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Ulrich Offline



Posts: 151

Sat Feb 22, 2014 8:00 pm
Why am I busy with Stockhausen? reply

A contribution of Adorján took me to this question. For obviously there are quite different motivations to spend one's time with a composer, and these differences lead to different interpretations.
In my case: It is the religious meaning of all his works that interests me. In the beginning it was the fact that for the composer himself that religious meaning was independent of religious texts - I wanted to investigate how that could be, and it fascinated me because for a religious person too all his life, from very ordinary occupations to very important and meaningfull ones, has a religious connotation. In the course of time my interest shifted to LICHT, where the religious meaning is more obvious than for instance for a work like PLUS - MINUS. And here what fascinates me is the basic fact that for Stockhausen every day is a day "from LIGHT", even dark and negative days. That is far more than a mere thought - a thought you can understand in a minute. It is a way of looking at the world and at your own life, it is a way of living, and that you have to practise for a lifetime. In this respect the LICHT-cycle is an important and somehow permanent inspiration, and this approach guides my understanding and my way to investigate.
What is the motive for my research - for my listening to that music? I think that is a basic question, and therefore I am interested in what other members think about that! (Sorry for my English - but I hope you get the meaning...)

Jerry Offline



Posts: 145

Sat Mar 08, 2014 10:24 pm
#2 RE: Why am I busy with Stockhausen? reply

For my own part, my reason for research is the same as my reason for listening: I like what I hear, and I want to know more about how it is made to sound that way. My first experience of Stockhausen's music was from the DG recording of Gesang der Jünglinge and Kontakte. When I first heard this music, I couldn't believe my ears—not only because the sounds were well outside the range of what I was accustomed to thinking of as "music", but also because these glittering, crashing, whirring, shrieking, humming, and roaring sounds were in some mysterious way interacting to form a temporal shape. This seemed so unlikely, that I was compelled to learn more. This meant, first of all, to listen more, and so I did: over and over to those two pieces, and then to whatever else I could find on record. In those days (the early 1960s) the choice was rather limited, but I found the Robert Craft recording of Zeitmasze (which to be honest was much less compelling on first hearing—it took some repetitions to reveal the same kind of inner strength I found in the electronic music), and then there was a television broadcast of Momente, as it existed in March of 1964. Momente was the piece that convinced me, even more than Gesang or Kontakte, that here was a composer who was both overflowing with imagination and at the same time completely in command of his musical ideas. "I think it must have been the plum cake" (to quote Lukas Foss from the intermission interview with Stockhausen in that broadcast) or, rather, the fact that the rehearsal clips showed me for the first time how Stockhausen made this fabulous music work, which was by ear: if the performers didn't deliver the sound he wanted, he sang it to them, never mind that they happened to be playing percussion instruments. I only later learned that this music had to do with something called "serialism", and was calculated with number charts and mathematical formulas (even if true, this was not important, of course, but it was the common wisdom of the day to believe everything could be accounted for in that way). So I bought and read everything in all the volumes of ''Die Reihe'', and started looking and listening for tone rows in the mistaken idea (also the common wisdom of the day) that they were there and, since they must be there somewhere, that they somehow mattered more than anything else. This nearly prevented me from ever liking Gruppen, once that recording came out a year or two later. I listened to it for dozens and dozens of times, fruitlessly trying to find the "serialism" (at least in Zeitmasze I could hear a tone row at the beginning!), until one day I put on the record and just listened to the sounds I could hear. They were gorgeous sounds, luminous sound, shimmering, constantly shifting, overlapping and colliding, enormous panels of sound, which had all somehow remained completely hidden behind the fog of my efforts to "understand" the music. It was this experience that led me to a skeptical attitude toward this word "understanding" in connection with music, which I think may be the single most damaging factor when trying to introduce people to unfamiliar music. Although this "understanding" of music is what I keep attempting myself (this is what music theorists and analysts do, after all), it is always something that comes after both listening to and liking the music I hear. If I don't like it to begin with, then I don't care whether I understand it or not.

Was this the sort of thing you had in mind?

Robin Maconie Offline



Posts: 67

Sun Mar 09, 2014 12:37 am
#3 RE: Why am I busy with Stockhausen? reply

Do the above confessions advance our understanding of Stockhausen to any degree? Somehow I doubt it. This is supposed to be a forum, not a fan club. I am interested in uncovering technical and acoustical implications of his work that bind it to a tradition of musical inquiry that goes back to ancient times. Such considerations impact on our understanding of what the composer is questioning in particular works and how that knowledge can be applied to their future interpretation and recording, for example the challenge of how to record HARLEKIN in the round, and what MIKROPHONIE I is really about (since you ask, it is about ribbon microphones and pseudo-stereophony). Many of Stockhausen's rich fund of technical ideas, some only partially digested, can be traced back to the 1930s, leading me to conclude that they were provided to him by his teacher Meyer-Eppler, backed up by technical staff at NWDR. Then again, we should consider the contribution of post-1950s total serialism and avant-garde music in general (Le Marteau of Boulez and Gesang der Jünglinge, US involvement in IRCAM) to Cold War funded initiatives in speech recognition for the purposes of national security phone surveillance (a hot topic even today). Technical considerations are an essential ingredient of the composer's vocabulary; to fully appreciate them a basic grounding in studio practice is desirable, even mandatory.

