Stockhausen Edition no. 3
(Electronic Music 1952 - 1960)

Karlheinz StockhausenElectronic Music 1952 – 1960: “Etude” (1952) / “Studie I” (1953) / “Studie II (1954) / “Gesang der Jünglinge” (1955-56) / “Kontakte” (1959-60)
Stockhausen 3
Duration: 66:35. Released 1992.

Nowadays anybody with a computer and some relatively cheap software can manipulate sound in ways unheard of when the first steps were taken in the area of electronic music. That is why we hear so much really lousy, untalented electroacoustic gibberish these days. Anybody can feed a sound into a computer, manipulate it in so many ways, and download it directly onto compact disc, but… the pen should not be confused with the novel! The fact that you have great machinery at your disposal does not mean that you are an artist! This ought to be obvious to one and all, but… it isn’t! In the output of electroacoustics these days you have to look hard to find anything worth listening to, though, of course, it does happen, on rare occasions.

In most cases the modern composer of electroacoustic music, who manages to produce something original, new or otherwise talented, is also a composer of music for traditional instruments. It’s a fact that any good mature piano improviser, for example, first has to struggle with scale practice etcetera under the guidance of his piano teacher, to master the instrument. He can’t be a good improviser until he masters the instrument fully. These rules are the same for someone who paints, writes poetry… or composes electronic or electroacoustic music. The key word is “composition”. If you have a good sense of composition, and if you have trained this sense in or out of an academic setting, you can make something worthwhile with some bicycle spokes, a hammer and a tape recorder, whereas you can’t do anything at all even with the London Symphony Orchestra or the whole studio at Groupe de Recherches Musicales in Paris without this sense, this intuition.
The starting point always is a genuine creativity. The continuation up to the actual masterpiece is a filtering of that creativity through experience, skill and talent. There are a few exceptions to these principles, where people without any musical education what so ever have produced highly artistic electroacoustics, but… these are exceptions – and the sense of composition had to be naturally inherent in these artists anyway.

At the beginning of electronic music the basic principles of musical or other formal education, academic or otherwise acquired, were the same, but there was no easily purchased machinery. In fact, there was no machinery at all, made with the purpose of making electronic music, the way we look at it today. There were some primitive electronic instruments, like the trautonium, for instance, which was constructed by Friedrich Trautwein in Berlin, but they were very limited and of no use to a composer with the intent of shaping a new sound world, even though some composers incorporated the sounds of some of those early instruments in their compositions, or even composed directly for the instrument itself, as did Paul Hindemith in 1930, when he composed “
7 Trios for 3 Trautoniums” and at another time, when he wrote “Langsames Stück und Rondo für Trautonium”. The trios were performed in Berlin at an “electric concert” in the summer of 1930, with Paul Hindemith at one of the instruments.
The trautonium was made up of tone-generating oscillators that were manipulated by way of a metal wire strapped across a board with a metal rail. You pressed the metal wire down on the rail in different places, thereby generating different pitches from the oscillators.
There were other experiments being conducted elsewhere at about the same time, or as early as in the 1920s. In Russia a Mr. Leon Theremin built an electric instrument named after himself, as did Mr. Martenot in Paris, when he constructed the Ondes Martenot, which was quite widely used for a while. This was a time of experimentation, and over in Russia after the 1917 revolution there even were concerts on factory whistles.

The experiments with concrete music – musique concrète – started in Paris, with the creative new thinking of Pierre Schaeffer. He presented some works – “
Cinq études de bruits” – as early as 1948, and from there the whole genre took off.

I also think that homage has to be paid to Walter Ruttman, who recorded sounds in a “concrete” manner onto film already in 1930, thereby composing the piece “
Weekend” (11’19), produced by Reichrundfunksgesellschaft und Berliner Funkstunde, and diffused on 13th June 1930 on the radio program “Pièces radiophoniques et films sonores”.

