Stockhausen

MITTWOCHS-GRUSS (WEDNESDAY GREETING), 1998


This is the electronic music of the opera MITTWOCH aus LICHT (Wednesday from Light), with a duration of ca. 52 min. It is intended to be played at a half-loud level as music in the foyer, when people arrive for the opera. Yet Stockhausen composed its sounds also for concentrated listening at loud level (cf. CD booklet, p. 25). The tape was spatialized for four-track reproduction in 2003.

The same electronic composition is played live (with concrete sounds pre-recorded) during the fourth and last scene of the opera, MICHAELION, supporting the instrumental and vocal music of the scene.


General characteristics

This is very slow music, resulting from an enormous formula stretching like, for example, in OKTOPHONIE (Octophony), or in WELTRAUM (Outer Space), the electronic music of TUESDAY and FRIDAY from LIGHT, respectively. Here the one-minute super formula from LICHT is projected in all its three layers (Michael-, Eve-, Lucifer-layer) over the duration of the entire work. The three-part-polyphony uses different timbres for each layer.

The slowness of pace is such that, even more than the aural perception of a succession of notes/sounds, the sounds themselves become all important. The electronic sounds exhibit a more or less complex inner life over their mostly considerable duration, which makes listening to them as such interesting. There are internal fluctuations of timbre, gradual variations in timbre or pitch (slow timbre and/or pitch glissandi), and gradual changes in dynamics and spatial location. Simultaneous sounds change in such ways independently from each other. Sounds are always "on the move" due to the changes within them. The timbre varies between successive sounds. Listening to sounds themselves and to their evolution, rather than listening to melodic or gestural textures, provides a completely different musical experience that can prove to be immensely attractive.

For some general comments about this kind of electronic composition, see my introduction to WELTRAUM. A difference to that work, however, is that there are less systematic, or directional, processes in the electronic music of MITTWOCHS-GRUSS.

The variety of complex electronic sounds is astounding, given the fact that only a single synthesizer is used, the Kurzweil K2500X, in combination with the sampler Akai S-2000 (both played by Antonio Pérez Abellán). This use of a single synthesizer stands in great contrast to the multiple instruments that were employed, also with success, for OKTOPHONIE and for WELTRAUM (in both cases the synthesizer player was Simon Stockhausen). The Kurzweil K2500X has been praised for its versatility and ‘depth’, see for example:

http://www.epinions.com/reviews/Kurzweil_K2500X

Antonio Pérez Abellán knows how to dig deeply into the instrument's capabilities (as additionally evident by the entirely different timbres that he produces on other occasions). The adventurous sound fantasy developed by Stockhausen and him in this work is quite unique, creating a new and colorful sound world that draws the listener in. Especially in the first half of this music, the sound often exhibits something of a fascinating ‘industrial’ character, with a particular ‘grain’ in the complex timbres. Later on novel kinds of electronic ‘colored noise’ are heard. The recording on Stockhausen-Verlag CD 66 is outstanding.

‘Naturalistic’ sounds, mostly electronically manipulated (concrete music), play a substantial role in MITTWOCHS-GRUSS as well.

The theme of animals appears at several places in MITTWOCH aus LICHT. Animal sounds occur in the tape of concrete music that is played as an accompaniment for the soloists in the second scene, ORCHESTER-FINALISTEN, and on its own at the very end of the opera, as MITTWOCHS-ABSCHIED (Wednesday Farewell). In MICHAELION, the last scene of MITTWOCH, the special animal creature Luzikamel (from the German counterparts of the names ‘Lucifer’ and ‘camel’) has a prominent role.

Given the recurring animal theme in the opera, and the fact that MITTWOCHS-GRUSS also forms the electronic music of MICHAELION, it is natural that animal sounds, or sounds related to animals, are heard in discrete passages of MITTWOCHS-GRUSS.

Female voice (Kathinka Pasveer) slowly sings on three occasions Luzikamel as a sequence of isolated syllables ‘Lu – Zi – Ka – Mel’; two or three strands of this sequence are molded into an intricate polyphonic fabric. The voice also imitates a cat’s meow.

