Stockhausen Edition no. 18

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Sternklang”; Park Music for 5 Groups (1969 – 71)
Stockhausen 18. Duration: 130:20 (2 CDs)

Group I: (Intermodulation) Peter Britton [synthesizer], Tim Souster [viola with synthesizer], Robin Thompson [bassoon with synthesizer], Roger Smalley [electric organ with synthesizer]

Group II: Annette Meriweather [soprano], Wolfgang König [trombone with synthesizer], Hans-Alderich Billig [bass], Harald Bojé [electronium with synthesizer]

Group III: Helga Hamm-Albrecht [mezzo-soprano], Wolfgang Fromme [tenor], Helmut Clemens [tenor], Peter Sommer [trombone with synthesizer]

Group IV: (Gentle Fire) Stuart Jones [trumpet with synthesizer], Hugh Davies [clarinet with synthesizer], Graham Hearn [electric organ with synthesizer] Michael Robinson [cello with synthesizer]

Group V: Markus Stockhausen [trumpet with synthesizer], Suzanne Stephens [clarinet with synthesizer], Atsuko Iwami [alto voice and recorder], Michael Vetter [bass and recorder]

Percussion: Richard Bernas.

Sternklang”… Listen to the sound of the word… Just the title of this music alone is a starting point for meditation, for an intense ear towards the skies! It gives me visions of the ancients gathering at solstices with their whole attuned existences geared towards space, receiving all those energies that their mental, spiritual preparations had made them ready for, expecting forces that would affect them in their lives, like setting sails to the cosmic wind that blew inside their minds, inside their lives, moving them on in a mystical purpose that was accepted like a natural categorical imperative, and no one would raise the unnatural thought that a man could be anything by himself, apart from the forces of nature, the forces of space, the forces of spirit; like secular man in his materialistic, egocentric, anthropocentric and geocentric confusion, barring him off from the healthy and natural spiritual nutrients that he so badly needs. The ancients were not confused in this sense; they knew intuitively the facts of life, and they brought the knowledge up to a conscious level by gatherings and rites, and the question never arose whether man was something isolated, all to himself, existing in a personal “noli-me-tangere”-bubble of intense privacy, out of reach of divine forces, like large portions of humanity today seem to believe. To ancient man the starry sky was as important and concrete as the closer things around him, and the thoughts of the Whole were not taken out, separated and treated by themselves in a formalized way, as has become customary in modern Western societies, where people get into contact with the real sources of life only at certain occasions, like baptizing ceremonies and burials, and then only in such a formalized way that the real message remains unread… The ancients would probably view this way of conduct as a perversion, which it really is. They had their ceremonies too, but those were life-death situations, with extreme importance to their immediate life the coming year, and were nothing like the bleak, formalized and padded situations of modern church settings in the Western societies. It always seems that man desperately tries to keep away from the only things that really are important; the questions of what life is, what time is, what space is, why we’re here, where we come from, where we’re going, what death is and so forth; the questions that arise when we’re about three years old and then remain the only really important questions.
The kind of spiritual unconsciousness that many people almost – it seems – take a pride in nowadays, on a grand, social scale, involving whole societies, whole cultures, has paved the way for, and made possible, the gross mistreatment of animals and nature that is so frightenly apparent around us now, resulting in the Creuzfeldt Jacob illness, the mouth-and-hoof sickness among the cattle and so on, and even worse atrocities are waiting down the line, when altered genes are escaping from experimental crop cultivation sites. The human perversion will strike back! The karma is at work as a law of existence! It all comes back to you! If you throw poison into the ocean you will have it on your dinner plate after a while! We need cross-species empathy!

