wrapped in lace and dark velvet inside a special Golden Chamber, a kind of room-sized refrigerated safe I had visited a few years before. Across from my hotel window was a huge billboard advertising light bulbs with the word 'LICHT' spelled out in huge white letters. I'd brought with me an original 1977 American paperback copy of Robert Anton Wilson's book,Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati, which a friend had given me before she left London to live in Canada and which I'd been reading the night Tim Leary died. Its references to the coincidence of Sirius with an expanded history of human consciousness seemed appropriate to a conversation with Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Right at the start of the interview, as soon as my tape machine had been switched on, the pen in my hand started leaking. Stockhausen was wearing crisp white jeans, a white Indian cotton shirt and a fluorescent orange cardigan, which the infrared film has transformed into a dark blue. We were sitting side by side in his home on what looked like a white patio sun lounger upholstered in pastel shades. The room was immaculately clean and tidy with bright white walls. I had black ink all over my fingers. At the end of the interview Stockhausen looked me straight in the eyes. 'I like you,' he said.

Back at the hotel I found that my copy of Cosmic Trigger had gone missing. It was about 4.30 in the morning and I couldn't sleep anymore. I went through the contents of the entire room trying to find the book but it had vanished completely. So I channel surfed for a while until I found a programme showing satellite footage taken from space of the surface of the Earth accompanied by ambient techno music. Was it broadcast live? A caption on the screen revealed that we were passing over the Arizona desert. It was a dusty ethereal brown. I remembered how Stockhausen had responded when I suggested that we tended to pay cultural homage to space travel nowadays because it seemed more unattainable than ever. 'No, it's absolutely clear,' he said with an enthusiasm that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside him, 'I don't know if you know the new books from the Hubble telescope, publications from NASA, but it's absolutely clear that they will be on Mars in 2012ÖI know that they are going to go very quick now into the solar system.' I loved that moment. It was my favourite part of the entire interview.

The next morning I retraced my path around Cologne from the night before, starting with the moment I last knew I had Cosmic Trigger in my possession. Not a sign of it anywhere. A big Kurdish demonstration was taking place that afternoon to protest against the treatment of Kurds in Turkey. It began with a thin amplified wailing that echoed across the rooftops and concrete balconies. The men marched separately from the women and children. Their chants were different too. Riot cops in heavy green body armour leaned against the sides of trucks in side streets like muscular impassive robots, while kids skateboarded on the pedestrian walkways above them. Cable news carried reports that night of a bomb attack on a supermarket in Istanbul.

Back in my hotel room I started crying again. I just couldn't stop. On television, two girls with headsets gave rundowns on new websites, featuring one where you can calculate how much you weigh on the different planets of the solar system. As if their viewers were preparing for the great leap into space. A future that can be fully described has already happened and, as such, is already compromised. Stockhausen had told me of his desire to be reborn towards the centre of the universe to continue with his music.

When I got back to London I wrote to my friend in Canada, apologizing for having lost the book she had given me, explaining the circumstances to her. She made some reply about a dead hand on my shoulder. You give up one thing to get another. On October 13, 2001 I became married to Rachel Keen. Rachel and I first met in London in 1992, shortly after she had returned from living in Sydney, Australia for a couple of years. As a wedding present, my friend in Canada sent us another 1977 American paperback copy Cosmic Trigger. But the world had changed a lot by then.