The synthesizer sometimes mimics noises of animals, and sampled animal noises are also heard. All this is performed with great taste.

Close to the middle of the work there appears the sound of a swarm of sea gulls, which forms the climax of a sequence of naturalistic events following one another (see Detailed Guide). Already early on Stockhausen had used Tonschwärme (‘swarms of tones’) in his music, emulating sound phenomena found in nature. It is part of an expression of his world of ideas that eventually, with the swarm of sea gulls, we get the opportunity to hear a direct example of naturally occurring swarms of tones in one of his works.

Another prominent class of sounds are bell-like. They are mostly sampled sounds that are electronically manipulated; often their decay acquires a strangely ‘warped’ character (for details, see below). Also, related to this, there is female voice electronically processed in order to emulate the sound development of bells which, upon being struck, show attack and a prominent decay phase. The idea to process voice in such a manner, as if a bell or other metallic instrument is struck, is already materialized in OKTOPHONIE, the electronic music of TUESDAY. In MITTWOCHS-GRUSS, however, a direct relation of voice processing to bell-like sounds is established by bringing these sounds together in the same music.

There is also a range of other concrete sounds, either coming from female voice or from other sources, including sounds imitating or reproducing the noise of a whistling tea kettle.

The combination of the particular slow electronic sounds in MITTWOCHS-GRUSS with the array of strange, often heavily processed, naturalistic sounds gradually coalesces into an intensely surreal atmosphere. This atmosphere stands out among Stockhausen’s electronic music, perhaps even including HYMNEN, and to such an extent it is rarely found in other music as well.

The tape of the work is spatialized for 4-channel projection; as mentioned above, sounds actively move in space. The composer (CD booklet, p. 19):

"For WEDNESDAY GREETING, the spatial projection in three layers is more important than ever before. Also in the stereo version it is possible to follow each movement for extended periods of time, and on repeated listenings, one can concentrate on the movements in each individual layer, especially on the slowing down, speeding up and changes of direction."

The last one-third of the work may appear to be somewhat sparser in texture, yet it also harbors some of the most complex sounds in the work.


Detailed Guide through the music

(All timings are from track 2. There are two CD tracks, but the fade-in track 1 only lasts about 45 seconds.)

The work begins with about 8 minutes of purely electronic music, and then another few minutes of music where concrete sounds are present but play a less prominent role (later on, longer stretches of mainly electronic music will be heard as well). The music generally carries two or three simultaneous sounds, which are mostly sustained and slowly developing. They differ in timbre, and successive sounds bring ever new alterations of color. There are variations in the volume of the sounds, either as rapid swelling and deflating, or as curves of slow changes. Importantly, the volume changes determine the relative prominence of sounds compared to others, and thus influence the overall timbral envelope. There are internal fluctuations in the timbre of sounds; these can undergo gradual changes in frequency and extent. Such fluctuations, while present in this initial phase, will play a more prominent role later on. At times there are slow timbre glissandi within a sound, experienced as timbre ‘rotations’, e.g. slow changes from [u] to [i], from dark timbre to light, or vice versa. In addition, spatial rotations of individual sounds, perceptible in a basic way also in stereo projection, provide change within the sound field. Several of these gradual changes or transformations may occur simultaneously within a sound.

Variations within a given sound mostly take place independently from those in other sounds that are present at the same time. Listening into the development of each sound leads to different simultaneous experiences. Fading out of a sound focuses the attention of the listener on other sounds that had been there for a while. Sounds overlap each other; one sound may fade out, and a bit later another may be introduced, while other sounds bridge these events. In a few instances the introduction of a new sound is dramatic, as a sudden sound wave.

As an example for a timbre ‘rotation’, follow the music at 2’08". The sound undergoing this change begins in the center, wanders around spatially and its timbre continues to be altered until about 2’50". It keeps sounding beyond that, and at 3’10" a timbre rotation in another sound follows.

At 6’31 an electronic sound is introduced that appears to mimic a whistling tea kettle. Perhaps there are some characteristics of morse code mixed in as well.

