Stockhausen Edition no. 91
(Cosmic Pulses)

Karlheinz StockhausenCOSMIC PULSES (electronic)
The 24 Hours of the Day: Thirteenth Hour
Beginnings of the 24 layers of COSMIC PULSES

Stockhausen 91. Duration: 77:00 (Cosmic Pulses: 32:58)

Stockhausen in Rome 7th May 2007
at the premier of COSMIC PULSES
photo: alain taquet

It’s late fall, late autumn, the year 2007. I’ve already existed in this body – which I do keep fit, I must admit! – already much longer than I had expected, and Stockhausen has stayed in his bodily vessel 21 years longer than I, so we’re both stretching our Earthly journeys, and nobody knows much about our spiritual ones, but they go on for ever and have gone on forever, and we’re hopefully ascending through clearer and clearer space, soaring through lighter and loftier realms, life by life!

I put on
COSMIC PULSES without knowing what to expect. From Stockhausen you never can tell, and that is why it is always so exciting to break a package from the Verlag and uncover the new works, because it is never what you thought, if you thought anything at all, because Stockhausen always finds new ways, is inhabited by brand-new thoughts, and ever since his youth he has kept – and developed – a super-human will and energy and a mind that can construct compositional plans that must impress even the craftiest scientist or the most stubborn mountaineer through brisk stages of life.

Yes, it’s late 2007, under dark skies and moist winds that tear my hair and the trees of the forest through the night, and sometimes I feel that the murmur and whine of the squalls and gusts in the moonless darkness are the collected voices of spirits lost in lasting pain.

In my apartment I am safe, surrounded by walls of books and CDs, and the sweet fragrance of Nag Champa incense from India, and I have just started to listen to Stockhausen’s
COSMIC PULSES. It is a music that I could not have foreseen, and which moves me deeply and way beyond my expectations, though high they were!

Right now I sense that I’m at the very beginning of a new, great adventure, which will open new ways of thinking and feeling to me, just as I began to feel a deep need for that kind of change, that kind of freshness, that kind of de-dusting shake-down of the senses!

In fact, Stockhausen himself, when deep in thought about
COSMIC PULSES, which he was in the late compositional stages of at that time, stated in a brief message of March 2007:What I am trying since December to realize in COSMIC PULSES goes far beyond my experience – it must be ready for the world premier on May 7th in Rome.” And for sure it was; a good friend of mine flew down there for the occasion and reported back to me about the almost alien experience of something completely original.

As I listen now, for the first time, I sense the complicated and wild, yet behind all the turmoil strangely orderly sound, swelling and contracting under my senses like the black/blue/gray oceanic motion of a tempestuous cloud-cover, seen from an air-plane that feels like an immobile vantage point in a world that takes place around you.

I fill up with a sense of joy at this bottomless composition, at the fact that it was possible to conceive it, to go through with it, in this shallow society, in 2007. For once we don’t need to look back, search behind, for something masterly, something bursting with avant-garde ingenuity and great courage: Stockhausen, at 79, sits down at his Kürten desk in 2007 and thinks, and hears things no one else has heard – committing it to the music paper, in his beautiful handwriting, stringent and characteristic. This is the equivalent of receiving
KONTAKTE or GESANG again, but in a contemporary mode, straightforward, mystery in our face like wildfire and swirling clouds of forest fire smoke, perhaps a sound akin to what you’re supposed to hear in an overwhelming way when you leave this life and pass into the Bardo of afterlife according to Tibetan Buddhism. It is brave of Stockhausen to compose this. A lot of folks are going to freak over this; especially those pale intellectuals who always need to foresee things, and who need to brand things, put occurrences in their little boxes – because no way they’re going to be able to grasp this: it’s a big slap in their faces, a Zen Buddhist wake-up call!

Antonio Pérez Abellán, Kathinka Pasveer, Günther Kasper,
Karlheinz Stockhausen

I can hardly imagine what it would be like hearing COSMIC PULSES with its proper number of channels! I’d like to be able to do that some day; lose myself in that intricate, many-headed, thundering Bardo!

