Stockhausen Edition no. 15
(Spiral / Pole)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Spiral” for a soloist [1968] (two versions) / “Pole” for 2 [1970]
Participants: “
Spiral” version 1: Péter Eötvös (electrochord with synthesizer, short wave receiver) – “Spiral” version 2: Harald Bojé (electronium, short wave receiver) – “Pole”: Péter Eötvös (electrochord with synthesizer, short wave receiver), Harald Bojé (electronium, short wave receiver)
Stockhausen 15. Duration: 56:07.

I feel very free when I listen to this CD, the 15th of the many issues in Stockhausen’s Complete Edition. It’s as if Stockhausen too had the notion that he had to cut some restraining chords, and get out there and “kick some ass”, as the expression from many a detective series on the cable goes… Kick-ass-music! Maybe this is just my reaction after having spent time, much time, inside “Aus den sieben Tagen”, in all that introspection, but surely there is something very liberating, rock n’ rolling, freewheeling about this CD with its array of short waves and electronium / electrochord sounds! At some instances in this music I see a wildman in the wilderness in a joyous feast, dripping with saliva, mangled by frantic thoughts… a catharsis… and also a necessary wash-out of the mind, a thorough message from the material body in a mental energy-outpour; a fist striking out; a temple being cleansed of the merchants!

However, these pieces are – at their base! – just as structured, thought through, as any other Stockhausen work, even though the structuring appears at different levels in different works, in accordance with Stockhausen’s habit of never composing habitually, never repeating what he’s already done – a quality which has freaked many critics and many composer colleagues out of their well-balanced, precocious wits!

Spiral” is different in the way it doesn’t prescribe a special instrument for the soloist. I have a recording of “Spiral” with the gifted Knut Sønstevold playing bassoon, but here we enjoy Péter Eötvös on electrochord with synthesizer and a short wave receiver in one version, and Harald Bojé on electronium and short wave receiver in the second version. The instructions in fact allow for (in addition to the short wave receiver) any instrument, several instruments, instrument and voice or just voice alone. One may mistake the prescription for “a soloist” also to mean one instrument, but in fact, a soloist can change instrument, play several instruments and so on, as long as he is the only musician; the soloist! Already in the title lies a possibility that one might pass without noticing…

Ok, then, in the performance instruction, more details – but variable depending on the feed from the radio – are presented to the player, in a manner that allows for totally different outcomes each time. The bottom line is that the events appearing on the short wave are considered and imitated by the player, but also transformed and transcended.

The construction of the piece reveals a sequence of events with inserted pauses of varying durations. There are different ways of producing an event. It can be done with the short wave receiver and instrument / voice or solely with instrument / voice. However, the initial event, which gets this show on the road, must always combine short wave sounds with instrument/voice, but on the other hand, the characteristics of this inaugurating event are rather free and loose, concerning duration, register, dynamics and rhythm.

Stockhausen wants the short wave event to fuse completely with the instrument / voice. After the first event the composer calls for an even distribution of short wave events and other events, but much freedom is allowed here. The score carries notations of the characteristics mentioned in last paragraph, which are to be considered according to the consecutive order of the transformation signs laid down by Stockhausen. The short wave event should be imitated to the limit of the players talent, and retained on over into the next event, until replaced by the next short wave sound that emerges.

Harald Bojé plays "Spiral" with electronium
and short-wave receiver in St. Paul de Vence 1969
(Photo: Jacques Robert)

During this whole progression the player should actively – but silently – turn the dial to find a short wave occurrence that corresponds to the relative pitch register notated in the score. This sounds like a tough feat for anyone, but I suppose the players that played with Stockhausen during these recordings were characters of steel and mist, up to anything for the sake of art, and the result on these recordings is amazing; brutal and sophisticated all at once, like a computer in a cave, or something like that. The score even asks the player to articulate the searching process itself.

I think – when contemplating these performance instructions by Stockhausen – that no matter if the player succeeds 50% or 70% (100 % must be impossible…), the instructions guarantee that the result will be interesting, varied, in a sense creatively unforeseeable, and that with a goal set as high as Stockhausen sets his and his players’ aim, the level might rise, elevate itself, each time the piece is performed, allowing for a direction of intent towards perfection, towards that eluding end of the rainbow, where the “super-human crew” holds conferences on excellence!

Stockhausen also gives examples (in the booklet) of his special transformations, appearing in the score of “
Spiral”: “ORnamentation, POLYphonic articulation, Periodic segmentation, Echoing, recollecting, announcing, PERMutation of segments, long BAND-like concentrations of elements, AKK = chord-like concentrations, expansions, contractions.

Additionally, transformation instructions emerge, echoing the text compositions that fostered “
Aus den sieben Tagen”:

Repeat the previous event several times,
transposing each time in all parameters
and transcend it beyond the limits
of your previous playing / singing technique
and then, also beyond the limitations
of your instrument / voice

This instruction applies to all visual and theatrical possibilities.

From this point, retain what you have experienced
in the extension of your limits,
and use it in this and
all future performances of

At the World Fair EXPO 70 in Osaka – where Stockhausen’s music was performed in an unparalleled intensity over months at the German pavilion’s spherical auditorium (which Stockhausen had helped design) – “
Spiral” was performed no less than 1300 times from March to September 1970.