The first, mysterious, entry of voice is at 7’22", as a stream of syllables. There is a sophisticated overlapping of voice fragments that makes recognition of what is spoken impossible. In a sense, it is like overlapping echoes, but without echo acoustics. The ‘tea kettle’ noise continues well into the episode before it is replaced with other sounds.

At 8’54" the ‘tea kettle’ noise returns, but with more silvery overtones. These are, at 9’13", prolonged in a dramatic sound which shows fluctuations in timbre that speed up and down, almost sounding like a spinning wheel. (The effect may not well be audible over headphones.) The sound also rotates in timbre until it vanishes at 9’36". At 9’33" strange, bell-like sounds enter which continue for some time.

The first instance of sounds related to animals is a sequence of synthesizer sounds beginning at 9’56". Gradually, in a sophisticated process in which they are added to or altered step by step, ‘by the spoonful’ as it were, the sounds turn out to mimic the pattern of horse neighing. In this passage electronic sounds with a surreal ‘vocal’ timbre are heard as well.

The latter organically lead, at 11’23", to the entrance of female voice making an allusion to the meow of a cat. It utters the first ‘syllable’ [mi] on several pitches and with different degrees of electronically induced ‘decay’ that slightly oscillates in timbre (the decay is quite long in, for example, the second occurrence at 11’31"). Electronic sounds continue to enter and develop during the episode, mostly heavy ‘industrial’ synthesizer sounds.

At 12’13" yet another succession of vocal sounds, beginning with 'sh' and continuing on a long-stretched [o] (the vowel is slightly more open than that), is heard. To some extent, it has the characteristics of attack and decay as if someone struck a bell; more explicit examples of this kind of treatment of voice will be heard later on. The electronic processing varies. For example, at 12’27" the sound first decays, then again swells in volume. In the occurrence at 13’07" a second, higher pitched [o] is briefly overlaid on the just commencing [o] of the 'sho' sound before the original [o] swells up again.

At 13’29" a sound reminiscent of a rattling metal chain enters the music, as a sustained event. It immediately leads into a re-appearance of the ‘whistling tea kettle’, with both sounds now running side by side, emphasizing their kinship. Growling sounds from modulated bass voice are introduced at 14’11" and will carry on for about half a minute.

The ‘rattling chain’ stops at 14’21", and the ‘whistling tea kettle’ that continues now sounds the most like a recording of an actual tea kettle, with less silvery overtones. At the same time, new sounds appear that are bell-like. These are heavily processed sampled sounds. They decay with pronounced oscillations of timbre. Additionally, from 14’47" onward, there are several instances where the decay phase features gradual rise and fall of pitch, in an oscillating glissando as it were. There is also intermediate swelling of volume. Relative to the initial attack, the ‘decay’ sounds are of the same, or even greater, sonic prominence. These ‘warped’ bell sounds are a fascinating otherworldly invention.

At 15’25" a sustained oscillating synthesizer sound is heard that forms a natural base for the re-appearance of the horse neighing just a bit later, at 15’37".

The next voice entry, at 16’03", introduces one of three passages in the work that concentrate on the word Luzikamel (the animal creature in MICHAELION, see above).

The word is expressed as a repeated sequence of separated, slowly presented syllables ‘Lu – Zi – Ka – Mel’. There are initially two strands that produce such sequences, each on another pitch and with a different acoustic setting. The sequences overlap, with irregular shifting of the syllables contained in each against one another. At first it seems that following the overlapping sequences might be easy, but then there appear to be some of the four syllables out of sequence or dropping out, so that it all becomes mangled up – a deliberate playing with expectations and complexity. Trying to follow all of this in detail may turn out to be confusing – and engaging at the same time. The most intriguing is the last block at 17’03", with as many as three overlapping strands. The wandering around of syllables in space (in stereo projection, between the speakers) during a sequence adds to the interest of the passage, as does the impression that the acoustic setting sometimes changes not just between the different vocal strands, but also between the syllables within a given strand. At times there is slight voice processing as well.

