Stockhausen Edition no. 9
(Mikrophonie I & II / Telemusik)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Mikrophonie I” (1964) for tam-tam, 2 microphones, 2 filters with potentiometers (6 players) / “Mikrophonie II” (1965) for choir, Hammond organ, 4 ring modulators / “Telemusik” (1966) (electronic music)
Stockhausen 9. Duration: 63:30.

Mikrophonie I” participants: Aloys Kontarsky & Alfred Alings (tam-tam), Johannes G. Fritsch & Bernhard Kontarsky (microphones), Karlheinz Stockhausen (filter operator and potentiometer controller 1), Jaap Spek (filter operator 2), Hugh Davies (potentiometer controller 2, aiding Spek).
Mikrophonie II” participants: Monika Pick, Frigga Ditmar, Meta Ackermann, Mimi Berger, Helga Hopf, Ulla Terhoeven (sopranos), Peter Weber, Werner Engelhardt, Friedrich Himmelmann, Hermann Steigers, Dietrich Satzky, Arno Reichardt (basses), Alfons Kontarsky (Hammond organ), Johannes G. Fritsch (timer), Herbert Schernus (cond.), Karlheinz Stockhausen (balance and sound projection).

We’ve seen it in earlier works of Stockhausen, and here we see it again. When Karlheinz Stockhausen gets an idea for a work – it may start haphazardly or improvised or even whimsical – he starts building methods, structures – meticulously – that eventually lead forth to pieces of art hitherto unthinkable. I believe Stockhausen’s famous ability to apply all his concentration to a work, to a structure, to a plan, is one of the reasons why he has formed so much of contemporary musical thinking. Many composers just rattle along, feeling their way ahead and writing, sort of, what comes into mind and might fit into their tradition. Stockhausen, on the other hand, forms a picture of what he wants, sets rules and works with the smallest details as well as with the overall plan. Paradoxically he formed some of the most varied pieces of music of the 20th century this way, i.e. musical works allowing many variations – versions – under the guidance of the rules. His pinpoint intuition is of course the artistic force that illuminates all these structures that he builds, and that eventually makes his methods bloom with the most amazing artistic beauty. The hard work that Stockhausen puts into the working-out of minuscule details leads to works of rare beauty, rare discovery, rare innovation. “Mikrophonie I” is one such worked-through piece!


For the composition of the epochal work “MomenteStockhausen bought a large tam-tam with a diameter of about 155 cm from a musical instrument fair in Frankfurt. The head of the Swiss company Paiste that made the tam-tam had studied the manufacturing of such instruments in the East. Stockhausen informs me that he traveled to the Paiste company in Switzerland and met with the two brothers, who explained to him how their father as a prisoner of war of the Japanese after World War I had learned how to mix the metals for such a tam-tam. The Paiste brothers let Stockhausen choose his tam-tam for “Momente”. Stockhausen himself drew the stand for this tam-tam; this instrument that would prove so important in several compositions that were to follow. The Paiste company nowadays advertises their “Momente” tam-tam as the “Stockhausen gong”! One of the Paiste brothers came to Kürten in 1994 to demonstrate different tam-tams to Stockhausen, who bought three of them, and he informs me that he will compose the “Lucifer layer” of “Sonntag aus Licht” (“Sunday from Light”) for them, adding that it must be performed in the cellar of the city prison of the town where “Sonntag aus Licht” will be performed.
Stockhausen was identified with the “Momente” tam-tam for many years (“Kurzwellen”, “Aus den sieben Tagen”, “Prozession” etcetera). He traveled through Europe with this tam-tam, on which he had written “VIETNAM” in chalk letters, which earned him many enemies who accused him of being a communist, staging political propaganda while performing his intricate, highly spiritual, compositions! At many concerts he had exchanged “VIETNAM” on the tam-tam with the exclamation “POP ART STINKS!

The tam-tam used in Momente and Mikrophonie I

Stockhausen had his tam-tam hanging out in the garden, and ever so often when he passed it by he would stroke it or tap it with his hands or other objects, listening to the sounds it produced. This was in fact the start of “Mikrophonie I”. When Stockhausen leaned close to the surface of the vibrating tam-tam he discovered strange sounds that could only be heard really close up. This began to stir the composer’s curiosity, and he brought in a technician – Jaap Spek - with bandpass filters and potentiometers. The filters were to be used to cut off sound at either end of the frequency bandwidth, and the potentiometers controlled the volume of sound from the microphones. The band filter also allowed for bands of frequencies between any settings of the two faders. The sounds were passed on to an amplifier and a tape recorder inside the living room. When the set-up was arranged Stockhausen went on a random hunt for objects to excite the tam-tam, and showed up at the instrument with a basket of kitchen paraphernalia. From there on it was “just” the compositional process left.

