Stockhausen

LICHT-BILDER (LIGHT PICTURES), 2002/03


Third scene of SUNDAY from LIGHT, for basset-horn, flute with ring modulation, tenor, trumpet with ring modulation, synthesizer, sound projectionist, light pictures (ad lib.) / duration about 41 min.


Summary

The scene is performed by two pairs of musicians, a tenor and trumpet on the one hand, and a basset horn and flute on the other. The tenor (Michael) sings the praises of God in the form of His creations, manifested from stones to spirits. The music is accompanied by corresponding light images, hence the title of the scene. Although the musical material is all drawn from the Michael and Eve layers of the Licht superformula, the assignment of these melodies to the pairs changes from section to section. The tenor and trumpet represent Michael, while the basset horn and flute represent Eve.

The musical strands presented by each pair consist of successions of short melodic figures, each accompanied by an imitation. The trumpet imitates the phrases of the tenor, the flute those of the basset horn. The imitations follow the primary gestures with various degrees of time delay. Within each strand, the diverse short figures are mostly spaced apart to some extent, in order to allow the imitations to stand out and to make the variability in time delay possible. Despite the resulting fragmentation, continuity of flow arises from the interaction and overlap of the two strands. The structuring of the music results in a unique fusion of gestural fragmentation, a hallmark of a substantial portion of avant-garde music from the 1950s onward, with 'traditional' melodiousness.

***

The composer comments (CD booklet p. 51 f.):

"Light Pictures combine scenic movements of the four interpreters with movements of light pictures in four time-layers. In a quasi concert performance, the light pictures may perhaps be omitted. The interpreters play or sing from memory. The basset-horn and flute should be played by women, the tenor and trumpeter should be men.

"In this work, for the first time I have composed musical figures which are delayed with themselves. Through processes of increasing time intervals, they gradually become displaced in relationship to each other and then approach each other again until they are simultaneous. This occurs between the basset-horn and flute as well as between the tenor and trumpet. Both couples meet from time to time at a temporal point zero. The synthesizer player sets all of the sine tones for the ring modulation.

"This happens many times in the course of seven large phases in two times two layers. The phases are related to the seven days of the week, from MONDAY through SUNDAY.

"In the 7 phases, the tenor sings words which praise GOD and correspond to the essences of seven spheres of life. The light pictures may also depict them in a visually stylized way.

"MONDAY: stones – hills – water;
TUESDAY: trees – plants – fruits;
WEDNESDAY: animals;

THURSDAY: 7 elements
THU 1 water,
THU 2 earth,
THU 3 air,
THU 4 ether,
THU 5 Eros,
THU 6 fire,
THU 7 pealing of bells;

FRIDAY: celestial bodies – star constellations;
SATURDAY: human saints;

SUNDAY: GOD in everything –
SU 1 houses of God – noble trees and animals,
SU 2 light – candle flame
SU 3 the invisible – transcendental,
SU 4 praying – Eva-Maria – LIGHT PICTURES
– THOU.

"To clearly hear figures in changing temporal perspectives is a great challenge, especially when the tempi are fast and constantly changing.

"The temporal waves of shiftings correspond to harmonic mirrorings through a double ring modulation. That leads to completely new, magic mirror harmonies and timbres. All individual movements of the interpreters are composed to directly correlate with the movements of the musical figures as left-right-horizontal, left-right-diagonal, high-low-vertical and circular gestures and poses.

World Première

"The music of LIGHT PICTURES was commissioned by the CCMIX (Centre de Creation Musicale Iannis Xenakis) in Paris and the visual realisation was commissioned by the ZKM (Centre for Art and Media Technology Karlsruhe), with the support of the Art Foundation of North Rhine Westfalia. The world première took place on October 16th 2004 during the Donaueschingen Music Days at the Donauhalle B with Suzanne Stephens (basset-horn), Kathinka Pasveer (flute and alto flute), Hubert Mayer (tenor), Marco Blaauw (trumpet), Antonio Pérez Abéllan (synthesizer), Karlheinz Stockhausen (sound projection), Johannes Conen (picture composition, stage design, costumes), Yvonne Mohr (video collaboration)."


