Mauricio Kagel, one of the most important composers in contemporary classical music, died yesterday in Cologne, Germany, at the age of 76, according to his music publisher. He had been ill for some time, but the cause of death was not disclosed.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1931, the self-taught Kagel moved to Germany in 1957, where he spent the rest of his life. He explored a wide range of approaches over the decades, from electronic music to pieces that used Renaissance instruments. During an era when new music was grimly serious, Kagel injected a refreshing absurdist humor into many of his compositions. He also was one of the first modern composers to meaningfully incorporate improvisation into his pieces.

As he told pianist and composer Anthony Colemen in 2004: “I am a soft anarchist. Without the need to organize your anarchy you never get any kind of deep discourse. The root of the word improvisation is the Italian improvviso, which means the unforeseen, the unexpected. I think that we have put artificial limits on the conception and aural experience of improvisation today. And I never forget that for a large number of listeners improvisation, composed improvisation and meticulous music writing sound very similar.”

It’s worth reading the entirety of Coleman’s fascinating interview from Bomb magazine. It makes Kagel’s healthy curiosity and openness crystal clear.