At this first trial Stockhausen moved the microphone back and forth along the tam-tam, and close by and further away from it, as he was scratching or hitting it with the different objects, while the technician inside the house independently of this was working his bandpass filters and adjusting the volume with the potentiometer. The twenty-minute result startled the two participants when they played it back. They heard sounds they had never heard before. Something new was born! Now it was the plight of Stockhausen’s to give this discovery a proper setting, through a set of compositional rules, and he went about this with his usual pinpoint accuracy and workaholic attitude, fueled by the sheer excitement of the discovery and its inherent possibilities, once again broadening and deepening the realm of art music, assuring each and every one of us that there was still a lot to do, and that the adventure continued – as it does to this day!

Stockhausen laid down a foundation for a composition for three players. One was to excite the tam-tam, one was to handle the microphone and the third party was to handle the potentiometers and the filters. The way the score turned out, all three participants play; even the microphonist play the microphone, as he moves it in a prescribed pattern by the tam-tam, and even the person with the bandpass filters and the potentiometers plays his gadgets according to the score – and the result is to be relayed through loud-speakers in the concert situation. The “
Mikrophonie I” score actually calls for six players; two excite the tam-tam, two play the microphones, scanning the tam-tam, and two play the filter-potentiometer set-up.

The score is naturally detailed. The microphone movements are determined as to the distance from the microphone to the tam-tam (dynamic level & timbre), the relative distance of the microphone from the point of excitation (pitch, timbre, spatial impression), and the rhythm of the movements of the microphone! The two players of the filter-potentiometer set-up each affect and mould a number of sound characteristics (timbre, pitch, dynamic level, spatial effect & rhythm).

The score presents 33 independent musical structures. As in other works by Stockhausen some leeway is allowed the musicians, who are to determine the combination of these structures, forming a version for a performance, in this following a connection scheme, which describes the connections between the structures. The two groups – each harboring a tam-tam player, a microphonist and a filter-potentiometer player – play one of the structures, and at a certain point they sign the other of the two groups to begin the next structure, and so on, according to a temporal prescription.

The relationships between the structures are also determined, but since the order of the structures are varied from performance to performance, the impression of “
Mikrophonie I” is always different, always new. I believe this is one of the great implications of Stockhausen’s methods. Nature works exactly the same way. You may have a favorite spot in the forest where each spring a wonderful display of Anemone Hepatica shines the blueness of the timid flowers through last years decaying leaves, promising life anew – but only the overall characteristics are the same, and within that overarching prerequisite everything is different each spring. This implication of some of Stockhausen’s compositions never seizes to astonish me, and fill me with joy! He plainly shows how rich life is, how full of possibilities!
When you compare different recordings of a stale, set and rigid classical composition, determined once for all, like, say, a Beethoven symphony, or why not the mighty Fifth Piano Concerto (“Emperor”) from 1809 (an incredibly wonderful and dramatic piece at that, which I will listen to this snow-white Swedish winter day!), you hear the same identical score over and over again, only filtered and varied through the personalities and the preferences of the conductors and the abilities of the orchestras. I have this piano concerto with Walter Gieseking & Arthur Roter (1944, with anti-aircraft shelling outside the concert hall in Berlin!), Myra Hess & Malcolm Sargent (1957) and Wilhelm Kempff & Ferdinand Leitner (1962) – and they sound different from each other in atmosphere etcetera, but – and this is the big difference from the Stockhausen works in question – each note is played in the exact same order each time the work is performed. You can rest assured in your concert seat that a tutti appears where it has always appeared, that no surprises will bring you out of your comfort; you can sing right along if you wish; everything is very, very familiar. In Stockhausen’s “Mikrophonie I” everything is familiar too, according to the analogy with the spring flowers above, but in a live performance you cannot expect to hear what you heard last time – it will be a new and hitherto unknown version!

In “
Mikrophonie I” the relationships between the structures are characterized as follows:
With respect to the preceding structure, the following one should be similar, different or opposite; a relationship should be constant, or increase or decrease, and the following structure, which usually begins while the preceding one is still playing, should support, be neutral to, or destroy the preceding one. As indicated before, these connection characteristics remain identical through different versions, but since the order of structures differs, the outcome is new every time. Naturally, this demands something of the listener, too. You can never rest assured! Stockhausen at one time said something to the effect that one should devote one day a year to old music; the rest of the time indulge oneself in the new, in the present and the future. This is surely a very positive and optimistic, forward-looking attitude, which we really do need more of in this too retrospective Western 21st century world!

