Stockhausen Edition no. 11
(Prozession / Ceylon)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Prozession” (1967) / “Ceylon” (1970)
Prozession” participants: Christoph Caskel & Joachim Krist (tam-tam), Péter Eötvös (electrochord), Harald Bojé (electronium), Aloys Kontarsky (piano), Karlheinz Stockhausen (filters, potentiometers, sound projection)
Ceylon” participants: Harald Bojé (electronium), Péter Eötvös (Persian camel bells, 2 triangles, synthesizer), Aloys Kontarsky (modulated piano), Joachim Krist (tam-tam), Karlheinz Stockhausen (Kandy drum)
Stockhausen 11. Duration: 60:07.

Prozession” is an ensemble piece that Stockhausen wrote for his ensemble of the time, but it is not a regular down to earth, down home piece for an assorted number of players, who can just easily go about their affairs, playing what’s in the score, and just try to stay as faithful as possible to it and play as good as they can, from numerous rehearsals of the exact same event, the way many classical ensembles, and even modern ensembles with sternly notated events in unchangeable scores, have a habit of doing; no no! When working through a score by Stockhausen the musicians always have to go the extra mile, learn new things, and climb to the highest summits of their abilities – and then a little higher still; and remain there throughout the piece. Well, haven’t you heard about levitation? Haven’t you been to the highlands of spiritual Tibet?
Well, spiritually, artistically, anybody who dwells an extended period in the vicinity of Stockhausen and his music has to change a little for the better, become truer to his own nature and more aware of the possibilities and talents that are inherent in a human, ready to be sprung out of a sometimes dormant state, or just sharpened a bit, moved into a focus of intense attention. Stockhausen is a great teacher through his music and his writings. This is in no way limited to his own realm of composition, but applies anywhere in life. I have come to realize and appreciate this through my intense study of his musical works and his writings.
I don’t believe – and I have never believed it either – that anything in life happens out of pure chance, randomly. Maybe we get to experience certain things when we’re ready for them. Before then it would be pointless to dwell on certain aspects of life.

Many critics have found it hard to accept – much less like or salute – the spiritual claims of Stockhausen. However, without this side of his many facetted personality there would not be a Stockhausen oeuvre for us to marvel at. This strong force in his life is a foundation for the richness of composition that he pours out, and the way many critics react just tells us that they’re not yet ready, but when they are they’ll be welcomed into a fascinating world of many splendors! There’s more to existence than the nitty-gritty of critics’ quarrels, household chores and material gain!

A few weeks ago I found a book in the police station basement in my rural Swedish hometown. The book – “
Life after Life” (1975) by Dr. Raymonda Moody Jr. - deals with near death experiences, and urges the reader to go on to other writings dealing with related subjects, such as the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and “the Tibetan Book of the Dead”, and as I was ready to get a copy of the latter, Stockhausen mentioned in a letter that I ought to read “the Tibetan Book of the Dead”. No coincident, I think, but guidance in a certain direction, as I get ready for new experiences. (I have the book by my bedside now…)

We’re here to gather experience and knowledge, and this is just a phase in a greater process. I’m amazed at the way existence pours experiences into our lives, if we’re open-minded and show some respect for the unthought of, the unheard of, the unexpected.

Stockhausen during the recording of "Prozession"
27 June 1971
(Photo: Werner Scholz)

Stockhausen’s “Prozession” falls in line with these thoughts, the way it is composed and the manner in which it is to be performed. This recording on the Edition Volume 11, is a live event, unaltered and unedited. The version recorded is just one possible aspect on this composition, out of innumerable possible versions, deducted from the compositional method of Stockhausen’s and the structure of the work. This is true of many of Stockhausen’s works, which makes it just the more strange to hear some critics say that Stockhausen is such a rigid and stern composer, who demands uncritical obedience from the interpreters. To my knowledge it is just the opposite... Stockhausen gives so much freedom to the interpreters – within the given frame – that he probably scares many musicians, but they’re scared, not of the rigidity, but of the freedom! Freedom demands so much more of an artist than rigid obedience. It requires artistic talent, an innovative mind and a heightened awareness, a total focus on the moment. This is not easy! Freedom is very hard! Stockhausen provides this hard freedom in many works, and that is the case in “Prozession” too.

In “
Prozession” the tam-tam is rigged – as in “Mikrophonie I” – with a microphone. The electrochord sports a contact microphone connected to a synthesizer. The signal from the tam-tam microphone and the parallel outs from the synthesizer flow through two electrical filters and potentiometers. The 2 x 2 outs from the potentiometers are directed to four loudspeakers in the corners of the sounding space.

The compositional structure is very interesting, and connects back to what I said earlier about the hard freedom that Stockhausen offers his ensemble. The notation is not decided in detail. Instead the players are instructed to play variants of earlier compositions by Stockhausen, from memory! However, the earlier works in question are decided by the composer. The tam-tam player and the microphonist derive their part from memories of “
Mikrophonie I”, the electrochord player (or in other performances the viola player) relates to “Gesang der Jünglinge”, “Kontakte” and “Momente”, the electronium performer reflects “Telemusik” and “Solo”, the pianist recalls “Klavierstücke I – XI”, and the player of the filters and the potentiometers (here Stockhausen) apply the methods from “Mikrophonie I”.

