Magazine Archive

Home -> Magazines -> Issues -> Articles in this issue -> View

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Electronics Into Light | Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen has had a profound influence on modern music from the 1950s onwards, and pioneered the use of electronics to create genuinely new music. Mark J. Prendergast reviews his career.

Stockhausen at work on 'Montag Aus Licht', at WDR Köln.

Entering the world of Karlheinz Stockhausen is an experience akin to walking on the moon. Every notion and idea falls away as one is confronted by a mind which is constantly inventing and re-inventing the very bedrocks of musical science. Like a colossus Stockhausen presides over the development of modern music from 1950 onwards.

It was he that made it possible for electronics to enter into the musical forum. It was he that popularised the use of loudspeakers and mixing desks in performance. It was he that first espoused the importance of the studio in composition. It was he that harnessed the tape recorder as a separate instrument in its own right. It was he who lectured on the importance of a universal music. It was he who brought the composer out of the sterile confines of the study and into the socio-politico mainstream, thus integrating electronic and computerised innovations with a global philosophy that was constantly being re-iterated in lectures and writings.

In 1953 on a Köln radio programme Stockhausen made the statement which would change the history of music for all time: "I want to invent new music, for I believe I have something new to say... I am not looking for the new at any price. The price I pay is the old style." And in doing so he influenced generations of musicians to follow his lead. On the serious side such 20th century giants as Ligeti and Boulez gained huge inspiration from Stockhausen's radical deconstructions of classical notions, and via teaching and demonstrating his ideas to La Monte Young, Holger Czukay, Irmin Schmidt and Jon Hassell, he had a profound influence on rock.

If groups like The Velvet Underground, Can, Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh would have been impossible without him, the sound ideas inherent in 70s and '80s instrumental and world music were equally his doing. Time and again Brian Eno would refer to Stockhausen's visionary perceptions of music in time and space, while English musicians like Cornelius Cardew, who played their part into Eno's education, had worked with the composer. Jon Hassell, that tireless advocator of World Music studied under him at Darmstadt in the early 1960s. But of all the people to be inspired by the composer, none had more influence themselves than The Beatles. Both Paul McCartney and John Lennon openly admitted his influence on such albums as Sgt. Pepper and The White Album (the latter's 'Revolution 9' being a stunning application of Stockhausen "total serialism").

It's a little known fact that at the beginning of 1969 Stockhausen was in New York for a meeting which was hoped would lead to a joint concert with the Fab Four. A snow storm put paid to that, but it was obvious they revered him. His photo had appeared on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and in December 1980 Stockhausen admitted how close they were: "Lennon often used to phone. He was particularly fond of 'Hymnen' and 'Gesang der Jünglinge' and got many things from them, for example in 'Strawberry Fields Forever'."

It is astonishing to think that Stockhausen has composed around 205 works and recorded over 100 albums, yet nothing — not one note — is throwaway, whimsical, or conceived without 100% commitment. Since 1977 he has undertaken a Gesamtkunstwerk to rival even Wagner, the longest performance electro-acoustic piece in history, entitled 'Licht'. Each day of the week has an 'opera' of varying length written for it. The aim is to have the complete cycle performed, to welcome in the next millenium, in a specially built auditorium. With ambitions like that it is not surprising that Stockhausen's results have always bettered even his nearest rivals'.

Back in 1969 he conducted his ensemble for four days over an abyss within the great cave of Jeita near Beirut. At Expo '70 Osaka he conducted all his works in a specially built spherical dome for 183 days, for five-and-a-half hours a day. Stockhausen controlled the sound, coming from 55 speakers arranged in seven rings, from a mixing desk in the centre. His presence attracted 1 million listeners. So 'Licht' should be even more controversial.

The raison d'etre for this essay is simple. Stockhausen's definitive biography by Michael Kurtz has just been published by Fabers. In it the German musicologist gives the best account to date of both Stockhausen's life and work. Moreoever, since leaving Deutsche Grammophon last year Stockhausen himself has undertaken to remaster and make available CDs of his most important recordings. Releases will average two per month, in chronological order, through 1992 and 1993. Still residing in his self-designed house in Kurten near Köln, this maverick genius is at present working in the famed electronic studio WDR in Köln on the fourth part of the 'Licht' cycle, 'Freitag aus Lict' (Friday from Light). The world premier of the just completed 'Dienstag aus Licht' (Tuesday from Light) will take place in Lisbon this year, featuring 'octophony', a cuboid of eight loudspeaker groups relaying precisely annotated sound movements from banks of digital and analogue equipment.