This dominant attitude towards fellow travelers in animal and plant guises is not, however, all embracing. Many of the so called native populations, the indigenous populations, like the Sami people of Sapmi up north in Scandinavia, or the American Indians or the Aborigines of Australia – to name a few populations – have a very different base, a very different outlook. They have kept a window in their mind open towards the original forces. A Sami man, for example, will ask a tree permission to cut it down, and will also ask forgiveness for his act of cutting! How strange this will sound to average modern man! Yet that must be the right, cosmic way of looking at life! Remember, also, that even the most domesticated dog harbors a wolf inside him, and even the most secular 21st century man has an ancient man inside him, full of spiritual inclinations. Given favorable circumstances, maybe even the spiritually unconscious man will awake into the real world!

Our modern day ear towards the sky is listening, though, but listening in a materialistic, unspiritual way, I would say. I’m thinking about the series of parabolic discs that are monitoring the heavens constantly, for any detection of so-called intelligent life among the stars… I am scientifically interested, too, but just think if the scientists could turn their enormous listening devices away from the sky and direct them inwards, to the starry sky of their inner selves, where the core is in communion with the All! However, maybe modern science, be it one-sidedly materialistic and un-spiritual, will bring man back to his spiritual awareness through a grand materialistic detour, since the latest findings of physicists and astronomers do lead in a spiritual direction, in which their language and conceptions more and more merge with the language and conceptions of, for example, Eastern spiritual teachings. Maybe there is a rendezvous up ahead, where it all comes together?

All these thought came into mind only because of the title of Stockhausen’s work; “
Sternklang”! There is so much power in the word, and so much beauty. The name has gathered a power that is bound to affect anybody meditating on it! “Sternklang”!

Group II at the world premier of "Sternklang"
in the English Garden, Berlin, June 5th 1971

The idea of “
Sternklang” is a story all unto itself. Imagine groups of musicians spread out in a park, at quite a distance from each other, under the skies, between the trees, all performing their parts, which all relate to the parts of all the other groups… What a thought! The thing about Stockhausen, which distinguishes him from most other artists, is that he sets his mind on realizing his ideas, even though this sometimes must involve enormous difficulties, sometimes of a purely logistic character too, like, say, in a much later work like the “Helicopter String Quartet”. Another quality of Stockhausen’s art – very liberating! – is the way he lets his dreams influence his work, setting the forces of the unconscious in full swing, which has resulted in, for example, the “Helicopter-Streichquartett” and “Musik im Bauch”, which we will return to later, a few months after the writing of this review of “Sternklang”.

Now, “
Sternklang” is like baring your skull to the life-giving forces of the Cosmos, in a spiritual parallel to the way the star gazer opens up the roof of the observatory to let the starshine in through the lenses of his telescope. In the case of “Sternklang” it is a combination of intellectual / spiritual attitude and down-to-earth, practical, clay-and-soil-here-and-now circumstances, where musicians and audience alike place themselves out in nature, under those stars, in a very practical exercise of connecting the forces together again; the material world and the spiritual world, like the yin and yang they are; just two aspects of the same life-giving principle.

When I listen to the sounds of the music, which are beautiful, penetrating your senses while at the same time lifting you off the ground a bit, moving you across those lawns of the park or the floors of your apartment, I realize that there are a lot of synthesizers at play here. They are used in a very sensitive way, as if they were in the hands of masterly Indian musicians, and I suppose
Stockhausen’s careful instructions has rendered these synthesizers this fingertip quality, this sensual and incense-like appearance, filling the listening space with a kind of violet nuance, pleasurable to the mind’s eye, and a slight scent of sandel wood incense, attuning your mind through your nose!

It also strikes me that at this time (1969 – 1971) a whole lot of venues were being opened from the East to the West, which resulted in some interesting musical emergences in the West. I’m thinking, for example, of Terry Riley, the American composer/musician, who studied Carnatic temple singing with Indian master singer Pandit Pran Nath in 1970, and who came home to compose and record a record called “
Shri Camel”, for electronic organ in just intonation with digital delay. The pieces on that CD – which made quite an impression at the time – are “Anthem of the Trinity”, “Celestial Valley”, “Across the Lake of the Ancient Word” and “Desert of Ice”. Riley’s studies in India meant a lot for that album. Then in 1971 and 1972 Terry Riley recorded one of his most influential and widely known records; “Persian Surgery Dervishes”, for electric organ and feedback. Different as they are, I think Stockhausen and Riley would have interesting things to talk about, should they meet!

