Stockhausen

WELTRAUM (OUTER SPACE), 1992/94

INTRODUCTION

This text was edited by Jerome Kohl


This is the electronic music of FRIDAY from LIGHT, and bears the name WELTRAUM when it is projected in a concert setting by itself. It was made as an eight-track recording, and the spatial movements are an important parameter in a live performance (in the two-channel CD reproduction, the spatial dimension naturally is limited). The duration is 2 hrs. 23'20".

At a performance of the opera this electronic music is used in two forms: It is sounded during the opera in combination with the so-called "sound scenes" and "real scenes"; in addition, the two halves of this music are played by themselves, projected at a lower volume level in the foyer during the respective arrival and departure of the public, serving as the FREITAGs-GRUSS (Friday-Greeting) and FREITAGs-ABSCHIED (Friday-Farewell).

Stockhausen's formula technique, as applied in LICHT and most of his other works composed since 1970, not only provides with the formula a melody that is used and developed as such, but also uses expansions of the formula melodies (or their segments) onto much larger time scales. In LICHT such formula expansions shape the music on several levels: a whole scene and/or act, an entire opera of LICHT, and the span of the complete cycle of seven operas.

The electronic music of FRIDAY consists of such formula projections over large time scales (see the composer's comments below). This results in an enormous stretching of individual notes, leading to often extremely slow-moving textures, which nevertheless possess great inner life, owing to the specific manner of their composition. Of course, stretched over the entire span of the work (almost two and a half hours), the formula melodies will mostly not be experienced as such, but they provide the compositional framework on which the music is erected.

However, the music does not only consist of long-stretched notes. The large-scale formula composition allows for overlaid smaller-scale events as well and, particularly in the second half of the work, pitch changes are both frequent and pronounced.

Even though the time scale of the formula expansion is so vast, and thus the music is often so very slow (especially in the first half of the work), it is amazing that there are hardly any actually static moments in WELTRAUM (even though single components of the multi-layered textures may be immobile for substantial periods of time). The music always seems "on the move", due not only to the way sounds succeed one another, but also to the oftentimes considerable internal evolution of the long-stretched sounds themselves.

Stockhausen already had shown in slow passages of KONTAKTE (1959/60) how intensely drawn-out sounds can be shaped to cause the music to be in constant motion. With this work, the constantly recurring use of fading of sound into silence or relative silence decrescendo of sound as a kind of "decay" was introduced to electronic music in a big way (the fading of sounds into silence applies especially to the version of KONTAKTE for electronic tape only). Such frequent use of fading of sound into (relative) silence would later be found in so-called "ambient" music, such as in parts of Brian Eno's Music for Airports (1978) or Steve Roach's Structures from Silence (1984) and The Magnificent Void (1996).

"Ambient music" is sometimes misunderstood as being purely background music. While it can function as such, the manifesto on the original release of the above-mentioned album of Brian Eno, who is widely regarded as the founder of ambient music (rightfully or not at least he is the one who coined the term "ambient"), clearly implies that this music should also maintain interest when listened to with full concentration (which requires a higher volume level as well) as opposed to "muzak". Of course, some works may fulfill this criterion better than others. At its best, ambient music will be interesting music that creates an "encompassing atmosphere". Whether or not some of Stockhausen's works such as STERNKLANG (1971) or those Greetings and Farewells to his operas meant to be played softly in the foyer of the opera house (including the music of WELTRAUM as FREITAGS-GRUSS and FREITAGS-ABSCHIED!) fit the concept of ambient music may be debatable.

In KONTAKTE, the fading of sounds often goes along with timbre "glissandi" that enhance the liveliness of motion. While, except in the first few minutes, complete fading of sounds does not play a major role in WELTRAUM, timbre glissandi and other timbre fluctuations within single sounds certainly do.

In addition, dynamic fluctuations within single extended sounds are a vital feature of WELTRAUM; such sounds often exhibit carefully composed curves of swelling and subsiding in volume. The fine control of dynamics to shape sounds is explored to an unprecedented degree in this work (see also the composer's comments below), while on the other hand the overall dynamic range is narrower and more gradual than the extreme and often sudden contrasts in KONTAKTE or HYMNEN.