At 17’17" electronically modulated quacking of ducks occurs, processed as ‘morse code’, turning it into a swarm as it were. Later on these sounds will also be part of a particularly impressive sequence of ‘naturalistic’ events, closely following each other, starting at 29’34" (see below).

At 18’32" ‘warped’ bell sounds are heard again, this time in overlapping fashion, emulating the pattern of church bells, and with a particularly twangy sound. At 19’09" the female voice utters sounds in a surreal nowhere-land between laughing and crying. The strange atmosphere is enhanced by sporadic repeats of brief electronic sounds that enter as a sudden swelling that quickly subsides again. They are overlaid on sustained electronic sounds.

Most of the purely electronic sounds in MITTWOCHS-GRUSS enter in a rather smooth manner, without a sharp initial attack phase (of course there are the many appearances of bell-like sounds, but these mostly are processed sampled sounds, rather than purely electronic ones). The most prominent exception to this is found in the next section, starting at 19’50" and lasting 3 minutes. It consists of an impressive sequence of electronic sounds with a pronounced attack and decay phase, not unlike what happens when keys are forcibly struck on the piano with pedal pressed down. Yet here the ‘attack’ components especially deeply and strongly resonate through the sounds, continuing into the decay phase. The timbre of those synthesizer sounds is varied. Some abandon the ‘industrial’ graininess, others do not. Some are powerful and dark, not unlike the lower tones of a piano, but then with substantially different timbre. Some others have a rather nasal tone of an intriguing strangeness. The behavior of the decay phase is varied too. Some sounds decay in a straightforward manner, while the timbre of others fluctuates during the decay phase. The extent, speed and character of timbre fluctuation differ between sounds, so that listening into each sound is a new experience. Movement in space provides additional variation between individual sounds. The decay component of some sounds wanders about, while that of others is spatially fixed. At times the combination of sound development and timbre is so forceful that it gives an impression of ‘sound arrows’ shot off. At 21’47" there is a sound that shows a particularly interesting decay. The decay phase is interjected by a few instances of sudden swelling that quickly subsides into the ongoing decay. It is as if the tone is ‘pulled’ at, an impression enhanced by some jerking in spatial location between the speakers during the process.

Following this passage, at 22’51", is a sequence of sounds that also show attack, but have a sustain phase followed by quick subsiding. They develop in an intriguing manner, made possible by the composite nature of the sounds. The first four ‘beats’ are on the same pitch, yet with a gradual shift in the relative prominence of the two sound components. Then there is a subtle drift of pitch and timbre within the sound components, with one component in each subsequent sound changing less than the other.

This sequence of sounds forms the transition to a passage that ‘echoes’ the attack/decay sounds heard during the previous 3 minutes, and lasts almost as long. The sounds are similar in that they show an attack phase followed by a drawn-out component, and form zigzag pitch sequences. Yet the attack is less pronounced – the sounds in this passage enter more broadly – and the drawn-out component is a sustain phase rather than a decay phase. The overall timbral envelope reverts to more graininess (similar sounds had been heard before, around 18.5 minutes). An ‘echo’ effect is also evoked by the sudden receding of dynamics after the initial few keystrokes.

The ‘echoing’ occurs in two phases, separated by a short sequence of somewhat faster tones (at 23’58"), onto which those previously heard sounds of a ‘whistling tea kettle’ are attached as ‘overtones’ – a strangely beguiling effect (a sustained ‘tea kettle’ sound then breaks free and is heard intermittently during the remainder of the ‘echoing’ passage). In the second phase of the ‘echoing’, downward glissandi of darkening timbre are overlaid on the sounds so that these appear to decay with rotations of timbre. Those glissandi in particular feature grain of a less edgy, softened character that makes the sound ‘foamy’.

Around 25’30" the passage transitions into a stream of sustained, subdued electronic sounds. The impression of ‘stream’ is induced in part by internal vibrations within the low-registered tone. After a while, pronounced timbre rotations are heard in some of the sounds.