Even Bob Dylan was influenced by the East around the end of the 1960s, which can be traced – if you have an ear for it! – on his 1968 album “
John Wesley Harding”, which in its – on the surface – simple, almost country-like stories, tell mystic tales about a forgotten, dormant wisdom. Dylan did associate with some traveling Baul musicians from the part of Pakistan that became Bangladesh at the time. They even appear on the cover of “John Wesley Harding”.

In the sound world of “
Sternklang” I also sense a kind of British/Gaelic atmosphere of olden days, in a the bard-like nuance of the whole situation; small groups scattered out in nature, the cosmic stellar aspect, and the people sitting together, humming, singing, chanting, like in North African healing music of the Gnaua musicians of Morocco. There is a sensualism, a gallant courteousness, about the music, which I also associate with the wandering bards of Medieval times, when Love and Death were up front, in connection with the forces of both dark and bright origin. The Black Death plague was riding its dark horse across Europe, and in England the bards courted their ladies and sang about the innocence of imprisoned princesses in castles in the Scottish Highlands. It was very romantic, but always with a meaty, soily recognition, and an eye towards the sky and eternity.

In the 1960s and 1970s musical groups appeared in Britain who affirmed and revived these likeable cultural tendencies of the Medieval times, like for instance – and foremost – The Incredible Stringband, who also incorporated Eastern instruments in their vast instrumentation, and who utilized vocal traditions from India in their way of singing. I’m especially thinking about two albums by The Incredible Stringband; “
Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending” and “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter”, where this Medieval feel is freely flowering – and maybe the whole hippie movement (which wasn’t a movement at all, really) had something to do with a revival of something Medieval, in its spiritual aspect as well as in its physical materialization. Donovan Leitch – the bard of bards – of course was a main figure in these circumstances; young, gentle, curly-haired and traveling through salty breezes from the sea with his guitar and his harmonica and a collection of beautiful and cunning songs of a truly Medieval character; a druid of sorts...
There was a longing for something original, something kind and spiritual, and a hope for the life forces, in the hippie culture that saturated the Western world then. I was part of it.

Hippies January 1971.
Top row, 2nd fr. left; the reviewer...

(Photo: Kuckacka)

Especially when I see the pictures in the “Sternklang” CD booklet of groups of long-haired musicians sitting in circles in the woods, like in secret gatherings of druids, the album covers of The Incredible Stringband come to mind immediately. This is very pleasing to me, as I recall those days as being a lot closer to reality and love and life than any period that has come since.

It is a fact, too, that Karlheinz Stockhausen, without his own intent, was iconized at the time, and placed together with a group of leading cult figures of the period, like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Donovan Leitch, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and so on: all of which were forefront figures in the “hippie movement”. This may seem strange, but times were more open then than now, among certain groups, and the more intellectual hippies could discern that Stockhausen was the freest of spirits around, which is why he was widely adopted, more by way of his attitude or icon-status as a freethinker, than by way of his music, which probably very few of the hippies had gotten into close contact with. Also, when you look at pictures of Stockhausen from the time, he looks like he could fit in very well at any hippie gathering, with his long wavy hair and his artistic charisma!