The 33 moments of “
Mikrophonie I” are notated on 44 pages. The names of the moments, as closely as possible describing the sounds of the moments (often in an onomatopoetic fashion) and other names in relation to the moments, are, in the booklet’s English translation of the German - sometimes requiring two words when there is just one word in German, and even then sometimes just approximating the core meaning of the German word - (but this is always the trait of translating!), with the German original in capital letters:

ÄCHZEND: groaning, creaking – BELLEND: baying, barking – BERSTEND: bursting – BRÜLLEND: bellowing, bawling – BRUMMEND: growling (low buzzing) – DONNERND: thundering – FAUCHEND: hissing, spitting – FLÖTEND: fluting – GACKERND: cackling – GELLEND: yelling – GERÄUSCH: noise – GRUNZEND: grunting – HAUCHEND: exhaling (like a breeze) – HEULEND: howling – JAULEND: wailing – KLÄNGE: pitched sounds – KLAPPERND: clacking – KLATSCHEND: clapping – KLIRREND: clinking, jingling – KNACKEND: cracking – KNALLEND: banging, clanging – KNARREND: grating – KNATTERND: chattering, flapping – KNIRSCHEND: crunching, gnashing – KNISTERND: crisping, crinkling – KNURREND: grumbling, snarling – KRACHEND: crashing – KRÄCHZEND: cawing – KRATZEND: scratching – KREISCHEND: shrieking, screeching – LÄUTEND: pealing, tolling – MURMELND: murmuring – PFEIFEND: piping, whistling – PIEPSEND: cheeping – POSAUNEND: tromboning – PRASSELND: spattering, jangling – PRELLEND: slapping, rebounding – QUAKEND: croaking, quacking – QUIETSCHEND: squeaking, squealing – RASCHELND: crackling – RASSELND: clashing, clanking – RATTELND: rattling – RATTERND: clattering – RAUSCHEND: rushing, rustling – REIBEND: rubbing – RÖCHELND: choking (rattling in the throat) – ROLLEND: rolling – RUMPELND: rumbling, thumping – SÄGEND: sawing – SCHARREND: scraping – SCHLÜRFEND: shuffling, slurping – SCHNARCHEND: snorting, snoring – SCHNARREND: twanging, rasping – SCHWIRREND: whizzing, whirring – SINGEND: singing (whining) – TÖNEND: ringing, resounding – TOSEND: roaring – TRILLERND: trilling, tinkling – TROMMELND: drumming – TROMPETEND: trumpeting – TUTEND: hooting – UNKEND: keening (or mourning with “u”-timbre) – WINSELND: whimpering – WIRBELND: whirling – WISCHEND: wiping, swishing – WISPERND: whispering – ZIRPEND: chirping – ZUPFEND: plucking.

The score of “
Mikrophonie I”, produced in Stockhausen's home in Kürten, is probably outfitted with the most beautiful and complex graphic design of all of his scores.

For further information I direct the listener to the 132 page CD booklet and to Stockhausen’s “Texte zur Musik” – because there is much more information to study. As a security measure – for history and future performances - all the original objects that were used to excite the tam-tam were photographed and catalogued.

So what about the listening experience of “
Mikrophonie I”? Exciting is one word that comes to mind, since this piece so much is an investigation into sounds, close-up; microscopic sounds, magnified and altered in ways described above. The initial sounds immediately resemble some of the early electronic works, like “Gesang der Jünglinge” or “Kontakte”, but then the piece hurries off into strange explorations of all kinds of sounds, as is amply demonstrated by the different characteristics named above. For a sound connoisseur it’s an unparalleled feast. It is also startling to think about the fact that all the sounds we hear actually come from a giant tam-tam! If you listen carefully you may even hear frogs, bears, wolves, whales, parrots, crickets etcetera speaking through the tam-tam!


Mikrophonie II”, though by titling closely adhering to “Mikrophonie I”, is a very different story.
I hear lost voices from different walks of life sweeping past, back and forth, behind the curtain of imposed reality; behind a Maya’s veil of habituated life. Maybe they are the myriad of voices, faces, that co-exist in the subconscious of a single human; you, me – or maybe they are the destitute individuals of centuries of human history – or perhaps voices, calls, screams out of our sleeping dreams, let loose in some realm of a secret dimension, where they live and roam independently of the dreamer – or possibly these voices of desolation rise out of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch or the pages of Dante Alighieri. As close and as worrying as they appear in Stockhausen’s composition “
Mikrophonie II”, they are still unreachable, beyond some impenetrable horizon of events, and only through the secrets workings of this sound-smith can we experience these voices out of a world that is for sure completely lost to us, without the intervention of divine acts, like when the mourning Orfeo was granted a round-trip to the land of Death to bring his lovely Euridice back to life, through the strength of love, which is said to conquer Death. Yes, the sounds out of “Mikrophonie II” must origin in the Valley of Death, and that must be why I feel this sad sense of loss when I hear it…

Stockhausen conveys to me that with “
Mikrophonie II” he was able to “awaken in the 12 women and men - well educated, sober - all the monsters who permanently try to get on the surface of the tamed humans”, adding that he himself knows about that (the monsters), having seen a real war (in his youth).