It would be foolish to attempt to assess the full extent of Stockhausen's contribution to modern music within a few pages. Given that limitation, specific questions were addressed to him by post (he doesn't believe in telephone or fax communication). Stockhausen has opted to point to certain writings, lectures and notes which he feels to be definitive. A feature of all his thought is that he never repeats himself. His views, once expressed, are concrete original statements. What follows then is an overview of his career which focuses on his electronic work, with salient references to other principles such as 'aleatory' and 'World Music'. Specific pieces will be referred to by year of composition, and a CD discography is included which refers to current CD versions available in the UK and also new CDs which will be available by mail from Stockhausen-Verlag in Germany.


The place and country of Stockhausen's birth, 22 August 1928 in Mödrath near Köln, ensured that his early years were far from easy. His experience of wartime — his father died in action and his mother, having been incarcerated in a mental home, was gassed in a Nazi euthanasia programme — strengthened his Catholic faith. "I knew for certain that God was shining up there and looking at me. And he gave me so much light." Hence the scale of his present hommage to light.

An interesting feature of the period, however, was that "he was one of the first generation of composers to grow up with the radio and the gramophone", as his biographer notes. His musical ability was quickly apparent — he was playing piano at three, and had perfect musical recall. Once he heard a tune, Stockhausen never forgot.

After the war he went to Köln to enter the Musikhochschule, financing himself by performing for GIs in cafes. Strangely he failed the entrance exam in '47 and had to re-take it in '48 after studying theory. Simultaneously he went to Köln University to study philology (the science of language), philosophy and musicology.

During this time Stockhausen began writing serial pieces influenced by Schoenberg's 12-tone system. His 1950 'Drei Lieder' (Three Songs) is incredibly accomplished, exhibiting a complete mastery of tone and an understanding of increasing and decreasing volumes. In 1951 he forged an important relationship with the writer Herbert Eimert, who also hosted music programmes at radio station WDR Köln; his involvement with the station would ultimately have profound consequences for 20th century sound.

"By the middle of the 20th century the great Romantic arch that had displayed so many extreme offshoots seemed to have reached its end. Once again one looked up the stars and started an intensive measuring and counting." With these prophetic words Stockhausen attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music in 1951. These courses had been established to foster 'the new' and attracted international interest. Pierre Schaeffer, who invented 'musique concrete' or found tape music, was present; so too was Meyer-Eppler, a physicist from Bonn who invented the concept of 'aleatory music'. Stockhausen and Italian avantist Luigi Nono were among those entranced by Messiaen's breakthrough with 'modes' — the world of music was in upheaval.

Having investigated rhythm and sound points in 'Kreuzpiel' (Cross-Play) and 'Formel' (Formula), Stockhausen graduated with distinction in 1951. Simultaneously Eimert and Eppler founded the Electronic Studio at WDR Köln for, to quote Kurtz, "the production and investigation of synthetic sounds". In 1952 Stockhausen went to Paris to study with the gifted Olivier Messiaen, who said he was "absolutely convinced he was dealing with a genius". In January of that year John Cage premiered 'Imaginary Landscape' for tape and record players in New York. In Paris Pierre Boulez was working on tape composition with Schaeffer at the studio Club d'Essai (Paris Radio). Electronic music was the place to be, and Stockhausen was as usual in the right place at the right time.

Performing in 1975.


Performances of Stockhausen's work demonstrated a capacity to shock audiences. In Darmstadt audiences were furious at a performance of 'Kreuzspiel' which, according to Kurtz, contained "no motives, no rhythm, just seemingly disconnected single notes." At a performance of 'Spiel' (Play) in Baden-Baden that year, audiences were scandalised by the smashing of a valuable Furstenburg wine goblet with a metal rod.

