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Ulrich Offline

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Thu Mar 13, 2014 4:06 pm
Understanding reply

In many contributions of this forum there appears the question: Is the concept of understanding appropriate to dealing with music. Isn't listening the main thing, and thus arguing with Urantia, with the meaning of Eva and Maria or if Lucifer is good or bad and so on is misleading, is just intellectualizing. I agree with Jerry when he says: His first contact with Stockhausen with via listening, being fascinated by the works, the sounds. Just the same happened with me: I was a pupil when I first heard GESANG and I did not understand anything, it was totally strange to me - and I was totally fascinated. And the same happened with other pieces.
But I doubt if that it is. There comes a moment where you should go on. Sometimes this moment is very early. Paradoxically in the instance of Cage with his concept of pure listening that knowing is very basic: When you listen to 4'33'' as an ordinary lover of classical music you never will get the point, if you know nothing - you will stick to the judgment: a Dada-joke, what happens here.
Stockhausen's music is much more rooted in tradition, but earlier or later you also will be confronted with the question: What is happening here? And when you know something about the history of electronic music, about the relationship for instance of Boulez and Stockhausen, as was the discussion of some scholars here, you will hear more aspects of the music of KATH. GESANG etc. Often with me it is the case: When I know more, I get more sensitivity in listening. Must not be, but sometimes it is the case.
And there is one special aspect to Stockhausen, and that for me is the most important: St. wants to submit a message. There are reasons for serialism for instance, and when you read the exchange of letters with Goeyvaerts you will understand more and the music gets a special meaning. And that is even more the case with LICHT. Sure, you can be fascinated by OKTOPHONIE in itself, or just delighted by LICHTER-WASSER, but I would say: For St. that would not be enough. For him music is a fast rocket to heavens, should uplift your mind, should connect you with creation and the creator, lead you to praying etc, and for that you should know what these things are about. All this mythological stuff in LICHT is not just to be neglected or pure rubbish; it should help the listener to open up to the miracle of this music.

Adorján Offline

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Fri Mar 14, 2014 9:44 am
#2 RE: Understanding reply

That is what I asked in the KLANG post: What does it mean to understand music? And for LICHT, it is quite obvious that "the mythological stuff" has something to do with the music: the formulas are connected with the "spirits" or "concepts" of Michael, Luzifer, and Eve, and through them with the colours et cetera. Not only that, the formulas are generating the "story" of LICHT, so that by listening to the words, one is guided to the music. My concern was whether this is similarly obvious for KLANG. So one has to make differences between the works, I think.

Morag Offline

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Fri Mar 14, 2014 7:04 pm
#3 RE: Understanding reply

I think part of the problem is that we have been taught to think that "music" is one thing and text, appearance, movement, performance space, ritual context ... etc. etc. are another. This is a very reductionist and modern idea about what "music" is that doesn't work for a lot of movements in contemporary composition, not to mention the wider world. Stockhausen's music certainly has so much complexity and depth on the level of the relationships between sounds (what "music" is often taken to be) that it is certainly possible to approach, appreciate and celebrate many of his works on this level alone (while, to come back to Thomas's original post, many works by Cage and other experimental music cannot be appreciated outside a specific performance situation). But there are few recent composers of a more "traditional" leaning (actually I'm not sure Stockhausen is that "traditional" for this very reason!) whose work loses more when only the sounding structure is presented than Stockhausen.
For what it's worth, I began to "get" many of Stockhausen's works from LICHT onwards around the same time that my musicological work became more and more sociological. (Which is also admitting to a certain bias vis-à-vis what I've just said ;-) As a result my "understanding" of the earlier works has changed quite profoundly as well.