I work late at night now, sipping black coffee, jotting down these observations in a rickety fashion on a 24 inch iMac, while I scan pictures for the review on another, old Mac at the far end of the desk, all the while gushing
COSMIC PULSES through a couple of high end earphones, Stockhausen’s sounds invading my brain in smoky motions; a wild, torrential Ballet Severe! A good friend of mine, who passed away unto his next life in the 1990s – composer and painter Rune Lindblad – sent me a woodcut once, picturing a man walking in great strife through a thunderstorm – and somehow this is one of many feelings that COSMIC PULSES give me; a very visual sensation that also involves quite naturalistic notions, of hard rain on my face, of wet clothes sticking to my body, and a kind of danger that comes with the territory: it’s hazardous to live, nicht wahr?

By the way – I’m drifting now, I know! – but if you feel like enhancing the experience of
COSMIC PULSES even more, travel the globe with Google Earth; a fantastic tool, in which you certainly will gain some cosmic awareness, I guarantee it. With a fast computer and a large screen, you can go anywhere in seconds, descend and hover over The Potala Palace in Lhasa, two seconds later dive down over 6814 Cherokee Drive in Baltimore, Maryland – or sweep through the valleys of Lapland… with Stockhausen’s spiritual adventure music in your ears! Do it!

Distribution of the loudspeakers

In the programme notes for the world premier, Stockhausen says:

24 melodic loops, each of which has a different number of pitches between 1 and 24, rotate in 24 tempi and in 24 registers within a range of circa 7 octaves. The tempi 240 – 1.17 apply to sequences of 8 pulses. Thus tempo 24 [inside a square] means: 240 x 8 = 1920 pulses. Thus tempo 1 [inside a square]: 1.17 x 8 = 9.36 pulses per minute.

The loops are successively layered on top of each other from low to high and from the slowest to the fastest tempo, and end one after another in the same order.

They were enlivened by manual regulation of the accelerandi and ritardandi around the respective tempo, and by quite narrow glissandi upwards and downwards around the original melodies. This was carried out by Kathinka Pasveer according to the score

What is completely new for me is the new kind of spatialization: each section of each of the 24 layers has its own spatial motion between 8 loudspeakers, which means that I had to compose 241 different trajectories in space. That sounds very technical – and it is.

The form scheme
(unfortunately not readily distinguishable at this resolution)

For the first time, I have tried out superimposing 24 layers of sound, as if I had to compose the orbits of 24 moons or 24 planets (for example, the planet Saturn has 48 moons).

For making this possible, I am grateful to
Joachim Haas and Gregorio Karman, collaborators in the Experimental Studio for Acoustic Art in Freiburg.

The loops and the synchronization were realized by my collaborator
Antonio Pérez Abellán.

If it is possible to hear everything I do not yet know – it depends on how often one can experience an 8-channel performance. In any case, the experiment is extremely fascinating
. […].

Antonio Pérez Abellán, Joachim Haas, Gregorio Karman,
Karlheinz Stockhausen
at the White House in Kürten, March 2007

I whisked off an afternoon email to Stockhausen with the intent of possibly clearing some of the mist away from the mystery of the origin of the ideas that sprouted and bloomed into the fully-fledged mastery of COSMIC PULSES. Stockhausen immediately replied via email, but graciously let on that he, neither, had any knowledge of where the ideas came from: No, I never know where the ideas come from.

However, he submitted a rich studio report, penned by Gregorio Garcia Karman, entitled
STUDIO REPORT – Spatialization of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s COSMIC PULSES.
It’s a 14-page (A4) document with a scientific, technical text as well as graphic material, and for anyone knowledgeable and interested enough, it’s one prime essay!

For those readers who will want to dwell longer on the intricacy of this tornado watch work, I quote a large section out of this studio report, just to give an idea of the serious preparatory effort that went into this composition, and to inspire those of an inquiring mind to search for further information:

This report describes the final stage of the production of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s COSMIC PULSES, an eight-channel electronic music piece conceived as the 13th hour of the cycle KLANG (SOUND), the 24 hours of the day. For this project, the Experimentalstudio für akustische Kunst in Freiburg was commissioned by Stockhausen to produce the spatialization of 24 sound layers over 8 channels, according to a series of 241 rotations. These layers – in forehand produced by the composer – were made up of synthesizer recordings of about 24 minutes each. During the course of the piece, each of these layers should rotate according to given sets of loudspeaker series, synchronized with specific time cues. The production of this project was carried out by Joachim Haas and Gregorio Garcia Karman at the Experimentalstudio in Freiburg between December 2006 and April 2007, while the spatialization itself took place at Stockhausen’s installations in Kürten between the 25th and 31st of March 2007. [Reviewer’s note: This would be in Stockhausen’s elongated building on the outskirts of, and above, Kürten, called The White House – because it is white! - where he has a spacious rehearsal space, archives etcetera, not far from his home] Spatialization techniques employed by Stockhausen in previous similar projects were studied, and several alternative plans were put to consideration regarding the strategy to follow and the choice of spatial engines and interfaces, with special concern on the design of the production process itself.”