While in Paris working on timbral analysis, Stockhausen wrote 'Étude' (Study), his first electronic piece, a concrete study based on six different prepared piano sounds. At last he had broken into another world. He said then "We shall use electronic sound production in the future and we shall govern the material." With incredible dedication he worked on the studio's frequency generator, superimposing pure sine tones with the aim of synthesising complex sounds. "There was no tape recorder there in the studio," he says. "I had to copy each sine tone on to disc and then copy it from one disc to another." Stockhausen's 'Étude' only lasted 2 minutes 20 seconds and had taken one month to compose.

Stockhausen's commitment to electronics was incredible. He flew in the face of all convention, all pre-conceived notions. In 1953 arrived his 'Kontra-Punkte' (Counter-Points) where "the big differences between very long and very short time values are abolished". This piece of chamber music eventually influenced the way Klaus Schulze and Brian Eno composed 25 years later.

A move to WDR Köln, where Eimert was ready to take him on as assistant, was the next crucial step in Stockhausen's search for "pure electronic music". There he started with a 2-manual melochord (organ) and an electric monochord (sliding pitch device), but couldn't actually synthesise sounds with this equipment. Acquiring a sine-wave generator, he fed its output and that of the melochord into a ring modulator. This little trick produced barbarous sounds which caused "physical pain through sheer pressure on the eardrum".

Stockhausen spent months working on 'Studie 1', building up the sine tones into musical sounds on tape, composing with diagrams, drawings, and enormous commitment to the painstaking work. At any point the sound in 'Studie 1' consisted of up to six superimposed sine tones, and notating the piece involved describing detailed time, pitch, and volume envelope information, while all the time tape noise, manual synchronisation and equipment defects hindered his progress. By the summer of 1954 Stockhausen had finished 'Studie 2' in triumph. Electronic music had arrived. In Stockhausen's words it was simply a matter of "the composer's conception".

"In electronic music, generators, tape recorders and loudspeakers should yield what no instrumentalist has ever been capable of."(Switzerland 1955)


Between '54 and '56 Stockhausen enrolled at Bonn University to study phonetics, communications theory, musicology and philosophy. His main attraction was the genius of acoustical research Werner Meyer-Eppler, who was interested in vocoders, the measurement of all sounds, electronics, and information theory. He considered sonic processes to be phenomena whose outcome was only quantative in broad terms.

Its detail was 'aleatory'. "Alea means dice, aleatory means to have chance operations," he told Stockhausen. As well as influencing both literature and music, these ideas would be adopted by Stockhausen for a new type of notation where broad instructions would open themselves out to multiple interpretations. Around this time Stockhausen met John Cage and involved himself in the first tape/orchestra performance of French pioneer Edgard Varese's 'Deserts' in Hamburg. From that time until 1974 Stockhausen would be a permanent fixture of the Darmstadt new music seminars.

Between 1955 and 1958 the composer reached his first great peak, and achieved worldwide fame. Working on tape speeds he solved the problem of pitch and duration in traditional serialism, realising that he could use overlapping time layers. 'Gruppen' for three orchestras used this idea, so that sound could move freely in time and space. In a flash of genius Stockhausen then wanted to create an electronic mass adapted from the Bible. 'Gesang Der Jünglinge', a sacred work around 13 minutes in length, had a revolutionary effect as it was the first piece of music to combine the human voice and every conceivable electronic sound. It took six months of concentration, day and night, for Stockhausen to produce five minutes. "There was one sound for 4.5 seconds that we literally worked for six weeks to arrange."

Pulse generators, feedback filters, and potentiometers for volume control, were all operated by Stockhausen and technicians to produce the sounds. Its debut in May '56 at WDR caused as much uproar as Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring'. According to Kurtz it was the first example of 'electronic spatial music' where the audience were inside the sound of loudspeakers.


In the wake of this Stockhausen put on a performance of 'Klavierstück XI', a radical piano piece where 19 groups of notes were arranged on a huge sheet of paper which was kept in a cardboard tube. The player unrolls it and plays the first thing he sees, and then the next, until everything is done. This type of thing, influenced by Cage, would set the tone for the avant-garde of the late '50s and 1960s. Ligeti came to Köln to see Stockhausen and realised his famous 'Atmospheres', later to be heard on the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey, after hearing 'Gesang'.