A unique musical architecture

This polyphonic music develops in two strands, each formed by one of the two pairs (‘couples’), tenor and trumpet, and basset-horn and flute. These strands present a kaleidoscopic array of successions of ever different musical figures. These figures commonly possess a ‘cantabile’ character, yet mostly they are separated from one another and are too brief to really be ‘melody’: they become stand-alone melodic gesture. Only sometimes longer melodic lines are formed.

The melodic gestures are elements from the super formula or they are modifications thereof. Only the Michael and Eve formula of this triple formula are featured – except in the last scene, HOCH-ZEITEN, the less melodic Lucifer formula does not occur in SONNTAG, which is the day of mystical union of Michael and Eve. The gestures can be sparse, for example groups of just two or three notes, or they can be more complex. Regardless of brevity, most of the time the gestures are presented with a remarkably singing, often soaring, quality.

Usually each of the melodic gestures is accompanied by an imitation that often entails melodic variation: the trumpet imitates the gestures of the tenor, the flute imitates the ones of the basset-horn. The imitations frequently overlap in time with the primary gestures, to varying degree; alternatively, they sound subsequent to the primary gesture (this often canon-like imitation is what the composer refers to when he speaks about "musical figures which are delayed with themselves", see above).

Within each strand the diverse primary gestures are typically spaced apart, so that in between them the non-overlapping portions of the imitations, or parts thereof, can sound on their own – at times the imitation sounds it its entirety by itself. This procedure accentuates the imitation of each gesture individually; it also provides room for the variability in time delay with which the imitations respond to the primary gestures. Ultimately it is the main reason for the separation of gestures from each other.

In effect, mostly there are no extended melodic lines formed from the succession of the ever different gestures and, unlike in common thematic or motivic music, there is no concatenation of multiple (varied) repeats of melodic phrases or of short figures to create a continuum.

This also distinguishes the music from other canons or canon-like structures where the time-delayed imitations typically focus on longer lines of melody or chains of (repeated) motifs or phrases. These include the canons of J.S. Bach, a composer whom Stockhausen held in high esteem.

The sensation of disconnect within each strand between subsequent gestures is often enhanced by a great contrast between them. Furthermore, in many instances the next gesture follows with new energy the preceding pair of gesture/imitation. In fact, when the two strands of the music are considered each on their own, the music contained in them frequently seems to restart with a new melodic gesture.

Immediately obvious is the fracturing of line in the tenor’s singing. The imitation by the trumpet in general separates the tenor’s phrases from one another, resulting in breaks in between them. Certainly, also in other music vocal lines are, at times, fragmented into separated brief phrases (as succinct as just three or four short notes) – more often than in classical music, this occurs in pop and rock music with its supporting steady rhythmic background. Yet usually there is, across all breaks of line, a clear connection between the phrases as part of an overarching melodic structure. While in a substantial portion of the music in LICHT-BILDER such a connection is also discernible, its presence is mostly far less obvious. One reason is that there are almost constantly breaks between the phrases sung by the tenor, instead of an alternation of isolated phrases with longer lines. Also when the brief vocal phrases are separated by only short breaks, they tend to make the impression of being rather isolated from each other. Sometimes this is due to their ending on a long note, which is frequently associated in music with the end of melodic lines; among examples where this is found are the beginnings of the Monday and Wednesday phases (Stockhausen-Verlag CD 68, tracks 2 and 4; the diverse CD tracks correspond to the phases and subphases of the work). Also, mostly a directionality that could help connect phrases is not effortlessly perceived, in contrast to what is commonly found in tonal music.

Furthermore, around half or more of the time an embedding of the separate brief vocal gestures into an overarching melodic structure – as somewhat of a compensation for the lack of extended melodic lines – is not at all evident.

A corresponding isolation of gestures from one another holds for the strand of basset-horn and flute, while at least it features more of a timbral continuum due to the greater similarity of the sound coming from the two woodwind instruments as compared to tenor versus trumpet.

There are, however, moments where extended melodic lines are formed, e.g. in the singing of the tenor at the beginning of tracks 6 and 9 (Thursday phase, parts 2 and 5) or in track 13 (Saturday phase), but these are more the exception than the rule.