There is a very important note to be made when I make these broad, sweeping generalizations of a whole culture, and that is the marked difference in the way the Eastern influences affected the hippie movement and the way they affected Stockhausen, and that has to do with Stockhausen’s personality as such; his constant, almost frightful incisive force, cutting its way right into the heart of the matter! Stockhausen might register certain tendencies in the spirit of the age, and make use of them in his music, but the difference between him and others is that Stockhausen ventures much, much deeper into the subject at hand, and utilizes what he finds in ways no one could have dreamt of, in brilliant compositions that would diminish the confidence of any colleague to splinters and spoils – and then he leaves it and moves on to something else! This is happening all the time with Stockhausen. No wonder he earns some jealous and envious enemies along the way…
By this I mean to say that Stockhausen in no way was caught up in the popular common drift eastwards, like so many of those days, including myself, but that he took the best parts out of that tendency and constructed, for example, “
Sternklang”, containing gleanings from another dimension of thought. He had studied Eastern wisdom much earlier, too, well before the youthful flow of hippies along the trails through Pakistan or Afghanistan really got under way, like when he read Sri Aurobindo before and during the conception of “Aus den sieben Tagen”.

I know many intellectuals of our day will make comparisons with the star music of John Cage, like “
Etudes Australes” and “Etudes Boreales” or “the Freeman Etudes”, but that music is not related to Stockhausen’s star music. Cage used the star maps for purely technical reasons, putting transparent paper across the maps, marking the positions of stars, turning the paper and drawing some lines, thus determining the characteristics of the music – but there was no spiritual or other aspect involved; it was purely technical. The difference is immense.

Group I rehearsing in Parc de St. Cloud, Paris
June 20th 1975
(Photo: Karlheinz Stockhausen)

In the score Stockhausen simply states that “Sternklang” is sacred music. Stockhausen said in an interview at the Electronic Music Festival in Skinnskatteberg, Sweden in June 2000, that his music essentially is a way to “serve the divine composition of the Universe”. Stockhausen, in this interview, goes on to say: “I think a human work should always be related to the model of the Universe. We are very small, compared to the spirits who have composed and formed the Universe around us, and more and more we become aware of the relationship between our work and the fantastic work of the Divine Composition of the All!

So, then, how can one describe “
Sternklang”? This is what Stockhausen says in the CD booklet, which is almost identical to a text he wrote in 1971 – printed in the score - to make a readily understandable summary of the work:

STERNKLANG (Star Sound), park music for 5 groups; world premiere June 5th 1971 in Berlin at the English Garden. Park music outdoors, conceived already in 1969. The 5 groups are separated as far as possible from each other. All singers and players are individually amplified over loudspeakers. Sound runners transport musical models from one group to another, where they are taken over and integrated. At 10 different moments, a centrally positioned signal person indicates common tempi for all, and all groups synchronize themselves with each other.
STERNKLANG is based on 5 harmonic chords, each with 8 notes, tuned as overtones in pure tuning. The 5 chords have one note in common. Between combinations in which all groups have the same chord and those in which each group has a different chord, fluctuates the STERNKLANG. All musical models are rhythmically, in timbre, or intervallically related to the classical star constellations.
On a clear night, star constellations can be directly read from the sky and integrated as musical figures, at the places
[in the score] where they are prescribed.”

In addition to the 5 groups of players and the percussionist, 1 musical director, 1 sound engineer and several technicians plus 5 torchbearers are needed. The torchbearers should run ahead of the sound runners, to light their way, when needed.

In the performance instructions for “
SternklangStockhausen states that these instructions correspond closely to those of “Stimmung”, and that the instrumentalists and singers performing “Sternklang” must be familiar with the “Stimmung” score. There is a lot of vocalization in “Sternklang” of khoomei (or xöömej = overtone singing) origin, underlined and amplified in the performance by synthesizers and acoustic instruments behaving in a khoomei way. The effect is magic, spell-binding, virtually transforming the listener into a state of utter listening, utter awareness, tearing away at your protecting crust until you’re a naked awareness in the forth-welling waves of sound, under the bottomless void of the starry dome of night. Magnificent!
In a letter dated 29th January 2001 Stockhausen describes how all the musicians – even the instrumentalists – at the World Fair in Osaka in 1970 learned the technique of overtone singing, and “
in STERNKLANG all the 20 musicians knew what they were discovering and realizing”. That is an amazing remark, since the art of overtone singing implies a lot of training, a lot of practice, and even then it’s not easy!