Part of the 241 different trajectories in space

The system developed for COSMIC PULSES [Reviewer’s note: Yes, an electronic device was built purposely for COSMIC PULSES, the OKTEG – Oktophonic effect generator – reminding me of other times when specific developments were needed, like in the case of the ring modulating machinery built especially for MANTRA] is based on a spatialization device – the OKTEG – handling the real-time panning of eight simultaneous layers, coupled together with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) in charge of layer playback, trajectory recording and mixing tasks. The core of the OKTEG is a Max/MSP patch that implements eight variable-law amplitude-panning modules, each of them driven by a sequencer with its own tempo control.
These eight sequencers are controlled by means of messages managed by an execution queue, containing the rotation data. The tempo of each sequencer is adjusted in real-time by means of motor faders. A salient feature of this design is that spatial performance is encoded as a frequency-modulated audio-rate sawtooth and recorded as a standard audio track in
the DAW, providing an integrated and sample-accurate trajectory recording environment

Karman explains the OKTEG that he and Joachim Haas constructed for Stockhausen:

is an eight-channel spatialization unit for positioning eight simultaneous signals over eight loudspeakers, purposely designed for the production of COSMIC PULSES. It merges different ideas present in former devices such as the QUEG, the Rotationsmühle, or the Rotationstisch, all related to previous works composed by Stockhausen. The QUEG (Quadraphonic Effects Generator), a four-channel spatialization unit -designed by Tim Orr and manufactured by EMS in 1975- was used by Stockhausen in OKTOPHONIE (1990/1991). The OKTEG resembles the QUEG for being a spatial step sequencer, as well as in its LED-based visual feedback system. However, the new design allows for an optimized production process when compared to the overdubbing-down mixing procedure described in the foreword of the latter score. Like in the Rotationsmühle –a device used in the spherical auditorium at the World’s Fair in Osaka and later implemented as output stage of the Klangwandler - the OKTEG provides the performer with manual control of rotation velocity, and different routings are accomplished by means of matrix programs. The Rotationstisch, first used as a spatialization instrument in KONTAKTE, was later further developed for exploring the artifacts, which appeared at very high rotation speeds. Following this idea, the OKTEG provides with sample accurate trajectories and arbitrary high rotation speeds, assisting the exploration of a continuum linking space and timbre. When sound trajectories get close to the upper velocity range of 16 rot/sec in the composition of COSMIC PULSES, the perception of movement is gradually transformed into a diffuse and vibrating spatial quality. Higher rotation frequencies manifest themselves as audible modulation effects. Further alternatives including graphical input of trajectories, or more complex virtual space simulation techniques were also discussed, but didn’t prove to be adequate for materializing Stockhausen’s spatial conception for this composition.”

Gregorio Karman goes on to a brief explanation of the Control Module:

The Control Module
is in charge of generating the driving signal, which directly controls the cycle rate of the space sequencer. In the Max/MSP patch, an oscillator, whose frequency is controlled by means of a physical fader, generates the audio-rate control sawtooth. During performance, this signal is recorded as an audio track in ProTools, registering an imprint of the performed speed variations. Once recorded, the control module switches to playback mode, using the recording instead as control source for the envelope generator. For eventual corrections of the spatial performance, a punch-in mode is provided. In this mode, a phase locked loop compares the frequency of the recorded sawtooth with the local oscillator during pre-roll time, adjusting both oscillator frequency and motor fader position for smooth trajectory punch-in.

The next paragraph in Karman’s overview of the proceedings for
COSMIC PULSES concerns the Envelope Generator:

The Envelope Generator
module is responsible for turning the modulated sawtooth coming from the control module into an eight-channel envelope signal. The incoming sawtooth is split into eight channels by shifting and applying the modulo-operator. The resulting phasors are then used to read the panning function. Further parameters that can be adjusted at this stage are overlapping, and continuous envelope shaping or bias. For COSMIC PULSES an overlapping value of 2, and a squared sinus envelope shape ( 2 sin ) were judged to be the most adequate settings throughout. In the final stage, the multi-channel envelope is multiplied with the sound fed to the OKTEG, and sent through the matrix to obtain the desired loudspeaker sequence.”