Jerry Offline

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Fri Mar 14, 2014 7:41 pm
#4 RE: Understanding reply

Yes, Adorján, this is exactly the point, isn't it? In the case of LICHT, it would be foolish to follow the advice Stockhausen offered for listening to his tape pieces: close you eyes and just listen to the music. In operas, even "just the music" involves words, and those words have at least specific connotations and associations for those who can understand them, and usually they connect together into grammatically meaningful structures. Even for those who cannot understand them (as I cannot understand the Hindi or Arabic texts used in parts of SONNTAG, for example) there is still the sense that they convey such ideas to others. The artificial texts made in imitation of languages (such as are used in WELT-PARLAMENT, for example, and the "language music" improvised by the Operator near the end of MICHAELION) no doubt are meant to give that impression to everyone (without actually being comprehensible at all), and a very few may succeed in deciphering the wordplay used in other places (at the beginning of LUZIFERs TRAUM, for example). I don't know about anyone else, but this reminds me very strongly of the "scale of degrees of comprehensibility" Stockhausen used in GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE and, less, formally in MOMENTE. In this context, it appears that Stockhausen meant us to "understand" (that is, "comprehend") his texts, at least, to as many different degrees as possible.

However, a more basic question (and the one to which I referred obliquely in my earlier post) is: what sense or multiple senses of the verb "to understand" do we mean? The Oxford English Dictionary gives ten different senses in current English usage for this word (and five more obsolete senses), so it is hardly surprising that Google Translate comes up with (for example) ten different German words as equivalent: verstehen, begreifen, kapieren, auffassen, fassen, erfassen, erkennen, voraussetzen, and sich denken. (For Italian, Google Translate offers fourteen choices, and for Welsh, 188!) On the other side of the coin, when somebody says, "I don't understand this music," they cannot intend all of these different senses, and when the silly conclusion is drawn that it requires an advanced degree in mathematics to "understand" some piece of music or other, someone is obviously misusing the word. At this point, I think Louis Armstrong's response to someone who asked what "swing" means is the only reasonable answer: "Man, if you've gotta ask, then you'll never know!"

LICHT, of course, is opera, and with opera we expect text, movement, lighting, costumes, sets, and perhaps other things (aromas?) all to contribute to the "message" of the work of art. KLANG is obviously not opera, though the Fourth Hour is theatrical in nature, and some of the Hours have texts. Clearly, the texts of HIMMELFAHRT and FREUDE have some bearing on how we are meant to "understand" them; how important in this respect are the very fleeting texts in NATURAL DURATIONS or HARMONIEN? And what about the whispering voices—tantalizingly just beyond comprehensibility—that occur sporadically (and in different places each time I hear it) in COSMIC PULSES? What weight should we give to the times of the day to which each of these twenty-one compositions is assigned? Do the colours here have the kind of traditional/mythological symbolism that relate the colours in LICHT to their respective operas? I think not, but that still leaves open the question of their relevance. Robin Maconie is openly skeptical about this, and I think with good reason. The texts of HAVONA, JERUSEM, ORVONTON, and URANTIA may be a different matter.

Robin Maconie Offline

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Fri Mar 14, 2014 10:56 pm
#5 RE: Understanding reply