This really brings us into an almost bewildering kaleidoscope of familiar – but estranged – events, with reflections and remembrances of earlier works, but since those works in many instances themselves at every performance introduced a version of the score, this recalling of those works brings the variants even further, until you hardly can determine from where the parts that seem strangely familiar stem, like in a dreamlike feeling of déjà vu.

A piece like this should be played by a tight-knit crew, which has practiced a lot, and the emergence of the ensemble that Stockhausen led is a result of this need. The way conductors these days appear on a short term schedule, often as flown-in guest conductors, can never result in the wonders that a live-in ensemble, sharing breakfast as well as supper for many months – even years – may achieve. This is a well-known fact with string quartets, like the Kronos Quartet, the Arditti Quartet or the Fresk Quartet, but this surely applies to all ensembles.

The “
Prozession” score indicates individually for each performer the degree of transformation with which he reacts to his own previous playing or his fellow performers’ playing. This brings about an even more varied spectrum of possible evolutions inside the music, thus reflecting the immense richness of the web of life in a musical example.
Stockhausen says, about the dynamics of the ensemble after they’d been performing for a while: “
We arrived at an ensemble in which the performers react very strongly to one another; single events run through chain reactions of imitations, transformations and mutations, and all the performers are frequently united for long periods of time in a single musical network of feed-backs”.

The instrumentalists each read the score according to register, volume, duration, timbre – and for the piano; mode of attack. These qualities are determined and transformed according to the signs in the score. The players each have a part with plus, minus and equal signs. A + (plus) means that the instrumentalist plays higher or louder or longer or more segments. A – (minus) means that he plays softer or shorter or fewer segments. An = tells him to play the same or similar register and volume and duration and timbre and number of segments.

The player starts his event when he sees fit. When he finishes an event, he reacts – immediately or after a pause – in accordance with the sign in the score; either to his own previous part, or to a part of a colleague who starts his part, and to whom the first player listens until the second player is finished, which is when the first player reacts. However, player number one here may also wait as long as he wishes before he reacts. The significance of the signs in the score is further elaborated in the CD booklet.
Certain characteristics enhance the force of the piece even more, such as the so-called framed signs, which trigger the player to play a signal, calling the others to follow him. R instructs them all to play in the same register, I calls on them to use the same intensity, D tells them to adjust their durations to each other, and G means that they all synchronously play the same rhythmic subdivision of the duration. There is a number to be spotted after each R, I, D and G, determining how long the other players must follow the signal-giver.

Furthermore, if at the beginning a player thinks that what they’re playing sounds too much like a previous performance, he plays a stop signal, and they must all start from the beginning again, trying not to sound like before! Similar rules apply to the end of the piece. If a player finds the ending to be similar to another, previous ending, he plays another event, and the ensemble joins in, each member reacting to the new event.

You can imagine the countless variations that arise from these instructions! Bearing in mind the sources of variations mentioned earlier, it becomes almost unfathomable, and “
Prozession” seems to evolve into an everlasting, ever-changing web of music of the spheres. Stockhausen lets the forces play in a wondrous pattern of unforeseeable causality, which it is a joy to fall right out into, head over heels!

The second and last piece on this CD is “
Ceylon” for small ensemble. A sub-menu of the title says:

Everything divided into two
and a few minorities

For festive times, a rhythm

Stockhausen plays the Kandy drum in "Ceylon"
at Théâtre Municipal in Metz 22 November 1973

(Photo: Bernard Perrine)

The immediate impression I get of “Ceylon” is that of a percussive beauty. At first it feels like a closely microphoned prepared piano (high Mr. C!), but soon the feeling moves into the realm of a subdued gamelan. The piece was indeed written in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) when Stockhausen made a three-week halt on his way back from Japan. “Ceylon” belongs in the cycle “Für kommende Zeiten” (“For Times to Come”).
Stockhausen wrote a form-plan of seven sections for “
Ceylon”. The “rhythm for festive times” notated in the work with the indication Kandy drum is performed on the CD as follows:

Section 1: DUET for camel bells and Kandy drum (The others are making discreet instrumental commentaries)

Section 2. Free BLOCKS and RESTS played by piano, electronium, and tam-tam with tossed-in fragments by camel bells and Kandy drum.

Section 3: A rhythmically synchronous DUET of piano and electronium with a few long “counter-layers and splinter-like interjections” by the colleagues.

Section 4: BLOCKS and RESTS with camel bells ceasing to play as a triangle over synthesizer starts from pianissimo, arriving at a crescendo.

Section 5: Heterophonically synchronous playing by camel bells, tam-tam and electronium, a little later joined polyphonically and synchronously by piano and Kandy drum. The tam-tam appears soloistic.

Section 6: A free part, sparsely inserted with soft fragments and many rests. Stockhausen points out that “many strange and delicate sounds are played” in this section. The Kandy drum appears towards the end, gradually growing more dominant.

Section 7: A synchronous QUINTET plays the rhythm rapidly three times; forte, piano and pianissimo, the latter being played even faster. The piano, the electronium, the tam-tam and the camel bells play along with short individual entries.

Eight loudspeakers surround the audience during a performance, in a quite impressive auditory experience - …and the beauty of it all is the lasting impression.

Rolf Gehlhaar on "Prozession"


Volume 12