Another frequently employed device for investing the long-drawn sounds in WELTRAUM with life and motion is a very fast ostinato (= periodically recurring rhythmic pattern) pulsation within the sounds, especially in the first half of the work (see the composer's comments below, where he borrows the medieval-music term "isorhythm" for this device). Together with pronounced timbre fluctuations or oscillations, some extremely extended sounds are shaped this way into vibrant internally animated entities that draw the listener in over their entire time-span.

Such shaping of extended sounds in WELTRAUM by combining timbre variation with fast inner rhythms has a model in certain textures of HYMNEN, such as in the sounds of the greatly sped-up recording of a human crowd as a "silver-metallic rattle", which spans wide stretches of Region I, and the presentation of the Russian Anthem in extreme slow motion, expanded to about 10 minutes, that bridges Regions II and III of the work. However, these particular sounds in HYMNEN and the pulsating sound bands of WELTRAUM are actually very different. The often higher speed of inner rhythm and, in the case of the Russian Anthem, the specific technique of rhythmic chopping, makes these sound textures in HYMNEN seem, much of the time, more fine-grained than pulsating (there are fine-grained sound textures in WELTRAUM as well). In KONTAKTE, of course, the still faster inner rhythms of sounds are mostly audible only as timbres the basic conception of that work is to shape rhythms into timbres by greatly speeding them up via tape loops.

The composer says about WELTRAUM (from the booklet to CDs 49 and 50):

"The electronic music of FRIDAY originated from the projection of the 5th segment of the musical super formula from LIGHT and the EVE-LUCIFER double formula." [the CD booklets provide music examples].

"In this electronic music, due to the unusually large temporal expansion of individual notes, I formed the interior of each individual note and its development as never before: microtonal movements of the pitches, interferences (beats) with gradual slowing down, speeding up, separations, unifications; expanding and contracting intervallic relationships to a reference note; choice of timbres only for the clarification of the notes, chords, note layers, glissandi, spatial movements composed according to the formula; painstaking forming of the dynamic curve of each note to emphasize its presence in the polyphony and to support the simultaneous notes; finely graded differentiations between notes, sounds, coloured noises of varying band widths; isorhythmic pulsation in different transitions from periodic to syncopated to irregular impulses; individual, clearly perceptible flight paths, forms of movement, speeds in space."

*****

Unlike the early electronic music of Stockhausen, the sounds of WELTRAUM were created on synthesizers and samplers (in collaboration with his son Simon).

In the fifties and sixties, Stockhausen became famous as a pioneer of electronic music, with works like GESANG der JÜNGLINGE, KONTAKTE and HYMNEN, at a time when tape recorders and tape splicing, analog pulse generators, filters and so on ruled the studio. As technology changed, however, he moved on. Stockhausen exploited the capability of high-performance sequencing (on the EMS Synthi 100) in transforming melodies to an unparalleled degree in SIRIUS (1975-77), a composition begun around the same time that synthesizer pioneers like Klaus Schulze, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream also were just beginning to use sequencers*). And in WELTRAUM he explores the potential of shaping timbre and dynamics on digital synthesizers to an extreme. A fundamental compositional objective in Stockhausen's electronic explorations has not changed over the years and connects all the eras of technology that the composer has worked in, from analog tape composition to digital synthesis: the specific aim of composition of timbre.

*) In 1967, Silver Apples of the Moon by Morton Subotnick already incorporated sophisticated sequencing (using the Buchla synthesizer), but the performance level required for the procedures in SIRIUS was only made possible by the EMS Synthi 100, introduced in 1974.

Aside from the use of synthesizers and samplers, the sounds used in WELTRAUM are far removed from the "noises" pioneered by Stockhausen in earlier compositions such as GESANG der JÜNGLINGE (1955/56), KONTAKTE (1959/60) and KURZWELLEN (1968), among others. Such "noises" were developed by other composers as well, for example Pousseur, Ferrari, Subotnick and Xenakis (see his 1958 composition Concret PH for "crackling" noises), and are widely used in current electronic music among sophisticated examples of such noise/rhythm-noise music are Live in Japan by Fennesz (2003), Brownout by Phoenecia (2001) and Confield by Autechre (2001). In this music, of course, these kinds of sounds are modernized and further developed in the context of digital sound production / processing and of entirely different compositional textures.