Jerry Offline



Posts: 145

Sun Mar 09, 2014 7:36 am
#4 RE: Why am I busy with Stockhausen? reply

Clearly we have very different emphases, but I doubt your doubt. I think these different approaches may all contribute to advancing our understanding of Stockhausen (insofar as understanding might be of value)—at least I hope that my approach of listening attentively to the music and drawing conclusions from what we hear may be fruitful from time to time. Your approach, Robin, seems to emphasize the environment in which Stockhausen worked and how that influencing his thinking. Naturally that can yield useful results, as well. Just how the US involvement in IRCAM helps us to appreciate the version of KATHINKAs GESANG with electronic music remains beyond my comprehension, but perhaps you would care to elaborate on this?

Robin Maconie Offline



Posts: 67

Sun Mar 09, 2014 9:10 pm
#5 RE: Why am I busy with Stockhausen? reply

Jerry: good question. US involvement in IRCAM is incontrovertible (for a brief overview see my essay on Babbitt in Avant Garde). Boulez and Stockhausen parted company over the ring modulation of MIXTUR, so there is an element of payback here. KS resisted purchasing US synthesizer technology for WDR, opting to go with Zinovieff's ingenious but picky and unreliable Synthi 100 which crashed during the making of SIRIUS forcing the composer back to the piano (as reported by Berio: see Other Planets). The original version of Kathinkas Gesang is for flute accompanied by "tin men" after Gunther Grass, perhaps, (I interpret them as a pun: they are "tinkers" i.e. KA- TINKERS GESANG); their improvised 3D metallic noises a mordant comment on the sort of electronic noises IRCAM were producing (eg, Boulez's Répons). Given two weeks to do his own thing at IRCAM, he created the alternative electronic accompaniment, far superior, using digital samples already in the IRCAM database, and posing extreme technical demands on resident US technical assistants (detailed in Other Planets, cross-referenced to an article by James Moorer in Computer Music Journal which is clearly about Kathinkas Gesang, though the composer's name is not mentioned). The design of the electronic score is also intriguingly similar to Riverrun by Barry Truax also from 1984, with which it shares the same concern for rotating sound complexes. Despite the high finish and undoubted beauties of the digital score, the performance of IRCAM's digital software did not persuade Stockhausen to return to IRCAM for a longer stint, though his subsequent experiences with electronic keyboards today sound awfully dated, exceptions including Simon's pedal points for FREITAG. But he continues to experiment with moving players (Berio: Circles, 1961; Boulez Domaines 1967) to the end, adopting ritual forms designed to place the most demanding problems on record producers, and in SONNTAG incorporating "coloured ambience" of distant singers and players. His focus toward the end on fundamental difficulties of recording and reproducing spatial movements in a natural environment are a calculated rebuke both to US software (which cannot yet achieve such subtleties in the electronic domain in a controllable manner, and has still to be persuaded that such problems even exist) and also to US audio engineers, whose reaction to every complication is to put up yet another microphone.

Jerry Offline



Posts: 145

Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:29 am
#6 RE: Why am I busy with Stockhausen? reply

Hmm. Very ingenious reasoning, though I'm not sure I quite follow all of it. There is no question about Americans (as well as Italians, Germans, Canadians, and even the occasional Frenchman) being involved with the work at IRCAM. The tone you are developing here, however, sounds a bit like a clandestine operation by the CIA to control the universe. While I wonder why you think only US audio engineers think throwing up a few more microphones is the answer to every problem (I have heard this same criticism aimed at German engineers working for DG, for example, and the Mercury Living Presence recordings were an American development famous for exactly the opposite technique), since we are discussing Stockhausen here, I would prefer to focus on KATHINKAs GESANG. I rather like your association of the percussionists with the Wizard of Oz, since the Tin Man lacked a heart, and it is precisely the heart-like regular pulse that the percussionists lack in KATHINKAs GESANG, and which is restored with ruthless precision (and not a little irony) in the computer-driven electronic version. Where I tend to lose your thread here, however, is the "tin" aspect (I presume when you invoke Günther Grass you mean a tin ''drum'', rather than a tin man), since Stockhausen does not specify that the "invented" percussion instruments should be metal at all—only the sound plates. I also wonder what evidence you can produce to support the idea that leaving the choice of sounds up to the imagination of the percussionists is meant as a comment on IRCAM's machinery. Had Stockhausen even heard Répons by 1983? Could you also disambiguate whether you mean Stockhausen's digital accompaniment was "far superior" to the live electronics of Répons, or to the percussion version of KATHINKAs GESANG? If the former, then surely it matters a great deal that Stockhausen's electronics are pre-recorded, whereas Boulez's are done "on the fly", so to speak.