In fact, impulses can be found as early as 1910, when the Futurists (Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrá, Gino Severini and Luigi Russolo) put forth a manifest concerning a future culture that would break off from all things past. In 1913 Luigi Russolo commented on the dissonances being used by composers at that time (Stravinskij’s “
Le Sacre du Printemps” was premiered in 1913!) in a manifest of his own, where he said that the utilization of noise in music would increase.

In 1921 in Paris three concerts were held with noise instruments paired with sounds from a phonograph. The noise instruments were constructed by Luigi Russolo. John Cage foresaw the electronic music in 1937, in a text he called “
The Future of Music: Credo”, in which he outlined, quite accurately, developments that would occur about fifteen or so years later.

However, the concrete music as such was developed in a grand manner by aforementioned Pierre Schaeffer in 1948 and thereafter, and he was soon joined by Pierre Henry, who composed his first concrete works in 1950, and who energized and developed the impulses from Pierre Schaeffer and keeps on producing concrete and electronic music up to this day.

Then along came Karlheinz Stockhausen, changing the electronic music scene forever. Stockhausen, who up till then had composed modern chamber music for innovative instrumentations of traditional instruments, as well as choral pieces, suddenly burst onto the scene and composed some revolutionary electronic pieces.
Stockhausen was living in Paris in 1952, where he composed “
Spiel” for orchestra and participated in Olivier Messiaen’s courses. He met Pierre Schaeffer in Paris, and Schaeffer allowed young Stockhausen to conduct experiments at the Studio for Musique Concrète at the French radio.


During the last months of 1952 and the beginning of 1953 Stockhausen composed and realized his first concrete piece – “Etude”. This piece is the first track on this CD. Stockhausen thought he’d lost the piece a long time ago, but he finally luckily found it in a pile of old tapes, which is why we can hear it on this CD. It is a brute but meticulously composed work, which doesn’t sound like a “first work” at all. It is structured in detail, and the impression is of fast and brute events charging in a staccato sort of way down the line. This piece really rocks! The amazement must have been total when Stockhausen played “Etude” for people in those days.

This kind of piece (in those days) required a new way of thinking, a new way of listening, both on the part of the composer and the audience, and it must be seen in its timeframe, i.e. in the early 1950s. Imagine the general musical scene in those days, and then try to put something like Stockhausen’s “
Etude” into that frame! It is almost impossible, and there are just splinters left of the frame after that!
Even though this indeed is Stockhausen’s first go at this idiom, it’s still one of my favorite concrete pieces. It doesn’t sound so much like a concrete piece, I would say, but rather like an electronic piece, generated by tone generators and subsequent manipulations, if you think about musique concrète as a manipulated mixture of recorded real-world sounds, like trains, wind, water drops, laughter etcetera. Stockhausen’s events here are short and many, conveying the impression that this is a generated electronic piece, since it is impossible to deduce where the sounds come from.
Later on, in the 1960s and 1970s, there were many electronic works with sound qualities quite similar to Stockhausen’s “
Etude” from 1952-53, but then the machinery had developed considerably.

Now, in the book (yes, a book!) that accompanies
Stockhausen Edition Volume 3 the composer explains where the sounds came from. It is piano music! He recorded six sounds of variously prepared low piano strings. He copied the sounds a number of times, and then cut off the attack of the sounds with a pair of scissors, and used short pieces of the continuation of the sound. Several of these short pieces of tape were spliced together into a tape loop, which Stockhausen transponded to different pitches. He then recorded a few minutes of each transposition onto separate tapes. Since Stockhausen only had studio availability with a technician a few hours a week, he prepared himself at home in the student hostel, by cutting and splicing tapes according to his score, which then could be used in the studio, when that time came. Of course, at the hostel he had no listening device, so he just used a ruler and measured the tape, cutting it according to the score, taking into account the different pitches on the different tapes. In the studio he then synchronized two prepared, spliced, tapes, which he recorded onto a third tape, which in turn was recorded in combination with one of the tapes put together by little pieces of sounding tape and little pieces of white pauses. This process kept on for quite a long time, when Stockhausen went over the material again and again, cutting and splicing, splicing and cutting, until he reached the result which we can hear here as “Etude”!