In WELTRAUM, on the contrary, the sounds (and the several noises or noise bands) are mostly long-drawn and smooth, for musical reasons. As will be clear from the above, the extended drones and extremely slow motions of sound in WELTRAUM are not a matter of style, but the result of purely compositional considerations. Any resemblance with the music of the 1970s "Berlin school" of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and others, music that also uses long-stretched drones which are often rich and layered, therefore is superficial.

Furthermore, there is an, on the surface subtle, yet fundamental difference between the rich synthesizer drones from Schulze, Tangerine Dream etc. on the one hand, and Stockhausen's synthesizer music on the other. Whereas the former much of the time create an evocative, but essentially directionless in terms of musical process "sea of sound", the latter is highly directional in evolving its structures.

The sounds of WELTRAUM, most of them created on digital synthesizers, are thoroughly modern while having a solid, refreshing degree of timelessness. They do not follow any trends: for the specific kind of timbre composition in WELTRAUM, the sounds used are chosen as the most fitting (see also the composer's comment above). This becomes abundantly clear upon discovering the specific and unique musical world of the work. The invention of timbre in this composition is extraordinary, and the sound palette is among the most satisfying of any synthesizer music that I know.

The motion of sounds in WELTRAUM is often even slower than in most of the better-known electronic soundscapes of seventies synthesizer music (e.g., Timewind by Klaus Schulze or Rubycon by Tangerine Dream) and, apparently, the slow movements and the vast time-scale within which these occur have proven to be an initial stumbling block for some listeners.

But it is all a matter of perspective: after listening to very slowly moving, drone-based ambient music (for example the above-mentioned, remarkable The Magnificent Void) the proceedings in WELTRAUM actually may appear quite fast by comparison. On the other hand, whereas in ambient music we are dealing more with soundscapes than with processes (even if these can be found there as well), WELTRAUM is defined by its tightly controlled musical processes. To follow these on the vast time scale of the work certainly may present a challenge to the listener, yet it is one that will prove immensely rewarding to tackle.

(The term "musical process" is used here in the commonly understood, broader sense, not just in the narrower meaning associated with the concepts of minimalist "process music" describing gradual processes or repeating cells which, in electronic music, may result from certain tape loop techniques or "generative music" processes generated by computer software starting from an audio template.)

The unheard-of, incredibly inventive and audacious processes in WELTRAUM processes dealing amongst other things with timbral and dynamic envelopes and, especially in the second half of the work, with the timbral and (micro-) intervallic relationship of subsequent tones are executed with extreme and almost uncanny care for and control of detail, all embedded in an unerring journey of an epic scale (for the parameters of sound composed, compare the composer's comments above). The work explores the specific potential of electronic music not just to create new sounds but, beyond that, to shape and control timbral relationships in an unprecedented manner. As such, it leads the listener into realms not touched in music so far (no hyperbole here). The extreme exploration of timbral and dynamic relationships, possible to such an extent only in the electronic medium, redefines the boundaries of what electronic music what music can be about, and that alone guarantees WELTRAUM an exceptional status in the electronic genre.

Stockhausen always has continued to push the envelope and thus remains a true avantgarde composer up to this day, and with WELTRAUM he created at around age 65 one of his most radical works.

WELTRAUM certainly ranks among Stockhausen's greatest works of electronic music, easily standing alongside such legendary "classics" as KONTAKTE and HYMNEN, while operating on an even more expanded scale than the latter. In fact, given all its merits of musical concept and realization on both the level of large-scale architecture and of minute detail, and given the degree of innovation that exhausts the potential of the electronic medium to an extreme that arguably surpasses even his own electronic "classics" (specifically in composition of timbre and dynamics), WELTRAUM may simply be Stockhausen's greatest electronic work, full stop.

Even more than most complex music, WELTRAUM does not reveal all of its secrets on first hearing. The reason is that it is unusual to encounter music where subtle modulation of timbre and dynamics over vast stretches of time is one of the main composed processes even the principal one. In the second half of the work, with (among others) its exploration of slow changes in specific timbral relationships between quickly successive tones, the most radically new territory is covered and, since these processes have not been implemented in a similar manner before, some fundamental re-orientation of listening may be required.