Stockhausen’s sounding representation of loss – which is my very subjective interpretation of “
Mikrophonie II” – inspired me to write this poem, here presented in a translation from the Swedish original:

On Time & Death

Beyond the rustling filter of Time
past figures move
vague in dissolving memories
or clearly outlined in the mind
of someone
who doesn’t want to forget
who cannot forget
while faces, voices, movements
take on a painful sharpness of contours

and we’re all headed
for the assembly points of the Past
for further forwarding
to the wild forests of Oblivion

but if someone still in his flesh
thinks about us one minute
we live this minute
in shuddering triumph

and everything that has existed exists
and everything that will come into existence exists
and we raise our hands
in someone’s thoughts
and cry: Here I am! Here I am!

and Always is a vibrating cosmic Now
with an expanse without meaning
and all nows in the Now are illusionary positions
in the void of the Now
which embraces all that has happened
all that happens
and all that will happen
but also all that didn’t happen
and won’t happen
not to mention all that almost happened
almost happens
and almost will happen
and which is the fuel and the propellant
of all nows
in this big, generous NOW!

There is in “Mikrophonie II” an inherent value that may trigger a feeling of timelessness or a notion of different times mixed in a magic simultaneousness, since Stockhausen has introduced something that he calls “Time-Windows” in the work. Eight times during the piece he introduces excerpts out of earlier works, such as “Gesang der Jünglinge”, “Carré” and “Momente”. These excerpts are woven into the fabric of sounds, and do not stand out clear and obvious, even though it just takes a measure of knowledge of the Stockhausen oeuvre to recognize these time-windows. They connect back to earlier phases in the composer’s life, and these time-windows in a framework with distorted voices and sounds that move from the known to the unknown – and back"! – amplifies the feeling of magic, other-worldliness or whatever you wish to call this eerie sense of “otherness” that this work possesses.
A lot could be said about this work, that cannot be contained in a CD review like this, and I think “
Mikrophonie II” could be used as an insight into the “strangeness” of schizophrenia, for example, because when I worked with schizophrenic patients in a psychiatric clinic in the 1970s, the stories they told me, the paintings they painted and the music they sometimes played at the piano (Giacinto Scelsi-like), gave me the same feeling that “Mikrophonie II” does. I think Stockhausen has penetrated deep into the human psyche with this work, and I believe that any person with an open mind would feel the same on hearing this scary music.
There is a Swedish contemporary opera by Carl Unander-Scharin that actually deals with schizophrenia. It is based on a book – very interesting; in fact indispensable – by Elgard Jonsson, called “
Tokfursten”; “The King of Fools”. Elgard Jonsson was a severe schizophrenic for many years, until a therapist – Barbro Sandin – with a new and time-consuming method actually went into the distorted world of Elgard Jonsson, won his trust and gently took him by the hand and guided him out into the world again. “Mikrophonie II” and its sound-world fits right into this realm, just through Stockhausen’s wondrous workings with sound. Amazing!

In “
Mikrophonie IIStockhausen aimed at a synthesis of vocal and electronic music. Someone might comment that Stockhausen did this before, in “Gesang der Jünglinge”, but the difference is that he didn’t change the sung sounds around then, which he does in “Mikrophonie II”, through electronic means, thereby achieving the eerie effects I have talked about above. Another important difference is that the electronic alterations of voices take place during the performance of “Mikrophonie II”, whereas “Gesang der Jünglinge” is a pure tape piece, fixated forever like a shape on a photographic film, never altering its appearance.

In a performance of “
Mikrophonie II” 12 choir singers – six sopranos and six basses – sit in a semi-circle, close together, their backs to the audience. The groups are sub-divided into groups of 3, and each group has one microphone. The choir conductor is facing the choir, conducting individual layers of the piece, which is polyphonically composed. Beside the conductor a person who times the Moments with a stopwatch sits. Behind the singers, elevated and facing the audience, the Hammond organist sits.