The percussionist, whom I take is also the signaler in the center, administers 1 tubular bell, 1 large cowbell and 1 large tam-tam, to be no less than 82 cm in diameter, but preferably about 155 cm in diameter. I suppose Stockhausen’s Paiste tam-tam from “
Momente” will do the trick at all times!

To get an idea of the distribution of the groups across the park area one can read in the performance instructions that they should be no closer than 60 meters from one-another. At the English Garden in Berlin the distance was 70 meters between groups.

We have become accustomed to Stockhausen’s way of allowing for chance and freedom within the framework of the meticulously worked-out score and the performance instructions, and “
Sternklang” is no deviation in this respect. Subsequently, each performance may sound different from every other performance, even though the overall impression, the overall characteristics of the structuration, would appear similar. Another fact that would alter the sounding result between performances is the free instrumentation.

The score consists of the explanatory text, 1 FORMSCHEME, 10 pages with the 10 S-models, 5 pages with 6 MODELS each, and one page with the CONSTELLATIONS. These documents are distributed in accordance with Stockhausen’s instructions, and then a development takes place, wherein musical models are transported from group to group, leading to a complexity where – it seems – almost anything may happen… but, as said before, the groups all synchronize at ten occasions during the performance.

In “
Stimmung” – which the performers of “Sternklang” must know and be aware of – Magic Names were used, whereas in “Sternklang” the names of the star constellations are adopted.
The running sound-runners, who of course originate in their own group out of the five groups, convey the impression that “
Sternklang” is also an intricate choreography, a star ballet, or some kind of game, where the runners are the pieces to be moved, thus moving the game (like in chess) forward. “Sternklang” can be experienced on so many levels. It is also a great open air theatre play, if you want to experience it that way, and the combinatory factors build up to a really impressive experience, with the music from different directions, the torch-bearers and the runners, and so on. Stockhausen also prescribes alarm rockets of various colors and other fireworks. In fact, each group should have 30 rockets at its disposal! The visual – spatial - and the auditive perceptions of the event combine into a formidable impression, no doubt.

The loudspeaker amplification is of great importance. All individual voices and instruments are electrically amplified. Each group should be able to hear at least two other groups.
The percussionist, centrally positioned, has to have 2 to 3 microphones and 5 loudspeakers. The loudspeakers are set up close to each of the 5 groups, for them to be able to synchronize the S-models.
In each group one player manages a potentiometer box with 4 potentiometers for the microphones, a sum potentiometer for the tutti volume (the collected volume of the group) and 1 potentiometer for the sounds that come in from the tam-tam via the loudspeaker that is connected to the percussionist in the center, and placed close to the group.

Stockhausen specially marks in the score that “
the sound of each group shall be well-balanced, full and brilliant”.

A recording of an actual outdoor performance would prove very difficult and uncontrollable, so this recording on
Stockhausen Edition Volume 18 took place in Studio des Dames in Paris 1975. The players all had to be situated in the same recording hall, so it was a very unnatural environment for this piece, but a necessary circumstance for the recording process. The players were separated by soundproof plexi partitions. Stockhausen says that he “suggested – acoustically – a slow stroll from group to group” in the mix-down.
Stockhausen also mentions, in a letter dated 29th February 2001, that not only was the space limited, but recording time too. However, in my ears this is a fantastic recording, emitting intense, radiant beauty!

In the booklet text from 1971 Stockhausen says:

STERNKLANG is music for concentrated listening in meditation, for the sinking of the individual into the cosmic whole”.

From Model S1 (track 4 on CD 1: LEO) performed in choral speech:

God you are the All.
The galaxies are your limbs.
The suns are your cells.
The planets are your molecules.
And we are your atoms.
Fill us with your light.


Volume 19