Traditionally, the use of timbre as in the art of instrumentation had the function of coloring, dramatizing and clarifying musical forms or processes. These processes were relatively complete in themselves, hence the possibility of extracting piano scores from orchestral scores, for example. Bach's Art of Fugue according to the common view went furthest along this road, by evidently having no instrumentation specified at all, leaving the performer free to choose any suitable instrument(s).

To use a visual analogy, traditional employment of timbre could be thought of in terms of adding color to a black-and-white drawing that in itself was complete in all essentials. However, in recent music, and in electronic music in particular, the role of timbre is often altogether different. Timbre there is not just more or less a color added to a musical process; composition of and with timbre is an integral part of music in the most fundamental sense, or it may even be the main musical process.

WELTRAUM carries this role of timbre composition to an extreme, and successfully so, resulting in an engrossing new kind of musical journey. As the composer says above, "choice of timbres [was] only for the clarification of the notes, chords, note layers, glissandi, spatial movements composed according to the formula", a formula that often gives general timbral instructions by specifications of noise (layers) and through phonetic symbols (see superformula for Licht*)) also in this manner timbre composition is an integral, fundamental part of the music. Once the timbres are chosen, timbral processes often can lead their own life from there, since the time scales in the work are so vast timbre composition then frequently becomes the principal compositional focus.

*) (This is a PDF file 391 KB; if the picture is not sharp, the reason for this is that the Adobe reader is set to open within the web browser window. In this case, download the file to your computer. For maximal resolution, print out.)

In some places in the first half of the work, composition of dynamics is similarly extreme: to a certain degree the development of dynamics in these sections is the main process composed in the music, based on the timbres that are selected.

(It should be noted that Stockhausen has composed both music that integrates timbre into the musical process and music that leaves timbre open: IN FREUNDSCHAFT (1977) for example is specified for "any melody instrument".)

*****

There are two versions available of the ELECTRONIC MUSIC of FRIDAY from LIGHT. One is the version on CD 50 of the complete Stockhausen edition, the opera FRIDAY (4-CD set). The two inner CDs of the set are the opera proper, the two outer CDs are the electronic music alone, as the two halves Friday Greeting and Friday Farewell which, when performed as a whole in concert, are titled WELTRAUM (see above). The other version is the electronic music with sound scenes, earlier released on CD 49 (2 CD-set).

That version is a hybrid between the opera (electronic music with sound scenes and real scenes) and the electronic music alone, very interesting in itself, and recommended for those who want to study the FRIDAY music in all its variations.

For those who are interested in the electronic music alone, however, the opera set containing it obviously is the one to have. The opera proper is gorgeous, with a strange, beguiling and sensual beauty, featuring unique vocal, instrumental and harmonic textures.

In terms of the entire FRIDAY experience, CD 48 is also strongly recommended, because it contains the sound scenes all by themselves. The close-up sound in wide-panorama stereo resolution works like a magnifying glass under which the experience of this music becomes even more intense, and the complexity becomes much more transparent. The transparency is also enhanced by the fact that all the sound scenes are heard on this CD sequentially, and not in ever-increasing polyphonic overlapping with one another, as in the opera. Hearing this CD brings a more intense experience upon listening to the entire opera.

The recording of the Electronic Music of FRIDAY shows great resolution of detail and, importantly, rich timbral resolution of high frequencies. Listening on a good system is recommended for all of Stockhausen's music, but becomes especially important in this case. Subtle details of sound are critical to the essence of the work, and the reproduction must allow them to be heard.

The form scheme of FREITAG is reproduced in the booklet to CD 49 (Electronic Music with Sound Scenes). For the benefit of those who have only the CD 50 set (Electronic music alone, entire opera, see above) this scheme is reproduced here. This form scheme may also serve as an abbreviated "score" of the electronic music. The reader should keep in mind that this "score" of a mere four pages covers nearly two and a half hours of music a result of the extreme expansion of the formulas in time.

 

© Albrecht Moritz 2004


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