KLANG asks to be considered as a simultaneous work e.g. in the spirit of John Cage"s piece for 12 radios, each "hour" capable of being listened to and enjoyed as a separate item in its own right (like tuning in to a radio channel) but with added possibilities of finding connections when presented in a situation where all of the hours are equally available, for example, listening at home on a hard drive with a random channel selector. Such material could even have been conceived as inspirational material for PROZESSION or KURZWELLEN; I think it would be charming to hear performers on stage tuning in to late Stockhausen in order to recreate a composition from the 1960s - a time travelling exercise of the kind we can already experience listening to the cd of the premiere of TRANS. Cage grappled with the McLuhanesque concept of a global village where simultaneity and instant access to information replaced linearity and succession. The instantaneous world has come to pass in the internet age, so we understand what it is about and should be prepared to recognize a composition adapted to the new reality. The relative austerity of material in KLANG makes it suitable for sampling, imitation, and polyphonic elaboration on the composer's terms: a dangerous strategy already exposed to misinterpretation in KOMET and other late keyboard "competition pieces". When Stockhausen in conversation with Jonathan Cott envisaged a concert experience of the future a bit like a continuous-run triple-stage movie house where listeners are allowed to come and go freely, and equally when he conceived MUSIK FÜR EIN HAUS and ALPHABET FÜR LIEGE as structures for exploration, he had in mind a setting for the simultaneous performance of a collection of works that, in the spirit of Cage, could be experienced casually and in any order(and whose performers could also talk to one another). But unlike Cage, he constructed the totality of KLANG with great attention to content, variation, "windows", and internal cross-referencing, so that the experience would always have the potential to provoke a careful listener to astonishment and recognition, and nourish ideas beyond having a good time and cleaning up afterwards. That to me is the difference between Stockhausen and Cage, the American's focus entirely on capturing everything on tape, the more empty of meaning the better.

Jerry Offline

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Points: 181

Sat Mar 15, 2014 1:11 am
#6 RE: Understanding reply

Yes, Robin, clearly this is true, and that is more or less the way KLANG was presented at the MusikTriennale Köln in 2010. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend those performances. I do wonder how effectively certain parts of the cycle work together in this context, however. Perhaps some of the people who experienced it would be willing to venture an opinion? I am thinking especially of Hours 6–12 (the trios built from the material of Hour 5, HARMONIEN). Since these are amongst themselves permutations of the same basic material—"one trio in an ever-changing light", so to speak—it seems to me that they must have a very different sort of relationship when visited "at random" or "at will" than some of the other parts do—for example, NATURAL DURATIONS and COSMIC PULSES.

James Offline

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Points: 72

Sat Mar 15, 2014 2:00 pm
#7 RE: Understanding reply

In the 2000 Music Master BBC documentary .. KS was even talked about having a special building designed for KLANG where people could travel around in it from room to room as they wish and experience all of the hour music.

The reality is that most of us absorb & enjoy KS's music purely from recordings & home media, including all that staged stuff. I know it is not the full effect .. but it works in this capacity too.

Jerry Offline

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Sat Mar 15, 2014 10:01 pm
#8 RE: Understanding reply

It is true that in this day and age most of us "absorb & enjoy KS's music purely from recordings" (and indeed, not just Stockhausen's music). Pursuing the topic of "understanding" in this context, I think that we must all be aware of the fact that we are missing something in so doing, and that the degree of what we are missing from the "full effect" of a live performance varies with the piece. Since we have been discussing KLANG, the contrast between TÜRIN and COSMIC PULSES provides the strongest possible difference. TÜRIN is the only piece in Stockhausen's entire output actually composed for listening at home on a stereo playback machine. We are missing nothing of its intended "full effect", even if it may sound a little more impressive played back in an auditorium over a multi-speaker system. COSMIC PULSES, on the other hand, is a pale shadow of itself when reduced to just two channels; we must constantly remind ourselves of the fact that its central compositional object is the continual motion of sound over eight channels, which we can only imagine in our living room or when listening with ear buds from a portable player as we bicycle around the countryside. Both of these pieces, however, lack any visual component. HIMMELS-TÜR, on the other hand, has such a strong theatrical-visual element that, at first, I tended to regard the audible "music" dimension as secondary. It was only after discussing this piece with people who had only ever heard the recording, and hearing Richard Toop's eloquent analysis of the work in a seminar at the Stockhausen Courses in 2008, that it even occurred to me that it might be possible to "just hear it", and still have it make sense.

Although I have now experienced three of the LICHT operas in the theater, as well as live performances in less "complete" staging of one complete opera and parts of others, I think it is one of Stockhausen's earlier works that most resists "understanding" when simply heard on record. Until I saw TRANS performed in London in 2008, I really had no appreciation at all of what it was about. Reading the programme notes, or even following the score while listening to a recording does not come even close to the effect of seeing the actions on stage (and "not seeing" some of them, which in the ordinary course of events would be visible). In fact, I would say that the visual element in TRANS is at least half of the composition. A film would go a long way toward filling the gap but, as far as I am aware, no such film has ever been made.