While many times the imitations fill up the space in between the separate primary gestures (e.g. the imitations by the trumpet fill up the space in between the vocal phrases), there are also pauses between (imitation of) a gesture and onset of the next one. These pauses, which in the beginning are usually short, later often longer, add emphasis to the disconnect within each strand. Yet they fulfill this role only in conjunction with the other features mentioned. In jazz improvisation, for example, phrases are also often separated by pauses, but nonetheless there is a great deal of continuum – a lot of the time a new melodic phrase picks up where the previous one left off, or successive phrases are variations on each other.

The pairing of gestures with imitative ‘echoes’ in LICHT-BILDER and the absence of overarching melodic lines makes the individual brief gestures stand out to an unusual degree. The frequent lack of connection between them, which leads to the impression of recurrent restarts within the two strands, evokes parallels to the points or groups in some of Stockhausen’s earlier music. The brief melodic gestures then can be seen as ‘melodic points’ or ‘melodic groups’. The ‘point’-like character is, again, most striking in the tenor’s singing – imitated by the trumpet – that presents successions of single words (associated by common theme), each on a few notes, which in general are spaced apart from one another.

Yet the fragmentation of line in the two individual strands notwithstanding, the overall musical flow is usually perceived as being a whole (apart from sporadic general pauses, which also separate the 7 ‘phases’ and their subdivisions). For a large part this is due to reactions of gestures to one another. Certainly, these reactions occur between delayed imitation and primary gesture within the two strands, but that alone would not overcome the fracturing of strands due to the succession of ever different, separate gestures. However, there are also reactions between unrelated gestures as ‘melodic points’ or ‘melodic groups’ to one another, in a similar way as points or groups in Stockhausen’s earlier music react to each other. When it comes to occurrence within a strand, they are mainly found in the tenor’s singing: a lot of the time a given phrase sung by the tenor can be heard as a reaction to the one preceding it (for the different successive gestures in the strand basset-horn/flute such a relationship is usually not clear). Evidently, this will hold most easily for successive gestures which, the absence of extended melodic line notwithstanding, can be heard as part of an overarching melodic structure (yet as mentioned, such structures, when they occur in LICHT-BILDER, are not as obvious as in a lot of other music with melodically fragmented textures). However, it also applies to cases where such an overarching structure is not discernible by ear.

Frequently such a reaction of gestures as ‘melodic points’ or ‘melodic groups’ to one another also occurs between gestures from the two opposite strands, and usually then the reaction is more immediate than within one strand (where, for example, in general the tenor’s phrases reacting to each other are temporally separated); many times the reacting gesture sets in while the other has not yet or just barely finished. Also, there are imitative responses between the two strands: a gesture in one strand is reacted to by the same gesture or, more often, by a gesture of similar musical motion in the opposite strand. The network of interactions between the two strands significantly helps to override the effect of fragmentation of line within the individual strands.

There is an additional way in which the two strands supplement one another. They often fill up each other’s gaps, created by pauses: at the minimum a gesture from basset-horn/flute catches the tail end of the tenor/trumpet pair’s gesture(s), and keeps on sounding for a sufficient time as to bridge an ensuing pause in the strand of that pair. This holds vice versa as well, when tenor/trumpet bridge a gap in the strand of basset-horn/flute. That kind of bridging also applies to dynamic drops which may occur in one of the two strands at a given time.

Mostly, however, the two strands show a stronger overlap, up to at times synchronous beginning of disparate gestures, and their rich, frequently dense, polyphonic interaction allows for the organic overall result.

An amazing feature lies in the manner in which the two strands supplement each other to achieve a greater musical continuum. Often they do this not by smooth likeness of character, but while forming a vivid contrast. Many times the gestures flow very differently in the two strands, and the energy curves within the strands are frequently quite dissimilar as well.

In many instances the pair of woodwind instruments greatly contrasts the tenor voice. While the voice is always lively, the woodwind instruments have the potential to produce tones with much sharper attacks, which they exploit with considerable frequency (just like the trumpet does). Furthermore, phrases from basset-horn and flute regularly exhibit playful suppleness and quick, mercurial agility at a maximum. The kind of pointed vividness that is heard quite often in the woodwind playing of LICHT-BILDER is rarely found in other music for woodwinds, including Stockhausen’s own: it is made possible by the brevity of gesture, whereas the extended lines in other music naturally are expressed by a more even and smooth phrasing (compare AVE for basset-horn and alto flute, which is uncommonly playful and lively on its own terms, and which is played on Stockhausen-Verlag CD 35 by the same instrumentalists).