Back in the studio Stockhausen was intent on his researches for 'Kontakte' (Contacts), a new piece where every conceivable percussion sound was to be melded with electronics. The experience of flying across the US in this period changed his whole idea of time. For the 1959 'Carré' (Square) for four orchestras and choruses, he stated "If you go beyond the time of memory, which is 8 to 16-second long events, you lose orientation." From this came his leap to a "concentration on the now, on each now to make vertical cuts which break through the horizontal conception of time."

With 'Kontakte' Stockhausen spliced together rhythms from pulses, and loops from rhythms, which were allowed to run for hours and recorded on 4-track equipment. "I used the fast forward on the tape recorder to accelerate the tape until I got into an area where rhythms were heard as pitches and timbres.

Another six months of painstaking work was undertaken to create an entire world of synthetic sounds. It was premiered at a music festival in Köln in May 1960 to muted response. Yet 'Kontakte' and 'Gesang' would become the most influential electronic music ever conceived.


Critics raged against Stockhausen. One German 'expert' called his music "a denaturalised product of the montage of noises derived from physics which no longer has anything to do with music". Yet he drew huge interest internationally, and was widely revered. He now applied his discoveries in electronics to acoustic music, with 'Momente' (Moments) for choral groups and instrumentalists. At a Köln performance in May 1962 he said his aim was the "abolition of dualism between vocal and instrumental music, between sound and silence, between pitch and noise."

In 1963 Stockhausen founded the Köln courses for new music, though he also spent a lot of time in America. During the summer of 1964 he experimented with live electronics and composed 'Mikrophonie' (Microphony) and 'Mixtur' (Mixture). With the latter the symphony orchestra was divided into segments and placed at different points in the hall where the sound was relayed via microphones to sets of mixing desks connected to ring modulators and sine-wave generators. Simultaneously the acoustic sound and treated electronic sound was relayed through loudspeakers. Again Stockhausen foreshadowed methods of electro-acoustic synthesis a good decade before Eno adapted the same for his Ambient recordings.

'Mikrophonie 1' for tamtam, microphones, potentiometers and filters was premiered in Brussels at the end of the year, an event which marked the creation of The Stockhausen Group, who performed his electronic music into the 70s. 'Microphonie 2', for Hammond organ, singers and four ring modulators, followed in 1965.

"I wanted to come closer to the realisation of an old dream : to take the step further in the direction of composing not 'my' music but a music of the whole world, of all countries and races."(Japan 1966)


At the beginning of 1966 Stockhausen was invited by Japanese Radio (NHK) to Tokyo, to write two pieces of electronic music. His arrival there coincided with his vision of "a music of the whole world, of all countries and races". Two months later he had finished 'Telemusik' (Electronic Music), 17.5 minutes of 'meta-collage' in which the ethnic music of Bali, Vietnam, Spain, Japan, Hungary and other countries was treated so that one rhythm, sound or tone would modulate into another. While in Japan Stockhausen absorbed Gagaku music, Noh-theatre, and studied Zen.

The second piece, 'Solo', anticipated the performances of Robert Fripp and Steve Reich many years later in which a melody instrument is instructed to respond to its own feedback.

Following a tour of the Far East, a professorial appointment at Davis College in California brought him back to America in 1967. The Grateful Dead came to his public lectures, and he showed an interest in contemporary pop by attending Jefferson Airplane gigs. Though he conceived some radical dance and film projects at the time, these were never realised.

Back in Europe Stockhausen kept up his feverish creativity. On a train journey he conceived 'Prozession' (Procession) for tamtam, electric viola, electronium, piano, two filters and potentiometers, based on musicians interacting and improvising with themselves. Now the leading light at Darmstadt, he executed at the Summer course his 'Ensemble', 12 different electro-acoustic pieces, performed simultaneously, utilising tape and short-wave radios. By the end of '67 Stockhausen had completed yet another piece 'Hymnen' (Hymns) for electronic and concrete music. This lasted 2.5 hours and involved 40 national anthems, short-wave radios, soloists, and electronic alteration. Again controversy featured at its debut at the WDR hall, as Stockhausen was accused of diluting his music with American pop ideas.