Even though – after I described my feelings of looseness, a wildman’s striking fist and the “kick-ass” quality of this music – I indulged myself (and you!) in the sophisticated structure of the score and the performance instructions, I still feel, through the handsome and brutal force of events, that this music (“
Spiral” in two versions as well as the succeeding “Pole”) really does make the dust rise from the arena, in a surging feel that usually is experienced only at a Texan rodeo in Mesquite or a rock concert in Fort Worth!

Amplification is used throughout at performances, and the sound is distributed through loudspeakers. An assistant, strategically positioned, controls the levels and the spatial distribution – and there is a lot of spatial stuff going on here. As I’m writing I’m listening through earphones, and the sound does move! The spatial projection uses faders and a rotation-mill. The rotation-mill has one input and ten out-puts. I will not elaborate on this, but the method is more complicated and useful than it may sound in this description, and greatly elevates the experience of movement, almost to the point of dizziness. I am elated by this music with its incredibly rich-sounding and hyperactive spatial brutalities! Congrats to all ears! The unforeseeable emergences out of the radio also introduce a humorous flair here and there, where comical effects pop up into your face, slapping your cheek, leaving you blushing!

With “
Pole” we leave the 1960s and step into the 1970s. Eötvös and Bojé supply a masterly performance here, leaving you all but breathless! Stockhausen composed “Pole” in Bali, the blessed home of some of the finest gamelan ensembles of the world. I don’t know to what extent the environment had any impact on Stockhausen’s writing while there. He drew the sketches of the work in 1969, elsewhere in the world.

I burn some incense while listening to this work, to enhance a feeling of beauty also through my sense of smelling, and “Pole” is a work to really dig in to. It is incredibly rich in sounding adventure, and the feeling while listening is like sitting down at a dinner table set with the most magnificent eatables of all kinds, with spices from the far corners of the Earth and fruits of exotic origin of many colors and shapes. Péter Eötvös and Harald Bojé join forces here, with their electrochord with synthesizer, electronium and the short wave receivers. Stockhausen has dedicated “Pole” to these two musicians.

Pole” was also one of the compositions that were performed many times at the World Fair EXPO 70 in Osaka, in different versions, and many people must have elated memories of those days. It must be said that the managers of the German pavilion showed an uncanny foresight and perhaps bravery, when completely handing over the sounding space to the – in most peoples’ eyes – rather controversial enfant terrible Stockhausen in 1970! Of course they’re hunch was right, and in retrospect I suppose it’s the Stockhausen concerts that most people recall when thinking back to EXPO 70 in Osaka. We could wish for more of that kind of bravery these days…

The instructions for “
Pole” reveal that it is permissible to perform the work in any combination of two instrumentalists / singers. As in “Spiral” a sound projectionist balances the distribution of the sound. The performance instructions for “Spiral” also apply to “Pole”, but an exception is that the events should be realized either with the short wave receiver or the instrument / voice.
The score presents a number of new signs that cannot be reprinted here (they can be studied in the booklet), but their functions are as follows:

1. Play or sing at the extreme limit of one parameter.
2. Hold the parameter at the extreme for as long as the line indicates.
3. Play / sing with the other player as parallel as possible, like a shadow.
4. Freely insert what you hear into your own event.
5. Now and then play along with a segment of the other player, and connect these individual segments with one another.
6. Insert individual segments into the other player’s events, but not too often.
7. Play / sing echoes of what you hear; unlimited number.
8. Play / sing one of the other player’s segments.
9. Hold for as long as the line indicates.
10. Begin synchronously.
11. Play / sing beginning and all segments synchronously.
12. Relate to the event from which the line comes.
13. Play / sing a signal (possibly several times) to make the other player aware of the following event, to which he is to relate; or to indicate that a certain meeting point has been reached.

The instructions for the spatial projection are vivid, and the spatial aspect is indeed very important in “
Pole”, as it was in “Spiral”. When you hear what the wizards did to this recording you realize that fully! This movement of sound in a three dimensional space is one of the great inventions of Stockhausen, and one that is very easy to appreciate, when your in a situation to experience it. You don’t have to know anything about the nitty-gritty of composition: all you have to do is listen as your senses are being affected.

Stockhausen in Osaka 1970

It’s hard to chose among favorite spots in these related compositions, but let me mention at least the part that starts at 10:27 in “Pole”, when whining twangs appear over a layer of murmuring drones, like a mix of Sune Karlsson’s “Phonia Domestica” and Pierre Henry’s “L’homme à la caméra”, in a musique concrete fashion – bearing in mind, though, that the mentioned works emerged many years after these Stockhausen pieces. However, the concrete aspect of this kind of music is, naturally, strong, in a refreshing way.

Another intriguing part in “
Pole” begins at 17:13, with a spoken word section in German, out of the radio, treated in different ways, in a dreamy, spooky manner, almost pushing you in the general direction of Friedrich Jürgenson and his reel-to-reel recordings of what he maintained were the voices of recently departed spirits of the deceased. At 21:33 in “Pole” a distant echo of a classical musical piece is shaded, panning wildly - very fast – then being imitated, intimidated, mocked, in a Woody Woodpecker style that really brings a good old laughter hollering up your throat! – and right there, in a strange cartoon land, the piece – and the CD – ends, in smiles and laughter, as this magnificent display of the possibilities of sound is vanishing in a humorous quirk!


Volume 16