Robin Maconie Offline



Posts: 67

Mon Mar 10, 2014 2:07 am
#7 RE: Why am I busy with Stockhausen? reply

If as I see it Kathinkas Gesang is complementary to Gesang der Jünglinge (the other Gesang) with the female flutist in the role previously taken by the boy's voice, then the computerized tornado is the equivalent of the burning fiery furnace, and the message one of survival, not by praising God but by performing Czerny-like exercises from a whiteboard. I agree with you about Mercury Living Presence, but they were exceptions: Stockhausen had a brush with Columbia over Mikrophonie I; Columbia could be over-engineered and to compare the US lp with the DG version is instructive. I was not thinking of the Wizard of Oz in this context even though the comparison fits. One has only to listen to Repons and Explosante-Fixe to feel overwhelmed by artificial flutelike noises and matt metallic sounds, the predictable byproduct of sixties FM synthesis, which conjures up images of Wagner reclining on his couch smothered in purple silk. If you have not followed the development of synthesizer technology it is going to be hard to explain in a few words why an inability to produce anything other than metallic sounds is a defect inherited from US synthesis software reflecting a failure of understanding of how musical instruments actually work, and Boulez's inability to change that. The new score was actually composed in two sessions, in December 1983 and May 1984, and KS had interest and opportunity to hear Repons as a work in progress. I am saying the electronic score of Kathinkas Gesang is superior to the "six tinkers" of the earlier version and, as a theoretical construct, on a par with the Boulez sonically and certainly tighter conceptually (so many of Boulez's sounds have the effect of an accident with the cutlery in a chef's kitchen). I agree that the free associations of Boulez's live/electronic dialogues are intriguing, even if misleadingly concocted to give the impression of intelligent dialogue. What I don't like is their lack of variety and/or progress; compared to the tight rotations of Stockhausen, they sound like fireworks or false climaxes.

Jerry Offline



Posts: 145

Mon Mar 10, 2014 3:16 am
#8 RE: Why am I busy with Stockhausen? reply

Thank you for the clarification, Robin. We will have to disagree about the relative merits of the percussion and electronic accompaniments, which I find are not so much in competition as simply very different entities. I may be influenced by the visual theatrical aspects in this case, having seen two different productions, but the musical material is also very different: the electronic accompaniment is compositionally derived entirely from the flute part, whereas the percussion version adds an independent musical layer, both in the sound plates and in the improvised percussionists' responses to the solo flute. In a recording, of course, the theatrical element is largely erased (certainly you get no idea of the humorous effect of the ridiculous costume/instruments in action), and it also makes more difficult the perception of how the improvisations interact with the flute.

I did not know about the brush with the Columbia engineers over Mikrophonie I, but I can well imagine it happened. In those days, Columbia was notorious for using a steep roll-off in the bass register, and a slightly more modest but still excessive one in the upper treble range, predicated on assumptions about the average home stereo setup. This is not the sort of thing that would benefit a piece like Mikrophonie I, and of course real hi-fi enthusiasts at that time were not happy about it, either.

I think you can assume that I am up to speed on the history of synthesizers, but other readers of this thread may not be. The ringing, metallic sound of FM synthesis is notorious, of course, though I think you will find it is a product of the early 1970s, rather than the sixties, at least insofar as its commercial applications are concerned. The Boulez pieces you cite play right into this timbral difficulty by their choice of generating timbres: MIDI flute in the case of the 1993 version of …explosante-fixe… (I have not heard the vibraphone version from 1986). The 1973 version is in this respect better, but was plagued by technical problems (I think this is a little too early to be put down to FM synthesis, which was only loosed on the world by John Chowning in that same year). Répons features the bright, percussive sounds of pianos, harp, vibraphone, and cimbalom, which I personally find aurally fatiguing, but they also do little to provide a counterweight to the effect of the live electronics, such as the clarinet, trumpet, and strings provide in the 1973 version of e-f.

I remember at just about the time of the first version of Répons (Spring of 1981, to be precise) learning of the newly devised Karplus-Strong plucked-string algorithm, which was being touted as the first real improvement over FM synthesis. By that time, FM synthesis was being derided as an instantly recognizable timbre (contrary to its early advertising), and it wasn't long before the Karplus-Strong algorithm joined that club. The bottom line is that I agree entirely that Stockhausen largely escaped these traps with the electronic music for KATHINKAs GESANG.

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I feel that it could be useful to have a discussion-forum on the music of Stockhausen. There are so many people from all over the world, young and old, learned and eager to get into contact with this musical world: musicologists, composers, musicians, music lovers; people who plan concerts - who write books or have to give lectures and so on. So there should be much stuff, many ideas that we can share. And when we have open questions, there may be people who studied just that and could give a hint or a stimulus. A problem might be the English language, but i feel that is the only possibility that many people who are interested can participate. And we can exercise tolerance to mistakes! Thomas Ulrich
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