I have described this process in such detail to call attention to the careful and patient effort that Stockhausen already in those early days put into his work, and the enthusiasm and energy he developed, to realize an artistic idea. Compare this hard work with what some “composers” these days do with their Macintosh G4s, and you’ll understand what I meant in the beginning of this review, when I described the poor result that may come from the too easily attained manipulations of today’s digital boxes, by people who think they can compose just because they can handle computer software…

By 1952-53 Herbert Eimert (1897-1972) – who initially helped Stockhausen on the way in his traditional composing – himself composed electronic music at the WDR Westdeutsche Rundfunk – in Cologne, where he also became the first director of the Studio of Electronic Music, which was founded on October 18th 1951. He then composed for example “
Klang im unbegrenzten Raum” with Robert Beyer, and also “Klangstudie I”, “Klangstudie II” (with Beyer) and “Glockenspiel”. Another composer recording short electronic pieces at the WDR in 1953 was Karel Goeyvaerts. In the following years a number of composers realized works at the Cologne studio: Paul Gredinger, Gottfried Michael Koenig, Henri Pousseur, Bengt Hambraeus, Bo Nilsson, Franco Evangelisti, György Ligeti, Giselher Kiebe, Herbert Brün, Mauricio Kagel and Ernst Krenek.


Stockhausen with tone oscillator at the WDR

In 1953 Stockhausen started his work at the WDR – actually called Nordwestdeutsche Rundfunk – with the first electronic work for sine waves; “Studie I”. This is where Stockhausen made an important decision; not to use any of the electronic instruments mentioned before, like the trautonium, but to rely exclusively on pure sine waves (without overtones) from a frequency generator. In the book accompanying the CD Stockhausen goes deep into the methods and the material, explaining the way he went about the task he set himself. I recommend a read-through of these pages. It is a pretty heavy and strenuous reading, but it pays off in a better understanding of the circumstances involved, and the thinking and planning behind the piece.

Stockhausen explains (and this paragraph is copied almost, but not exactly, word-by-word from
the Edition Volume 3 book) that he recorded individual sine waves on tape, played them back two at a time, using two tape recorders, then recorded them on a third tape recorder, etcetera. He then cut and spliced the resulting tape, producing a number of tape collages, which he then copied on top of each other to form polyphonic structures. He also applied reverberation by means of a natural echo chamber: Parts of the tape were played on a loudspeaker inside the echo chamber, where a microphone picked up the sounds with echo and recorded the result on tape. The echoing parts were then cut and spliced onto the non-reverberated sequence.

Of course – as with most of us – listening is enough to experience these important early works, and the listening situation is naturally what all this working and planning is all about and directed towards. The sounds from “
Studie I” have influenced the early electronic music so much that they all feel very familiar now, in retrospect, but at the premier in 1954 nothing was very familiar. This was new terrain in acoustics, and the work in the studio during those years was research, expeditions into an unknown land.

Studie I” is a long piece, compared to “Etude” (3’15) with its duration of 9’42, and around this time it dawned on people that electronic means could be used to actually create a new type of music, real music, but of electronic origin, with durations comparable to traditional chamber pieces.


Studie II, score page 15

In “Studie IIStockhausen developed his electronic work further. Here he used sine tones superimposed in groups of five, sent into an echo-chamber, with a sounding result similar to noise-bands of different characteristics. “Studie II” is the first electronic piece with a score. Stockhausen explains the process of writing the score in detail in the book. Parts of the score are also reprinted in the book, looking somewhat like paintings by the likes of Mondrian!


Next piece on the CD is that famous work; “Gesang der Jünglinge”, which has become so widely known, that if a person who otherwise has no idea about electronic music is asked to name a piece, this is the one piece he’ll mention, and because of this piece alone, the only composer of electronic music the ignorant and unknowledgeable person will name is probably Stockhausen. This makes it a bit awesome to write something about this truly revolutionary piece.

