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When Steve Biko met Stockhausen

IT’S hard to imagine that Steve Biko and Karlheinz Stockhausen would have had much to talk about when they met in 1971 in Joburg. What would a black consciousness leader have in common with a German composer, who by all accounts appeared to be on a flyby-night trip through the city to give a few concerts?

If you look through the files containing the research Philip Miller has compiled on this trip and the meeting of these two great minds, which are on display as part of his Biko-Hausen installation at the Goethe-Institut, it seems clear their interaction was not by any means monumental or earth-shattering. It appears neither party was changed by the encounter.

Stockhausen’s wife, Mary, sums up the meeting in a single line in her diary, among other cringeworthy observations about locals which she describes in ethnographic terms. Yet this seemingly unimportant meeting is quite unexpectedly the point of inspiration for a remarkable multimedia filmic dual-channel work by Miller that weighs in on our vexed history and the notion of political ‘‘radicalness”, race, liberalism, cultural exchange and appropriation.

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