At 27’28" we hear again the utterances in the female voice in the nowhere-land between laughing and crying. They are put into an interesting context. Laid over them are two threads of synthesizer sounds that show strong oscillations in timbre/pitch. The oscillations differ in speed from each other, at times vastly so, and they accelerate or slow down independent from one another. At 28’16" there is another episode featuring processed bell sounds, this time small sounding, almost as distant memory.

Subsequently, a sequence of concrete sounds is heard that are made to relate to one another, by timbre and as ‘swarms of tones’. First, there is a modulated recording of morse code transmitted through short-wave radio; eventually different sound bands of code cross one another. This is followed by quacking of ducks electronically processed as ‘morse code’; it dramatically enters with sharper tone and at raised volume, but quickly reverts to the softer sound level of the previous morse code recording. Overlaid are accentuated, sharp electronic glissandi, often moving at high pitch, which draw bold curves into the soundscape (sustained electronic sounds keep accompanying the events). Finally, at 31’35", there appears at higher volume the sound of a swarm of sea gulls, which appears to be unmodulated. The introduction of a real swarm of birds at the end of this sequence, instead of sounds processed into one, is at once both climactic and liberating.

The natural, stepwise progression of similarity between the events in the sequence, morse code, ducks as ‘morse code’, and sea gulls, is impressive in its effect and imagination.

This sequence of events is immediately followed, at 32’20", by the second appearance of ‘Lu – Zi – Ka – Mel’ in female voice. The individual sequences of syllables now tend to sound on considerably different pitches, and syllables mostly are presented in sequence, leading to more orderly and easier discernable proceedings than the first time around. Different acoustic settings distinguish strands and individual syllables within them as well. All the while simultaneous processes in the electronic music vie for attention. Sounds slowly fade in and out, and timbre rotations in extended electronic sounds are heard. There are also sporadic appearances, starting at 32’35", of synthesizer sounds that are reminiscent of the horse neighing heard earlier. The final phase of the episode features electronic sounds that have affinity to the striking of a triangle, yet with an own distinct character. The last few strikes, from 34’22" onward, feature complex behavior of the decay phase. The singing of ‘Lu – Zi – Ka – Mel’ ends at 34’36", and there are a few more appearances of synthesizer sounds related to the horse neighing.

At 34’59" a new passage begins. A ‘noise’ sound is heard that is strangely rippled by fast oscillations that ‘roughen its surface’. It constantly changes in a complex manner. The noise components are overlaid with components that have more of a character of vocal sounds, with many impure, fuzzy shadings in between, for example, [o], [a] and [e]. Not just do the ‘vocal’ components continuously change between darker and lighter colors, also their relative contribution to the overall sound varies. At some points they recede, and pure noise, e.g. somewhat sounding like hissing, is left over. Adding to the complexity of development of the sound over time is that its volume and spatial position between audio channels constantly vary. This ‘noise’ sound will from now on be a constant companion of the music until almost the end, except for several interruptions (the longest one is comprised by the next episode).

The complex development of the sound is overlaid with other sustained electronic sounds, but most prominently with female voice, entering at 35’17". The syllable "ka" is sung (though with a softer ‘k’ than in Luzikamel). Electronic processing makes the sounds decay like struck bells, with the decay exhibiting different duration. At some points the voice appears to ever so slightly ‘double up’ with itself. Around half a minute after the first entry of the female voice, electronic sounds like humming of bees enter and then loosely respond to pitch changes in the voice.

The next episode, starting at 36’46", features what is perhaps the single most complex sound in the entire work. It is of grainy character and, generated by overlaid timbral processes, sound curves ‘peal’ from it at different intervals and speeds. You can comfortably ‘loose yourself’ in the complex irregularity of changes within the sound; appropriately, it continues for about 3 minutes. The sound plays at moderate volume against a background of dark ‘machine hum’ that undergoes a few variations. About one minute into the episode, Stockhausen’s voice is heard in a somewhat reverberant, dramatic acoustic setting. He slowly announces the title of the work, "Mittwochs-Gruss", and a little later the English equivalent, "Wednesday Greeting".