While a lot of the time there is an exchange of action-reaction between the two strands formed by the pairs tenor/trumpet and basset-horn/flute, i.e. a direct reaction of the ‘melodic points’ or ‘groups’ in one strand to those of the other, many events in the two strands simply run alongside each other in an independent manner. Often the onset of gesture, or the imitative ‘echo’ of a gesture, within a strand does not at all relate to what is happening in the other strand, and there is ample variation in the amount of temporal overlap of gestures between the two strands.

The structuring of LICHT-BILDER is quite exceptional. Most other polyphonic music features – at least in some of its simultaneously developing parts – longer melodic, motivic or gestural lines, not the constant fracturing and wave-like moving in and out of the musical fabric as is heard in this work (again, overall continuity of the music is enhanced by the supplement of the two strands). Conversely, other polyphonic works that show fragmentation into brief gestures as in LICHT-BILDER (among these, Stockhausen’s own early piano pieces, e.g. nr. V and VI) do not feature textures that are as melodic throughout. In fact, the music of LICHT-BILDER combines gestural fragmentation, a hallmark of a substantial portion of avant-garde music from the 1950s onward, with ‘traditional’ melodiousness in an unheard-of manner.

Certainly, there is a lot of other music in LICHT where the musical flow is molded from short formula fragments, often taken out of the context of the super formula melody as such and rearranged into other textures. Yet mostly more extended lines or patterns are created from a concatenation of these fragments or of their repeats, or they are linked by a tension that is absent in LICHT-BILDER. A prime example for both of these attributes – not the least because of the rather easily recognizable formula motifs – would be LUZIFERs TRAUM (Piano Piece XIII) from SAMSTAG. When it comes to the different scenes of SONNTAG aus LICHT, there is an enormous contrast between LICHT-BILDER and the extended melodic lines of DÜFTE – ZEICHEN.

The passage in LICHT that reminds me most of LICHT-BILDER is the beginning of KINDHEIT, section V, in the first act of DONNERSTAG (Stockhausen-Verlag CD 30 A, beginning of track 9). It also features separate brief, ever different, very melodic successive phrases. Yet this is a straightforward operatic duet between soprano and bass that is a far more tightly knit game of responses than found in LICHT-BILDER and thus does not quite elicit the same fractured impression. Also, upon listening to this brief passage, beautiful as it is, it is hard to imagine that it could be extended into a larger structure – and indeed, quite soon the brief phrases make way to longer melodic lines.

A significant amount of outbursts of short melodic gesture in LICHT-BILDER is marked by rapid, flurry-like activity that, to some extent, is reminiscent of the works of Elliot Carter or Brian Ferneyhough. Yet strikingly, the music has none of the tenseness often associated with New Music; on the contrary, it sounds extraordinarily relaxed. Actually, there is little other music that I can think of, new or old, that is so full of bubbling, vivid activity (found especially in the middle part of this work) and so relaxed at the same time – and all music that is, is of a completely different kind. In this particular work the absence of extended melodic/motivic threads, and of the kind of directionality that these are able to impose, also contributes to the low level of overarching tension.

The music is not just relaxed, the treatment of the formula fragments makes a joyously playful impression. The ease and elegance with which Stockhausen puts formula motifs and phrases into ever new contexts is astonishing – of course, during composing with the super formula for so many years the musical material had become second nature to him.

The specific structuring and character of the music make LICHT-BILDER utterly unique. It is a strong reminder that Stockhausen has always stayed at the very forefront of avant-garde, i.e. making truly innovative music with each new work, throughout so many decades of composing. Whereas a majority of avant-garde music advances into new territories with significant, yet moderate steps, Stockhausen most of the time proceeds with rather big strides, and not rarely with large leaps, as in this work. The textures and harmonies of LICHT-BILDER sound quite pleasing, but this should not deceive the listener about the radical innovation in this work. In fact, the invention is particularly impressive in the context of the rather friendly, gentle sound character.