In 1968 he went to Mexico, and was entranced by Mayan culture. This experience produced the beautiful 'Stimmung' (Tuning In) for six voices, using the overtones of Bb. Kurtz summarises it as "a single static chord, that is sustained for over an hour, the singers freely bringing into play different 'sound models'." The text, involving erotic poetry and the names of various Gods, again aroused dismay.

After a trip to Prague, Stockhausen conceived 'Kurzwellen' (Short-waves), the idea being that five individuals turn short-wave radio dials to emit an aleatory mixture of speech, music and morse-code, in a highly advanced form of improvisation. Stockhausen described it as a "20th century quest for the harmony of the spheres through the guise of technology and electricity."

Interestingly, Holger Czukay seized on this idea, and made a great solo career out of it, as well as bringing it to the music of David Sylvian.


1968 was to be a watershed in Stockhausen's life. Following the departure of his wife and children, he ate nothing for a week, and instead wrote the extraordinary 'Aus Den Sieben Tagen' (From The Seven Days), a prose text in 14 parts made up of stanzas full of philosophy and musical instructions. One prophetic stanza from 'Litany' reads: "For many years I have said it innumerable times and sometimes written it; that I do not make my music, but only relay the vibrations I receive; that I function like a translator, that I am a radio. When I composed in the right way, in the right state of mind, my self no longer existed."

Filled with a new spiritual certainty Stockhausen then conceived 'Musik fur ein Haus' (Music For A House) at Darmstadt, in which several floors of a building would be filled with different musicians and groups, both improvising and playing from scores. Potential audiences would wander in and out of the music at will. A trip to America brought about the idea of the spherical auditorium that later featured in the German pavilion for the 1970 Osaka world fair. 1968 ended with 'Spiral' for one soloist and shortwave radio, and premieres of his music in France.

1969 saw Stockhausen travelling around the world, meeting Max Ernst and Marc Chagall, being approached by The Beatles, and performing the aforementioned cave concert in the Lebanon. 'Pole' for two players/singers and short-wave receivers was conceived as a special piece for the Osaka auditorium in 1970. In February 1970 he went to Bali to write another short-wave piece 'Expo'. From 14 March to 14 December Stockhausen, with ensemble and electronic instruments, generated over 1,000 hours of music in the spherical metallic blue auditorium of the German pavilion at Osaka. Stockhausen commented that "musical space travel has finally achieved a 3-dimensional spatiality with this auditorium". Afterwards a trip to Ceylon with his reconciled wife provided the inspiration for the famous 'Mantra', based on Sinhalese music for two pianists who simultaneously play wood blocks, antique cymbals, and ring modulators. This piece also saw Stockhausen move away from "intuitive music" to "formula music", "a single musical figure that could be expanded over a very long period of time. These notes were the centres around which I'd continually present the same formula in a smaller form."


The period from 1970 to 1975 saw Stockhausen's orientation move fully towards World Music. Even though events like 'Sternklang' (Park Music) in Berlin in 1971 for five separated groups of singers and electronic instrumentalists were still interesting, Stockhausen's more memorable contemporary works were 'Am Himmel Wandre Ich (In The Sky I'm Walking) based on American Indian songs, 'Inori' (Adorations), a musical prayer based on sacred gestures, and 'Ceylon', his first recording on the Chrysalis rock label.

During this period, he wrote in 1973 the following prophetic words: "The outcome of the dissolution of individual cultures is that they flow into a more unified world culture. Yet the process of renewal is getting under way simultaneously in all. Still European culture will retain and intensify its fascination for all other peoples. Europeans have the technique both for producing something new and for conserving what has previously matured. The decisive issue is that creative forces in every culture grow beyond the restrictions of their own tradition, developing all those aspects within themselves which come to life when they look into the mirror of other cultures. The preservation of the largest possible number of musical forms from all cultures is enormously necessary because equipment has become so widespread that any sound can be reproduced. If you can only produce specific notes on a very limited instrument, that very limitation, that tremendous concentration and one-sidedness, guarantees highly original music. Universal electronic music is more likely to kill the spirit than to inspire it."

Stockhausen was predicting the World Music explosion of the '80s, and the availability of keyboard synths and samplers. From the mid-70s Stockhausen re-organised his ensemble into flexible units of dancers, instrumentalists and singers.