He then touches upon rotation range and tempi scale:

Different tempo “tunings” and ranges were discussed during the production stage of the OKTEG. The slowest rotation period chosen in the end was 16 seconds, and the fastest 0.0625 seconds (i.e. 16 rot/sec). Tempo for each OKTEG channel can be varied continuously within these two boundaries by means of motor-faders. A tempo scale with 24 steps was defined, for being used in COSMIC PULSES as 'tempo keynotes' for each one of the 24 of the layers.
Consecutive tempi within this scale are related by a ratio of 1: 256 23, an interval between a major third and a perfect fourth.

The workflow is briefly discussed:

In this section, the spatialization procedure that was followed is described. Initially the ProTools project is loaded with the 24 raw sound layers to be spatialized. The first step in the production is processing layer -B24- through the OKTEG. Playing the OKTEG involves real-time performance of rotation speed and level during the length of the layer by means of motor faders. The spatial information, encoded as a frequency-modulated sawtooth, is recorded in track K24, while dynamics are stored as standard level automation data in track B24. This action is repeated eight times for each of the subsequent tracks, while hearing the previously performed layers as in an overdubbing process. Spatial movements are rendered live through the OKTEG insertions, thus speed and level corrections can be made before down mixing the first 8-packet to the eight D- tracks. Once consolidated, the original B-layers and the control K-tracks are deactivated in order to free resources, but still if any adjustments should be needed after bouncing, the tracks could be effortlessly made active again. The same process described in steps (2) and (3) is repeated with the second 8-packet -B16 to B9- in order to obtain the second down-mix.
Again, the process is repeated for the last eight layers, B8 to B1. Finally, the relative levels of the resulting three packets are adjusted by means of VCA automation

Finally, Gregorio Garcia Karman mentions the master tapes:

Two different Master sets of COSMIC PULSES were produced. In the first version, the resulting 24 D-tracks from the final ProTools session were directly transferred to three Tascam DA98 digital tape recorders, attached to the TDIF ports of the ProTools interfaces. The three resulting DTRS tapes of the digital transfer contain:

TAPE 1: spatialized layers 1-8
TAPE 2: spatialized layers 9-16
TAPE 3: spatialized layers 17-24

These tapes are to be played with three DA98 machines running simultaneously (time-code synced), which should be combined in an external mixing console for projection over eight loudspeakers according to the before given routing diagram. The second master set is based on the eight-track reduction of the 24 D-tracks. The down-mix was digitally transferred to one DA98 to produce an eight-track version master tape. Each of the eight tracks of this tape corresponds, one-to-one, to each of the loudspeaker channels.
After the master tapes of
COSMIC PULSES were finished, a further production stage was to be carried out at request of Professor Stockhausen. The level automation of the individual layers should be neutralized (while keeping the original spatial performance recorded for COSMIC PULSES) and each of the 24 layers bounced separately to be used for the production of further electronic materials for KLANG. The 192 (24x8) resulting audio files (24bit @ 48 KHz), were labeled with the layer and loudspeaker tags (layer_#24_LS1, layer_#24_LS2, layer_#24_LS3... layer_#23_LS1, layer_#23_LS2, etc.), and delivered in 12 single-layer DVDs to Stockhausen-Verlag at the beginning of July 2007.”

In his list of references, printed on the last page of
the Studio Report for COSMIC PULSES, Karman mentions, among other texts, an essay by Stockhausen, printed in Texte zur Musik 1970 – 1977, called Die Zukunft der elektroakustischen Apparaturen in der Musik, which is a summary of a lecture that Stockhausen held on the 26th of October 1972 at the Westdeutsche RundfunkWDR – in Cologne. It is an interesting prophecy of the developments concerning the implementation of electronic devices and methods in the creation of music in the future, as seen from the vantage point of the early 1970s, by the one person who most fiercely maintained and manifested the boundless possibilities of sound-processing equipment and creative musical thinking, all the way from the early 1950s.