The playful, mercurial suppleness with which the polyphonic composition consisting of such fractured yet melodic strands progresses, combined with the constant, free and fluid alternation between interaction and independence of the two strands, as well as the often surprising succession or simultaneous juxtaposition of contrasting gestures, imbues the music with a continually renewed spontaneity that is extraordinary. This is a polyphonic masterpiece.

***

The playfulness of the music matches the light-hearted, often humorous manner in which the tenor sings the words of the libretto. These words "which praise GOD and correspond to the essences of seven spheres of life" (the composer, see above) are associated with themes specific to the diverse sections of the work. For example, the Tuesday phase, which deals with trees, plants and fruits, begins:

"Preist Gott – Sternglocke – Dachwurz – Rosenblüte – Narzisse – Tanne – Goldregen – Apfel – Schneeglöckchen – Nestfichte – Maiglöckchen – Trauerweide – Orange - Mirabell",
translated:
"Glorify God – starbell – common houseleek – rose blossom – daffodil – fir – golden rain – apple – snow-drop – nest spruce – lily of the valley – weeping willow – orange – yellow plum"

The Friday phase, which deals with celestial bodies and star constellations, commences with:
"Lobet Gott (Praise God) – Mond (moon) – Ursa Minor – Uranus – Phoenix – Phobos – Deimos – Sagittarius"

On paper these texts appear like a rather neutral listing of things, but it is astounding how in the music, where they unfold rather slowly and melodically, they really come to life.

In some instances there is sound painting with the sung words, or around them. A few examples (timings Stockhausen-Verlag CD 68 A):

In track 2 at 4’11" the tenor sings "Welle" (wave) and basset-horn and flute play wave-like figures. In track 3 at 2’00" the tenor sings "Kletterrose" (climbing rose) on an upward striving figure, doubled by trumpet and basset-horn. In track 12 at 0’42" the stinging character of timbre reaches particular emphasis at "Skorpius", in flute – basset-horn – trumpet (overlapping entry in that order). This episode is somewhat reminiscent of the timbres in Scorpio from the Trio version of TIERKREIS.

The most beautiful painting in sound may be the moment in track 2, beginning at 3’40", where the basset-horn plays repeats of the same relatively high note and the flute plays ever lower notes in between – the passage is closed with the tenor’s singing of "Kaskade" (cascade).

 

***

As mentioned, the delay of the musical figures with themselves varies. Sometimes the imitation of the figure is just hardly delayed, i.e. it significantly overlaps with the primary figure. On the other hand, the delay of imitation to primary gesture can take a few seconds. A few examples:

a) Track 2, 3’22" tenor, delay in trumpet at 3’32" (the particularly long delay is partially due to the unusual length of the melodic phrase; the tenor has just finished as the trumpet sets in)
b) Track 2, 6’14" tenor, delay in trumpet at 6’20"
c) Track 3, 3’17" tenor, delay in trumpet at 3’20"

The length of the delays can cause the imitation to overlap with the onset of the next primary gesture, or even, the onset of the next primary gesture can start at the same time as the imitation of the previous one. Two examples for this are:

a) Track 7, 0’30" basset-horn; the delay in the flute at 0’34" plays into the next basset-horn gesture at 0’35"
b) Track 6, 0’17" basset-horn, delay in flute and next basset-horn gesture at 0’20"

At the most extreme, the delay of a figure in one strand can sound after the onset of the next one, e.g.:

a) In track 12 at 0’28" the basset-horn plays a gesture, and begins the next figure at 0’35", while the flute imitation of the basset-horn figure at 0’28" only ensues at 0’36"
b) In track 12 at 3’05" the tenor sings a gesture, and follows up with the next one at 3’09", while the trumpet imitates the tenor gesture from 3’05" only at 3’11"

The delays are composed according to serial structuring (see booklet of the composition seminar Kürten 2005, pp. 24 ff.).

In a live performance, the scenic movements of the four interpreters correspond to and clarify the delays of the musical figures with themselves. This visual aid is obviously absent from the experience of just listening to the CD. Nonetheless, many of the delays are quite clear from the start, while others will be discovered upon repeated listening.

In some cases, generally in transitory moments of the music, imitation of a figure does not take place. There are also, sporadically spread throughout the music, duets, trios and quartets, where mostly the same figure, played/sung by the respective number of performers, sounds simultaneously in both strands, and no imitation follows (some duets take place within the same strand).