'Tierkreis' (Zodiac) was written in 1975, after Stockhausen steeped himself in astrology. Its easily accessible 12 melodies became the composer's most performed and popular work. The same year he began work on another electronic meisterwerk, 'Sirius', for voices, brass and EMS Synthi 100. Lasting an hour and a half, this celestial piece is famous on disc for its whining electronic intro and outro ('Presentation' and 'Annunciation'). Strangely, though it was based on the melodies of 'Tierkreis' it sounded nothing like it. Stockhausen considered this recording, which took two years to realise (it was released in 1977 by Deutsche Grammophon) an extension of the revolutionary melodic ideas from Beethoven's middle period.

"The essential aspect of my music is always religious and spiritual, the technical aspect is mere explanation. Thinking is a way of formulating things, of translating things in terms of our equipment and our practical world."(Darmstadt 1972)


Having dazzled concert audiences for 25 years with his uncompromising and provocative music, this flamboyant figure (unusually long-haired in flowing Mexican shirts) now began the most ambitious move of his career: 'Licht' (Light) for solo voices, solo instruments, solo dancers, choirs, orchestras, ballet, electronics and musique concrete. Over 25 years, he would write seven parts, one for each day of the week. Each 'day' would take around three and a half years to write. Stockhausen called it a "cosmological opera", and in the sheer scale and innovation of its conception the world has not yet seen its equal. According to Kurtz: "It is not only enacted on earth but also unfolds in the world beyond. It considers the destiny of mankind, the earth the cosmos in conjunction and confrontation with the spiritual essences Michael, Lucifer and Eve. The significance of the seven days of the week and the divinities associated with each of them was derived by Stockhausen from various cultures and esoteric traditions."

For technical help in the project he turned to the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique Musique (IRCAM), directed by old friend Pierre Boulez. One problem involved the construction of a 'sound transformer' for producing 14 different vowel colourations for (son) Markus Stockhausen's trumpet. Though a scene from 'Dienstag Aus Licht' had been performed in Tokyo in 1977, the first finished day, 'Donnerstag Aus Licht' (Thursday from Light), was premiered at La Scala, Milan in March of 1981 amidst huge difficulties. Though German critics were at best luke-warm, and the German press slammed the whole concept, Stockhausen received the Italian Music Critics' first prize for contemporary music.

According to the composer, "With 'Licht' I now compose the spaces in which I imagine the music being performed. This has created great difficulties of staging. There are things going on in balconies, performers coming in from the back and from all sides. You hear sounds from the aisles and moving along the corridors outside the auditorium. Added to that there is a circle of perspective to the acoustic experience. My music gives many examples of different ways of treating music spatially, because aural perspectives in multiple layers one layer behind another are very important to me."


Between 1981 and 1984 Stockhausen wrestled with the realisation of 'Samstag Aus Licht' (Saturday from Light). When asked why the pieces were not done in sequence he responded that they were "a spiral, with no end and beginning". During 1983 he went to IRCAM to resolve the 'Kathinkas Gesang' (Kathinka's Chant) section for flute and electronic music. Here he was able to shape in detail a sound's complete spectrum. 'Samstag' was premiered on 25 May 1984 at the Palazzo dello Sport in Milan, to rapturous ovations.

After trips to India, the workaholic composer began 'Montag Aus Lict' with a new aim. Now that digital technology was quite versatile, this 'day' would derive from a "synthesized modern orchestra". Moreoever he developed new "microscales, voices and unvoiced (noise) consonant timbres" for the woodwinds of Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer.

"For the premier of 'Evas Zauber' (Eve's Magic) at Metz in 1986," he said, "I composed over 150 'timbre' programs for synthesizers, developing completely new methods of sound regulation and modulation, space projection and notation. I used 22 sound scenes, composed and spatially projected at WDR in 1985. In these acoustic scenes, 'concrete sound scenes' from all conceivable spheres of life were composed in a completely unpredictable and trans-causal fashion. What the solo flute, the children, the percussionists and the three synthesizer performers played or sang, was based on these sound-scenes, identifying with, imitating and transforming the structure."