Gustave Dorè (1832-1883):
The three youths in the burning furnace

I think the best way to approach this important and historically so significant work is to forget all about it – if that’d be possible – and listen to it with fresh ears, rinsed of all the cultural layers of historical importance that weighs this piece down. Let “Gesang der Jünglinge” free! Let it meet your ears anew, fresh, virgin – because that is the way it was when it was shaped. That is the way Stockhausen left it to the world. It’s a piece to enjoy, do discover and enjoy, just the way it is, ridded of history, ridded of learned speculations. This piece was new when it was written in 1955-56, not only because it was a new work, but also because it was a new type of work. Nothing like it had been heard before. It was true invention!

Stockhausen’s idea was to unify vocal sounds and electronically produced sounds – not only to play vocals and electronics simultaneously, but also to unify them, letting voices blend over in electronics and vice versa. Stockhausen had by now become a very skilled studio worker, and his musically creative force led him into uncharted topographies. He mastered the material in a radiant manner, composing one of the most important pieces of music - electronic and non-electronic – of the 20th Century. The biblical scene was taken from the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3, about the three youths in the burning furnace; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. "
The Song of Praise of the Three Youths” is to be found in the Apocryphs, which means that it is not accounted for in Daniel’s Book in the Bible, the way it is printed in the Lutheran world, with the 66 books, but Stockhausen also points out that the text indeed is taken from the apocryphal Book of Daniel, and that the composition is based on the German version as recited after the Catholic Mass.

Gesang der Jünglinge” is still – rinsed ears or not – one of the most rewarding musical pieces – electronic or not – to listen to up to this day. It is an adventure, a gem in the history of modern music, of modern art.
The methods (and other information around the piece) are amply provided in the book by Stockhausen himself, and I recommend a thorough study of the chapter – but, first and foremost: enjoy the music!


Studio 11, WDR, where Stockhausen realized "Kontakte"

Kontakte” with its duration in excess of 35 minutes, is by far the longest piece on the CD. It was composed 1959 – 60, which also means that Stockhausen had time to accumulate even more electronic experience, develop his artistic skills even further, and that he also had more machinery at his disposal than when he started working in the electronic field. What we hear here is the electroacoustic version. There is also another setting, for electronic sounds, piano and percussion.
A new successful – yes, brilliant! - recording of this second version was recently recorded on Swedish
Caprice Records by Jonny Axelsson, percussion, and Fredrik Ullén, piano (Caprice CAP 21642). On the same Caprice CD Stockhausen’s “Zyklus” is performed. That was a revolutionary piece too at the time of the premier in 1959, as it was the first fully scored work for solo percussion. “Kontakte” is a strictly composed piece on the grand scale, and it may well be the first piece that introduced the attitude we have towards music today; that any source of sound at all – electronic or concrete - can be utilized in the compositional process.

(As a parenthesis I have to emphasize too, that there was a person, an artist, in Sweden in the early days, who started composing electronic and concrete music as early as 1953, namely Rune Lindblad (1923 - 1991). He was a painter and an engineer in Gothenburg, when he, unaware of Schaeffer, Stockhausen or anything that went on in Central Europe, on his on accord began tampering with tape recorders and oscillators, borrowing machinery over the weekends from a technical institution. He composed over 200 electronic works. He also conducted the first concert of electronic music in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1958. However, he was overlooked by the establishment in Sweden, and there were no substantial releases of his works until in the 1990s, when
Pogus Productions in the U.S.A. released a couple of CDs.)

Kontakte” is one of the most brilliant successes – artistically and technically – of early (and not only early, I dare say) electroacoustic music. A basic idea here is to merge – as the title hints – concrete sounds and electronic sounds of similar values, thereby adding new values to both, amplifying both, and broadening our perception, our hearing. Through transformation and fusion of well-known sounds, new and strange sonic values occur. “Kontakte” is also extremely spatial, creating a sounding space where events take place in different locations in that space, while also moving through it.

This is probably the one most important early electronic music CD available, featuring some revolutionary pieces that changed the way we listen to music, and who in themselves (rinsed ears!) are beautiful and touching gems of sound!


Volume 4