The four microphones connect to four ring modulators. The electrical output of the Hammond organ is also channeled through all four modulators. The sounds of the singers and the sounds from the organ then modulate each other in the ring modulators. The input frequencies are suppressed, and the sums and differences of the inputs come out of the modulators. This method creates new spectras, with strange harmonics and sub-harmonics. However, transformed sounds only appear when the choir and the Hammond organ produce simultaneous sounds. The output of the modulators then rush on to potentiometers hooked up to four loud-speaker groups, which are mounted on the stage behind the choir, so that the modulated sounds out of the speakers mix with the original sounds of the choir and the Hammond organ. Turning the potentiometers up and down influences the ratio of altered and original sound in the end mixture presented to the listeners.

The precise and very gradual transformations from natural to transformed sound that are made possible through the methods that Stockhausen has invented in “
Mikrophonie II” allows for a fantastic and very illusionary journey from the known to the unknown, from the habituated to the enchanted; much more varied and illusionary than in pure electronic composition; a thrilling experience!


This single CD of Volume 9 in the Stockhausen Edition is packed with important pieces. The last entry is “Telemusik”, composed in Japan 1966.

At the Todai-Ji temple in Nara, Japan 1966

When Stockhausen came to Japan on a commission (actually two commissions) and started working in the electronic studio of the Japanese Radio (NHK) he was sleepless for a number of nights, while working hard during the days in the studio. When he lay awake at night he had a vision that recurred over and over, of “technical processes, formal relationships, pictures of the notation, of human relationships etc. – all at once and in a network too tangled up to be unraveled into one process”. This awoke and old dream of Stockhausen’s, in which he wanted to compose a music for the whole Earth, for all cultures. That’s why he incorporated sounds from as wildly dispersed places as Japan, Sahara, Bali, Vietnam, China, the Amazons, Spain, Hungary.
Stockhausen stresses, though, that “
Telemusik” is not a collage: “Rather – through the process of intermodulation between old ‘found’ objects and new sound events which I made using modern electronic means – a higher unity is reached: a universality of past, present and future, of distant places and spaces: TELE-MUSIK”.

Telemusik” consists of 32 structures (moments). The equipment used for the realization of the electronic music was 2 beat frequency oscillators, 3 sine-wave generators, 1 delta generator, 1 function generator, 1 transposing tape recorder with a pilot frequency generator, 2 tape recorders, 1 amplitude modulator, 2 ring modulators, 3 high-pass and low-pass filters, 1 third-octave filter, 1 six-track tape recorder.

As indicated above, tape recordings from a number of countries were used according to the score.

Furthermore, Stockhausen on location in Kamura, Japan recorded several temple instruments for use in “
Telemusik”: Bokusho, Taku, Mokugyo, Rin and Keisu. Recordings from the NHK archives of these temple bells were also utilized: Todai-ji, Kohyasan (Kongobu-ji), Kohyasan, Hohkoh-ji and Myoshin-ji.

This mixture of the olden and the new, of modern electronics and old traditions, resulted in some of the most inspiring, beautiful electronic music I have ever heard to date.

The Denshi Ongaku Studio for electronic music
at the Japanese Radio 1966

Michael Kurtz writes in his book “Stockhausen – A Biography” on “Telemusik”: “The rhythm of one event would intermodulate with the dynamic curve of another, his own electronic chords with the dynamic curves of a Japanese priest’s chant, the priest’s chant with the one-note song of a Shipibo Indian, and so on – the modulation of one musical event into another, of one musical style into another”.
There are many things happening in this music. You can’t get rested anywhere; you’re constantly being shoved around. Stockhausen is a master of exciting electronic events, overflowing with ideas that shape innumerable sounding electronic occurrences. At about the same time good work was being done at the San Francisco Tape Music Center, but composers there never reached the heights that Stockhausen alone achieved, even though for example Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender composed some pretty far out stuff too.

Stockhausen at the Denshi Ongaku Studio for electronic music
at the Japanese Radio 1966

When Stockhausen visited the over 90 years old Daisetsu T. Suzuki he made an excuse to him for making sounds in an artificial way. The Zen master replied that it would only be artificial if it went against Stockhausen’s inner convictions, else not. This liberated Stockhausen even more, as he fully understood how right the old man was.

The description of all the different ingredients of “
Telemusik” might suggest that this music is something other than it really is, as it might be hard to get the collage-thought out of the way. However, the non-electronic events are so well woven into the fabric of the electronics that they pass like a dream or a mist at dawn, like illusions out of the corner of your eye, or like passing daydreams. The dream-like status of the piece adds immensely to the beauty of this electronic music.


Volume 10