He says, among other things – and I interpret approximately from the German – that the tendency goes towards a situation in which a musician, vocal or instrumental, albeit educated by a good teacher, must familiarize himself with all the possibilities of sound-making and sound transformation. He further states that a type of musician that no longer identifies himself with one single instrument, but who can have at his disposal all kinds of sound colors and sound transformations, including his projection of the sounds in any auditorium, in elective directions, at velocities of his choice, will arise.

And then the punch line:

Dazu benötigen wir neue Apparaturen”! (To that end we need new machinery”!)

He then goes on to describe two machines that he has developed, and which were being constructed at the time of the talk in the early 1970s: a Klangwandler – a kind of sound processor – that he evolved on the basis of a Modul 1969 A, and a Rotationstisch – a rotating table – that was an improvement of the one he used in the production of

The most interesting aspect of this essay/lecture – for me – is what this development of sound tools says about the composer, about Karlheinz Stockhausen. Most composers – almost everyone – would make do with what’s on the market, and adjust his ambitions to that fact, but not Stockhausen, not in the 1950s, nor in the 1960s, nor indeed in the 2000s! Here he goes again, closing in on 80, demanding new machines to be able to let others hear in air compressions what he already has heard in his mind, and for which there were no machines precise enough on this contemporary market with countless gadgets and devices! Stockhausen, instead of falling in line, adapting to the possibilities at hand, makes sure new possibilities come into being; commissions technicians that are clever enough to hear exactly what it is that Stockhausen wants, and who are able to construct new sound tools in close collaboration with the Maestro. This stubbornness, this will, is so strong I almost feel afraid, but most of all I feel joyous, for what is this, if not a demonstration of the blowtorch property of the human spirit; this endless hunger for light! Wonderful!

As I listen again through
COSMIC PULSES, it is also this that I hear, the roaring, resounding thunderclap repercussion of fresh, uncompromised intellectual will and a daredevil creative force, as unstoppable as energy per se: star shine through timelessness. There are numerous ways to listen to COSMIC PULSES… no, not listen TO, because you can’t stay outside of it when it roars towards you and engulfs you: You listen IN COSMIC PULSES, right inside the torrent!

However, my description may sound like
COSMIC PULSES can be perceived but as one, brute, blunt tour de force of violence and danger. That is – be sure to note! – not the case. Inside these violently moving Jupiter storm clouds, you’ll discover innumerable delicate, minuscule Planck-length vibrations, at the core of sound, at the core of core; tiny, multi-dimensional twitches and tics right in the face of the complete standstill of the horizon of events, beyond which even hypothesis is hypothetical, and thought unthinkable. That is how deep this music cuts, how low it flies, and how lofty and distant it may rise, like a horse on its hind legs, neighing loudly between the star clusters as you suddenly change perspective, involuntarily, the way you may change point of reference in an optical illusion. In COSMIC PULSES you shoot from macro to micro and vice versa in a flash, completely altering the way you perceive the sound and your own spatial predicament.

The duration of
COSMIC PULSES, including fade-out and silence, is 32’58. It comes in one single track on the CD. Then come 24 tracks with the beginning 90 seconds of each of the individual layers of COSMIC PULSES, preceded by a brief introduction in German and English by Professor Stockhausen. Stockhausen starts with layer 24, counting backwards down to layer 1, presenting each layer: Anfang Schicht 23; beginning of layer 23, and so forth. Hearing them in full clarity like this opens up new insights into the sound as it storms in its completeness.

Antonio Pérez Abellán is a deeply knowledgeable and skilled musician, and his role in the production of
COSMIC PULSES should not be under-estimated. I’ve seen and heard him play the synthesizer on a great many occasions down in Kürten, and it has always been a great experience. He has realized the loops and their synchronization here. His spirit is very benign and charitable, beneficial and salutary – sometimes I think he is slightly more than human, with one foot in an enchanted world of wonders and secret beings! His smile stays with me!

Kürten from satellite! Can you make out the school complex
where the Stockhausen Courses are held,
and can you find the White House?

And Stockhausen’s voice on these recordings of the 24 layers also puts me in a state of pleasantly hovering inspiration, reminding me of the many times I’ve heard him speak in Sülztalhalle in Kürten. I hope I’ll be as young as he is, when I reach 79.

COSMIC PULSES is one of those seminal works that put a whole music culture into perspective. Listen up, folks!