Stockhausen goes on to describe the equipment used: "Synth player 1 plays a PPG Wave 2.2 synthesizer with an Oberheim XK master keyboard and a Prophet VS synthesizer, both split to play four simultaneous programs, and a Roland digital effects processor. Synth player 2 plays two Yamaha DX7IIFD synths and a Casio FZ1 sampler, with an ART Proverb effects device. Synth player 3 plays an Oberheim Xpander with XK master keyboard, a Yamaha DX7II, and a Casio FZ1 sampler, also with an ART Proverb. For each synth I composed individual programs, stored on cassette, cartridge and diskettes. Like sheet music they formed part of the performance material."

"Because of the synthesizer there began a profound and unforeseeable change in the craft of composition. Every composer composes an intrinsic sound-world for every new work. Never before in history has composition been in such an experimental state."(Kurten 1988)

The difference between Stockhausen and other electronic musicians is that in his work everything is precisely annotated — he talks of hundreds of hours spent programming, cataloguing and shaping the exact sounds whose pitch, duration, timbre and everything else are detailed in highly literate scores. No hit and miss here. Time and again Stockhausen has talked about the importance of the studio. "Every musician who wants to compose should not only spend a certain amount of time in a recording studio, but also do regular work there."

Unlike other 'composers' Stockhausen was the first of his generation to record all his own works, and mix and produce them, as well as draw, design and publish his own scores. He has incredibly acute hearing, despite a 30% deficiency in his right ear from a childhood accident. "I am constantly in the studio listening. I can hear a difference of 1dB, though everybody tells me I'm crazy."


Stockhausen's complete 'Montag Aus Licht' was again premiered at La Scala, Milan in May 1988. That year also saw a wave of Stockhausen interest as he was 60 years of age. Sell-out concert tours in Germany, Holland, France and Finland followed. Yet despite such response, Stockhausen has had grave problems in Germany. A Hamburg opera house wanted to be the first to stage 'Montag' in its entirety, but couldn't procure the DM450,000 to build the giant statue of Eve, the central stage focus, and his instrument out-house has been ordered to be torn down by local authorities. It seems the conservative Germans would rather see Stockhausen's avantist presence right out of the country.

Karlheinz is at present working on 'Dienstag Aus Licht' (Tuesday From Light). Parts of it ('Der Jahreslauf' and 'Invasion') were premiered at the Frankfurt Feste in September 1991. The latter involves the aforementioned 'octophony' for replaying sound from multitrack tape and samplers — the audience is placed within a cube of speaker systems, so that every possible vertical and diagonal movement of sound at any speed is now audible. Those bored with the flat Royal Festival Hall sound system should look forward to this with glee. Suzanne Stephens, flautist and constant companion, describes it as "the most beautiful Stockhausen electronic music to date." The music from 'Dienstag Aus Licht' will be performed in Lisbon and Amsterdam this summer, while the complete opera will be staged in Leipzig in 1993 and then La Scala in 1994. Three 'days' have still to be composed: Freitag, Mittwoch and Sonntag.

According to Suzanne Stephens, Stockhausen "does not feel at home in WDR Köln or at IRCAM. He does not have his own studio. At the WDR he is only allowed to work there every two years, and then only for three months at a time. What is composed now he can only spatialise and mix two and a half years from now! At present he is composing the electronic music for 'Freitag Aus Licht' (Friday from Light)." Despite these limitations, the incredible cost of his work, and its sheer audacity Karlheinz Stockhausen's presence is still essential to the continuing vitality of New Music. Through his own publishing company (Stockhausen-Verlag) and via lectures and discussion, he continues to advocate for electronic music, studio composition, new and adventurous performance spaces, state funding for innovative arts, involved and committed teaching methods featuring the latest technology, and musicians whose ideas of music are not grounded in academia.

Back in 1981 Stockhausen listed the characteristics that made a good musician — being able to listen, and the ability to sing and dance, came higher on his list than analysis or history. As he says himself: "new means change the method, new methods change the experience, and new experiences change man."



Stimmung (Hyperion CDA66115, 1986).
One of the best recordings by London group Singcircle.