Remarkably, while over wide stretches the music shows relative uniformity of overall texture, it always remains captivating no matter how often it is listened to. The, in terms of gestural fabric, overall relative independence of the two strands formed by tenor/trumpet and basset horn/flute, their sophisticated collaboration in creating an organic musical flow, and the variations in time delay and melodic shape of the imitations of gesture all contribute to making LICHT-BILDER a music of rich complexity. The constant moving in and out of the voice and instruments from the musical fabric causes a kaleidoscopic, colorful shifting of timbres. The ring modulation of trumpet and flute (see below) further enhances color and color changes. The sound palette is also expanded by the use of diverse mutes for the trumpet; there is at times rapid switching between playing with and without mute, and between different mutes.

"Rushing noises", as created by partially blowing over or on the side of wind instruments, are a prominent sound signature throughout LICHT. In LICHT-BILDER the employment of rushing noises is particularly elegant, and further expands the timbral palette of the work in a natural and beautiful way. At select moments all three wind instruments engage in an intense exchange using these sounds, in a ‘concerto’ for rushing noises.

I would recommend to a listener, who wants to study the music in detail from the CD, to first absorb it as a whole and then to concentrate on one of the two pairs separately at a time, which is facilitated by their assignment to the left and right half of the sound panorama. The best way to do this may be listening with headphones, or, when listening with speakers, to activate just one of the two stereo channels at a time. Study CDs with fewer parts of the music can be ordered from Stockhausen-Verlag as well.

While following the delays of figures with themselves is a fascinating and worthwhile undertaking, the music can also simply be listened to as ever changing dynamics of musical flow, from one gesture, or one set of gestures, to another – something that I am especially fond of. Like all great music, LICHT-BILDER can be enjoyed on several levels.


Development of the work

The brief introduction of the work (Stockhausen-Verlag CD 68 A, track 1) represents the form scheme of the entire composition, played slowly – see booklet of the composition seminar Kürten 2005 on the work, p. 10 (this introductory part is reprinted on the CD cover). The tenor announces the work as "LICHT-BILDER third scene of SUNDAY from LIGHT", and the three instruments play mostly continuous lines.

Only with the beginning of track 2 (the Monday phase) the texture splinters up into short melodic gestures. Yet here, in the initial stages, this characteristic of the work is not yet fully developed throughout all parts of the music. Rather, there is a transition away from the introduction (track 1), where at first remnants of the continuity of melodic line, as heard there, are still present.

While the tenor immediately starts with his discontinuous presentations of sung words (here items related to stones – hills – water), and the trumpet imitates them, there is, to a greater extent than in most subsequent stages of the music, an overarching melodic structure discernible in the tenor’s singing. Furthermore, the pair basset-horn/flute plays longer, less disrupted lines. Gestures played by this pair are less separated, and they often consist of simpler or smoother elements like single drawn-out tones, trills and small runs up and down the scale, which are more easily connected into an extended fabric. Quite soon, however, still within track 2, the strand of the pair basset-horn/flute starts to show increasing fragmentation as well. More distinct melodic elements derived from the super formula are heard, and their separation by pauses tends to become more pronounced (the pauses are bridged by the other strand). Over time, also the individual gestures of tenor/trumpet increasingly stand out on their own.

There are reversals in this trend, making it non-linear; for example, at the beginning of track 3 the music returns to a similar situation as at the beginning of track 2. Yet nonetheless, overall the music develops more and more in this direction, so that at the latest with track 5 (Thursday phase, part 1) all the previously mentioned characteristics of the unique musical flow in this work have come to full bloom in both strands. Also the vividness of the music, which had been high from the beginning, now reaches a maximum.

In the Saturday phase (track 13), the tenor sings names of many saints of the Church. Here the tempo quickens significantly, and often the words follow each other almost without interruption. Now longer melodic lines are formed; appealing is the legerity with which the melody sung by the tenor moves up and down the scale. The section comes to a climactic close with the name of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest thinkers of all time (it is sung on a variation of the opening phrase of the Eve formula). Following a short pause the music, after it had engaged in lively activity for such a long time and even had sped it up in this latest phase, suddenly enters into much calmer waters.