There are other examples, of course. I cannot imagine how anyone could "understand" HERBSTMUSIK at all from just a sound recording, and surely the recording of STERNKLANG must leave out much of the experience of the piece ("experience" is one sense of "understanding," or at least a component of it). Are these pieces less frequently mentioned in discussions, or even regarded as being of less worth because of our dependence on audio recordings?

Robin Maconie Offline

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Sat Mar 15, 2014 11:54 pm
#9 RE: Understanding reply

As always, radio is the key. TRANS is about "listening through" a curtain of static to the monsters behind the screen, just as Boulez's Repons is about winding up a grandfather clock and waiting to hear it chime: very French. There are ways of remixing COSMIC PULSES and other 8-channel works in Ambisonics or dummy-head binaural to give a more satisfactory impression of spatiality. But I am more concerned that works like COSMIC PULSES, AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH, STERNKLANG, and MIXTUR are still not fully realized in a technical sense. Their problems have still to be suitably addressed. STERNKLANG remains a challenge: bringing the performance indoors did not work, and the delays involved in group to group signalling outdoors made coordination impossible as well as unreal. HERBSTMUSIK is a brilliant concept for a radiophonic work, and for those with a strong aural imagination a performance does not need vision at all (if you must have choreography, I would take a leaf out of Merce Cunningham and stage a very formal Balinese style group dance to offset the realistic noises going on overhead). Consider the clapping little girl scene in the original recording of DER JAHRESLAUF: with vision, you miss the point entirely of the transformation of periodic clog sounds and clapping sounds (which vary in pitch) into audience applause sounds, which are cloglike but aperiodic, and "up in the air". Or the joke scene in MUSIK IM BAUCH where one of the players runs off stage and keeps on running over the horizon. I recall a London performance of HYMNEN MIT SOLISTEN incorporating a campfire scene in which brushwood was broken, sound actions very close to the microphone, - a scene "borrowed" from HERBSTMUSIK. The gradation of tones of breaking twigs was utterly magical. I cannot wait to hear "Nailing a roof" pounding in pointillistic fortissimo surround sound over my head by unseen hammers: a tribute by Stockhausen to Boulez's "Marteau(x) sans Maitre(s)". Any soundtrack radio or movie producer would know exactly what HERBSTMUSIK is about, not based on visual logic, but the physical nature and constitution of sounds, and their associations, - a concretion of principles acquired in the composition of KONTAKTE.

Robin Maconie Offline

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Points: 67

Sun Mar 16, 2014 1:54 am
#10 RE: Understanding reply

Re Jerry's remark about "degrees of comprehensibility" in Gesang der Jünglinge. The concept relates to US Information Theory, with particular reference to a 1947 paper by N. R. French and J. C. Steinberg introducing the Articulation Index for live or automated speech recognition (aka phone-tapping): "whose magnitude is taken to vary between zero and unity, the former applying to when the received speech is completely unintelligible, the latter to the condition of best intelligibility." (Robert T. Beyer, "Sounds of Our Times". New York, AIP/Springer, 1999, 280) NB Gesang der Jünglinge is based on a serialization of speech recognition criteria connected to US wartime intelligence, brought to Cologne Radio in 1950 along with the Bell vocoder by Homer Dudley and Werner Meyer-Eppler, to provide a scientific launchpad for 1950s electronic music by Beyer, Eimert, and Stockhausen (and to give scientific credibility to the periodical die Reihe). The US/IT connection accounts for close scientific interest in Stockhausen during his US lecture tour of 1958, and for US cooperation with Boulez in the founding of IRCAM in 1977.

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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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