In the following passage, at 40’01", the music from before resumes, with re-entry of the female voice above the rippled ‘noise’ sound. Next to exhibiting bell-like decay, the vocal timbres themselves are now at times transformed to more metallic sounds, while at other moments they are more natural. After a little while, the atmosphere is gently supported in the background by electronic sounds that remotely mimic the striking of a metal plate, followed by a ‘sustain phase’ consisting of the now familiar noises of a ‘whistling tea kettle’; these respond to the pitch of the electronic sounds from which they appear to emanate. At 41’09" the mixed laughing/crying sounds enter again, in addition to the ongoing music.

At 42’11" an extended synthesizer sound interrupts the scene. It is a sound with internal oscillations and a metallic sheen as ‘overtone’. The oscillations occur at different speeds; faster in a sound band in middle register, more slowly in a sound component at lower register. That the prolonged sound enters with an initial, albeit not pronounced, ‘metallic’ attack fits into the atmosphere of bell-like sounds that pervade the music.

After about half a minute the rippled ‘noise’ sound re-enters, this time overlaid with metallic synthesizer sounds that mimic striking of metal instruments.

An interjection at 43’32" features processed female voice as the only sound. The 'sho' sound, which had been heard earlier, now shows very prolonged ‘decay’ of the [o] (vowel slightly more open than that). Almost simultaneously a separate 'tso' (same vowel characteristic) develops in the same fashion alongside it, which leads to a subtle split of the decaying [o] into two sound components. The combination of this split, enhanced by timbral processing, with the long decay makes this episode quite dramatic. During the half-minute duration of the event, four repeats of the 'sho' / 'tso' sound occur, generously spaced apart due to the long decay, but initiating each time well before the previous sound terminates.

At 44’01" the rippled ‘noise’ sound re-enters once again with its complex development, now accompanied by [mi] sounds, as in the first ‘syllable’ of a cat’s meow (compare the passage at 11’23"). The ‘laughing/crying’ is added at 44’20". Here it becomes processed such an extent that it almost appears as an electronic sound – an impressive transformation. It is now also a bit reminiscent of the ‘quacking of ducks’ heard earlier.

At 44’56" another change of scene occurs. The processed ‘warped’ bell sounds return with their prolonged decay featuring oscillations and glissandi. Yet as opposed to their first appearance at around 14 minutes now they take center stage. The drama and processed decay form a direct parallel to the sounds of female voice just one and a half minutes before. The rippled ‘noise’ sound has receded to a faint event in the background, and a sustained electronic sound unobtrusively accompanies the music.

The next passage, at 45’25", features the third appearance of the ‘Lu – Zi – Ka – Mel’ sequence in female voice, It appears like a distant memory of the earlier occurrences, due to the sounds surrounding, and partially overwhelming, the vocals – the rippled ‘noise’ sound, the ‘laughing/crying’, electronically processed as a minute earlier, and a low registered sound that envelops the scene.

The passage subsides into alternations of synthesizer and processed bell sounds. In a series of occurrences, the synthesizer simultaneously initiates a sustained sound and one that attenuates with oscillating decay. The bell sounds exhibit the same type of decay. At times the attenuating synthesizer tone and its oscillations are quite forceful, such as at 47’18" and following. The fading away of sounds as heard here meshes well with the general impression that the music has reached its final stages, an atmosphere introduced perhaps as early as with the first appearance of the rippled ‘noise’ at about 35 min., a sound that continues here.

While the oscillating synthesizer and bell sounds carry on, the last kind of event is introduced in the music, at 48’26". It consists of heavily processed vocal sounds that are remotely reminiscent of a cat’s meow with its two ‘syllables’ (not just the [mi] heard earlier), combined with overlaid synthesizer sounds that beautifully supplement the timbre and somehow appear to continue the vocal sounds after they fade. The rippled ‘noise’ eventually subsides, while sustained electronic sounds carry on.

This final episode extends for several minutes, and with it the music eventually dies away.



© Albrecht Moritz 2011


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