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Radio Stockhausen

My Book/eBook: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.

My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music


In the previous episode we explored music for which radios were used as musical instruments. We listened to the work of five composers who used variable approaches to create radio music. We return to that theme here, although we are only going to focus on examples from one of those composers, Karlheinz Stockhausen.


During the years 1968 to about 1972, Stockhausen built several additional works around the methods he used in the initial piece, Kurzwellen, an ensemble piece in which the musicians were asked to react to signals they received on shortwave radios that they tuned themselves. The ensemble instruments were piano, the accordion-like monophonic tube synthesizer called the Electronium, a large tam-tam with microphone, a viola with contact microphone, and 2 filters with 4 faders, and 4 short-wave receivers, one alongside each musician. The shortwave sounds were the musical "material" to which each musician reacted. During performance, each player was asked to quietly locate shortwave signals that corresponded to the degree of change prescribed in the score. Musicians were required to avoid passages of unmodulated spoken word or music while searching the airwaves. Stockhausen again, "The rhythm, timbre, melodic contour and envelope of an event played on an instrument should be as close an imitation as possible of the event to which one is reacting and transposed according to the prescribed degree of change. When and how often a player alternates between short-wave and instrumental events is left to his discretion. Completely unmodulated, realistic short-wave events should be avoided.” The score did not use musical notation but rather, plus, minus, and equal symbols to create 128 events based on what the individual musicians were hearing. The plus, minus, and equal symbols refer to the dynamics of the sound that can be played to accompany the shortwave signals—louder, softer, more rapid, and so on. The first track we heard was side 1 of the Radio Bremen performance found on the original LP, recorded in real-time.


Stockhausen followed Kurzwellen with several works modeled after the same performance practice and scoring methods. We will hear works using this procedure.


Spiral, for a soloist on any instrument or combination of instruments, and voice with shortwave radio receiver was also composed in 1968. It became one of the works that Stockhausen showcased at the Osaka 1970 World's Fair Expo. Here, Stockhausen had his own performance space, a large spherical building equipped with speakers whose output could be controlled by the composer to distribute the sound where he wished. In the case of Spiral, he did just what the name suggested: moved the sound in spirals around the audience. The best-known version of this work was by oboist Heinz Holliger who performed it more than 1300 times at the world’s fair of 1970. We heard a recording of this work done in 1971 following the Fair.


In 1970, for the bicentenary of Beethoven’s birth, Stockhause produced a special version of Kurzwellen that is sometimes known as Kurzwellen mit Beethoven-Musik, Stockhoven-Beethausen and released as Opus 1970. This work was a hybrid of his ensemble work for Kurzwellen (1968) and his use of shortwave tape collages in Hymnen (1969). Stockhausen substituted four tape collages of recorded Beethoven works for the shortwave radios. The recorded tapes retained shortwave sounds to simulate the real-time reception on radios. His ensemble used the same performance practices as they had for Kurzwellen but replaced the live shortwave radios with sounds they picked up from the montages on tape. They were each asked to respond to the tape collages as they would radio transmissions, choosing to tune-in and out as they wished.


Finally, we heard another version of Sprial, but this one for the Electrochord and shortwave radio performed by Peter Eotvos. This was a limited release double-LP set marking some of his Stockhausen’s performances in Japan and was only released in Germany and Japan. The Electrochord in question is actually a combination of instruments consisting of a Hungarian zither with 15 strings and an EMS VCS-3 synthesizer. The sounds of the zither were picked-up by two contact microphones and fed through the synthesizer for modification, for example filtering and ring modulation. This is one of the first instances I can find of someone from Stockhausen’s performing group using a synthesizer other than the accordion-like Electronium. This Electrochord should not be confused with the organ-like instrument of the same name invented in the 1930s in Germany. The composer later purchased a very large EMS model 100 synthesizer for the WDR


Episode 61

Radio Stockhausen

Playlist


1. Karlheinz Stockhausen, “Kurzwellen,” side 1 from Kurzwellen (1970 Deutsche Grammophon). This is the Radio Bremen performance from the original 2-LP recording dated May 5, 1968. Composed, mixed, and electronics (filters and mixers), Karlheinz Stockhausen; Electronium, shortwave radio, Harald Bojé; Tamtam, shortwave radio, Alfred Alings, Rolf Gehlhaar; Piano, shortwave radio, Aloys Kontarsky; Electric Viola, shortwave radio, Johannes G. Fritsch. 23:25


2. Karlheinz Stockhausen, “Spiral Für Einen Solisten” (1970) from Siebengesang/Spiral Für Einen Solisten (1971 Deutsche Grammophon). Composed and directed and mixed by Karlheinz Stockhausen; Oboe, shortwave radio, Heinz Holliger. Recorded at Tonstudio Max Lussi, Basel, Switzerland, October 1970. A little klezmer music with the shortwave plus some creative vocalizations by oboe soloist Holliger. “Spiral (1968) für einen Solisten. Events received by a soloist on a (short-)wave radio are imitated, transformed and transcended.” This is an interpretation that often sticks closely to imitating the sounds heard on the shortwave, an approach often avoided (admittedly) by Stockhausen’s regular troupe of musicians, despite the composer’s suggestions for doing so. This interpretation stands out in this regard. 15:45


3. Karlheinz Stockhausen, “Stockhausen - Beethoven - Op. 1970” side B from Opus 1970 (1970 Deutsche Grammophon). Composed and mixed by Karlheinz Stockhausen; Piano, Aloys Kontarsky; Elektronium, Harald Bojé; Tam-tam, Rolf Gehlhaar; Electric viola, Johannes G. Fritsch; Tone Production Associate, Otto-Ernst Wohlert. This special version of Kurzwellen, sometimes known as Kurzwellen mit Beethoven-Musik, Stockhoven-Beethausen and released as Opus 1970, was produced for the bicentenary of Beethoven’s birth in 1970. Following on the heels of his ensemble work for Kurzwellen (1968) and his use of shortwave tape collages in Hymnen (1969), Stockhausen substituted four tape collages of recorded Beethoven works for the shortwave radios of Kurzwellen. The recorded tapes retained shortwave sounds to simulate the real-time reception on radios. His ensemble used the same performance practices as they had for Kurzwellen but replaced the live shortwave radios with sounds they picked up from the montages on tape. They were each asked to respond to the tape collages as they would radio transmissions, choosing to tune-in and out as they wished. 25:33


4. Karlheinz Stockhausen, “Spiral - Version Elektrochord,” from Spiral/Wach/Japan/Pole (1973 Die Stimme Seines Herrn). Elektrochord, Schalmal, Japanische Bamboo flute], shortwave radio (KW-Empfänger, Péter Eötvös; mixer and potentiometer, Karlheinz Stockhausen. This album includes two versions of Spiral, one by Peter Eotvos and the other by Harald Boje. The Boje version uses the Electronium alone wth a shortwave receiver while this version uses an Electrochord, a shawm, a Japanese bamboo flute, and a shortwave receiver. The Electrochord in question is actually a combination of instruments consisting of a Hungarian zither with 15 strings along with an EMS VCS-3 synthesizer. The sounds of the zither are picked-up by two contact microphones and fed through the synthesizer for modification, for example filtering and ring modulation. This is one of the first instances I can find of someone from Stockhausen’s performing group using a synthesizer other than the accordion-like Electronium. This Electrochord should not be confused with the organ-like instrument of the same name invented in the 1930s in Germany. The composer later purchased a very large EMS model 100 synthesizer for the WDR studio. 16:03

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Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.