Zyklus/Refrain/Kontakte (Koch Schwann 310020, 1988).
Interesting look at Stockhausen's percussion versions with electronics mixed in. A Radio Bremen production.)

Aus Den Sieben Tagen (Harmonia Mundi 190795, 1988).
An incredible CD containing 'Fais voile vers le soleil' and 'Liaison' from Stockhausen's most enigmatic score. A French late '60s recording with the master himself on filters and potentiometers.

Klavierstucke Vols 1, 2 & 3 (Koch Schwann 310016H1, 310009H1, 310015H1, 1988, 1989, 1989).
Three volumes of serial piano works for the committed fan. Volume 2 contains two versions of his infamous 'XI'.

Mantra (New Albion NA025CD, 1990).
Recorded in Norway in 1986 with two pianists and electronics, this is a great CD. As well as crossing the avantist boundary in sound the packaging is superb with the right balance between musicology and philosophy. It also contains one of the most succinct biogs of Stockhausen in print.


These are digitally remastered by Stockhausen himself, and available through Stockhausen-Verlag, 5067, Kurten, Deutschland. These are definitive editions of original recordings, remixed digitally. Personally numbered, signed and designed, they contain wonderful photographs, and detailed, analytical sleevenotes. For instance CD3 'Gesang Der Junglinge/Kontakte' contains 160 pages of all you ever wanted to know about the creation of electronic music. A must for the serious scholar, of interest to anyone wanting to hear a specific piece in the best version. Release dates (some CDs have not yet been produced) are shown in brackets.

Chöre Für Doris/Choral/Drei Lieder/Sonatine/Kreuzspiel (CD 1, Dec 1991).

Formel/Schlagtrio/Spiel/Punkte (CD 2, Dec 1991).

Mantra (CD 16, Dec 1991).

Trans (CD 19, Jan 1992).

Am Himmel wandre ich... (CD 20, Jan 1992).

Sirius (CD 26, Jan 1992).

Musik für Flöte (CD 28, Jan 1992).

Konkrete und Electronische Musik: Étude/Studie 1 & 2/Gesang Der Junglinge/Kontakte (CD 3, Feb 1992).

Kontra-Punkte/Zeitmasse/Stop/Adieu (CD 4, Feb 1992).

Sternklang (CD 18, Feb 1992).

Ylem (CD 21, Feb 1992).

Gruppen/Carre (CD 5, March 1992).

Kurzwellen (CD 13, March 1992).

Tierkreis/Musik Im Bauch (CD 24, March 1992).

Harlekin/Der Kleine Harlekin (CD 25, March 1992).

Montag Aus Licht (CD 36, April 1992).

Moment (CD 7, June 1992).

Inori (CD 22, August 1992).


Stockhausen: A Biography by Michael Kurtz (Faber & Faber 1992, £25 hardback).

Just published, this is now the definitive study of Stockhausen. As important for its insight into the development of electronic music as for its riveting account of the composer's life.

Towards A Cosmic Music by Tim Nevill (Element Books 1989, £7.95, paperback). A selection of writings and interviews compiled to reveal Stockhausen's philosophical approach. Aspects of World Music and electronics are here revealed with crystalline clarity.

Stockhausen On Music by Robin Maconie (Marion Boyars 1989, £17.95 hardback). Considered to be the world's leading Stockhausen authority, this New Zealander favours the no-nonsense approach, allowing the composer freedom to expound his dense scientific principles without hindrance. A 1981 interview in Kurten is particularly interesting.

More with this artist

Previous Article in this issue

Hands On: Soundcraft Spirit Studio Mixer

Next article in this issue


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - May 1992




Composer (Music)

Related Artists:

Holger Czukay

Feature by Mark Prendergast

Previous article in this issue:

> Hands On: Soundcraft Spirit ...

Next article in this issue:

> Cadenza

Help Support The Things You Love

mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.

If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!

Donations for September 2021
Issues donated this month: 0

New issues that have been donated or scanned for us this month.

Funds donated this month: £22.00

All donations and support are gratefully appreciated - thank you.

Please Contribute to mu:zines by supplying magazines, scanning or donating funds. Thanks!

Monetary donations go towards site running costs, and the occasional coffee for me if there's anything left over!

Small Print

Terms of usePrivacy