The slow unfolding of the music in the last phase, Sonntag (tracks 14–17, a quarter of the work’s duration) is of an uncommon beauty. The gentleness of the tenor’s phrasing, the subdued trumpet and the warmth of the woodwind playing all contribute to an alluring texture (the flute player switches to alto flute for this phase). Yet while the music has quieted down, it retains a high degree of spirited agility, particularly in the phrasing of the woodwinds when they play figures with pronounced pitch excursions or interval leaps, e.g. the ‘yodel’ figure from bar 13 of the Eve formula.

A particularly moving passage occurs towards the end of the work, which starts with a gently swirling presentation of the figure and its echo from bars 5–7 of the Eve formula and eventually culminates with the tenor singing "Licht-Bilder komponier ich für Gott am Sonnentag" – "I compose Light Pictures for God on Sunday" (track 16, from 1’12" onward).

The work closes with a brief return to a more extended line, beginning with the first motif from the Eve formula played by woodwinds, followed by the tenor’s singing of "Sieben Elemente – Himmelskörper – heilige Menschen – Gottes Licht-Bilder – Du" ("Seven elements – celestial bodies – human saints – God’s Light Pictures – thou"). All the three instruments play continuously and, next to the urgency of the tenor’s melody, the key trills of the basset-horn add emphasis to this brief coda.


Sound, performance and recording

The sounds of trumpet and flute (alto flute in the last phase) are modified through ring modulation. The process is described here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_modulation

As the composer points out (see above), the synthesizer player sets all of the sine tones for the sound processing. The ring modulators used are analog. Ring modulation was already used in earlier works of Stockhausen, e.g. MIXTUR (the composer explains the process in detail in the booklet of CD 8 which features this work) and MANTRA.

The composer (CD booklet p. 3):

"During the mix-down of LIGHT PICTURES it became apparent that only a comparison of the sounds of the flute and trumpet with and without ring modulation reveals how characteristic the timbres of these instruments (and thus of the overall sound) become through the ring modulation. Therefore, the recording on CD 68 A is with ring modulation (as 3rd scene of SUNDAY from LIGHT) and the recording on CD 68 B is without ring modulation (for study purposes). The various amounts of ring modulation used were chosen during the mix-down according to the contexts."

Stockhausen also mentions (CD booklet p. 49) that the contribution of the ring modulation should always be softer than the direct sound of the instruments.

The sine tones for the modulation vary between the phases, and the subphases of the Thursday and Sunday phases (all corresponding to separate CD tracks). The sine tones are different for trumpet and flute; thus the overall timbre of these instruments changes independently (there is one extra sine tone switch for the trumpet within the Wednesday phase, track 4).

Comparison of the sound on the two CDs reveals that ring modulation mostly adds warmth to the timbres and makes them less smooth and more complex – while on the other hand some small timbral details of intonation are blurred. In the Friday phase (CD track 12) the modulation is set to make the timbres more dissonant (cf. booklet of the composition seminar Kürten 2005, p. 38); interestingly, most of the time the result is that the by themselves already piercing timbres in this phase are naturally intensified by the ring modulation, rather than sounding more ‘dissonant’ in the usual sense. In other moments of that phase the transformed sounds of especially the flute display a strange beauty (e.g. at 1’00" in track 12; a comparison with the unmodulated sound on CD 68 B, same track and timing, is striking).

***

The performance on Stockhausen-Verlag CD 68 is outstanding. The work is presented by the same musicians as in the world première (listed in the composer’s introduction above), and in a letter written after that event Stockhausen had communicated his enthusiasm about the performance to me. To make this texture composed of fragmented parts sound so fluid is a special accomplishment, and requires both precision and natural phrasing of playing and singing. Evidently, precision is also necessary to convey the intricate patterns of ever changing delay between primary gestures and their imitations. The recording quality is excellent, with crisp, vivid, detailed, rather close-up sound. When the CD is played back on good equipment, the natural sound and presence of the tenor’s voice is remarkable. Its fresh timbre is perfectly suited for this music.

At this link I have written a few thoughts on the webcast of the world première.

For those interested to delve more into the technical details of the composition, I recommend the informative booklet of the composition seminar Kürten 2005.



© Albrecht Moritz 2009, revised 2012


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