Stockhausen Edition no. 24
(Tierkreis / Musik im Bauch)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Tierkreis” for 12 music boxes (1975) / “Musik im Bauch” for 6 percussionists, music boxes and sound projectionist (1975).
Les Percussions de Strasbourg
Stockhausen 24. Duration: 60:00

Once again this lightheartedness and seriousness simultaneously, this light touch and penetrating gaze; music boxes and the Zodiac! On a backdrop of the brownish-grayish underbrush of yesteryear’s mouldering leaves in aspen and birch slopes of early spring the scattered, dispersed showers of naked, luminous, blue Anemone Hepatica shine like brittle tones out of the music boxes, and the white pre-summer clouds on high, torn by fresh winds from the sea, drift past, while the thrushes up in the branches signal their territories… your being at rest in the center of itself, in the sounds of the thrushes, of the music boxes and the wind in the crowns of the trees, as you travel your inward spiral to a restful and completely aware center of centers, where your mind hovers over the clear and reflecting pond of your spirit… accompanied by this music box music, wherein crystal prisms slowly circle each other, emitting clusters of many-colored light… revealing the Buddha-nature of enlightenment…

Once again I pick up this vague feeling of magic that so rarely spreads like incense… as I listen to the three-fold
Aquarius music box melody that opens “Tierkreis”; maybe because I was born under those stars myself… in “the dawning of the age of Aquarius”…

Stockhausen with daughter Julika 1973
(Photo: Jacques Haillot)

The origin of “Musik im Bauch” and “Tierkreis”, as far as can be traced, goes back to 1967, when Stockhausen’s daughter Julika was around two years old. Stockhausen explains that all kinds of minute sounds were coming from the little girl’s insides, and Stockhausen joked with her and said: “Julika, you really have music in your belly!” The startled little girl looked up in amazement at the thought, finding it so hilarious that she burst into an escalating fit of laughter, which wouldn’t stop, almost choking her with shattering laughter, finally worrying the concerned father so much that he crawled to her on the floor, trying to calm her, and when that didn’t succeed he tried to break the fit by yelling her name out loud. After Stockhausen carried his daughter to her room did she finally recede from her fit of comic realization, while she kept repeating, between sobs and giggles; “Music… in… the… belly!

(This reminds me of stories I’ve heard of children fainting from looking at art with impossible geometry, like some of the paintings by Maurits Cornelis Escher [1898 – 1972]).

Seven years after the incident with his daughter Julika, Stockhausen woke up from a dream about “
Musik im Bauch”, i.e. a dreamed performance of the dreamed piece, which he jotted down. He explains, though, that many details occurred only after he started to compose, after he had written down the initial notes on the dream.

In the dream three music boxes had been found inside the belly of a birdman, and to further his knowledge about the possibilities of music boxes Stockhausen looked around for expertise, finding it in the Jean Reuge music box factory in Sainte Croix in Switzerland. (He had previous good experience of instrument makers from Switzerland through his dealings with the Paiste Company, which built him his tam-tam for “
Momente”!). He studied the possibilities and limitations of music box composition for a week, and in the process he also discovered that no compositions especially made for music boxes were in existence, but that only arranged fragments of already existing melodies were being adapted for music boxes.

(Again, to make an analogy, one might remember the plight of Conlon Nancarrow [1912 – 1997] in Mexico, who spent his life composing intricate compositions for the player piano. That had not been done, either, before Nancarrow discovered the inherent possibilities in such an idea.)

At about the same time Stockhausen began to study
the Zodiac and the 12 human characters of it more thoroughly, contemplating people he knew who were born during the periods of the different star constellations. As he composed the melodies for each sign of the Zodiac he applied the characteristics of the star signs to the compositions. The succession of the star signs adhere to the months in which they start, which is why they appear as follows:

January 21 – February 19
February 20 – March 20
March 21 – April 21
April 21 – May 21
May 21 – June 21
June 22 – July 23
July 23 – August 22
August 23 – September 23
September 23 – October 22
October 23 – November 21
November 22 – December 21
December 21 – January 20

Music boxes with the melodies can be ordered from Stockhausen-Verlag.

It is the composer’s intention that each melody of “Tierkreis” be played at least three times in succession. This applies whether they are heard on music boxes or performed any other way. There are many recordings of “Tierkreis” around. (Myself, I have a recording with lute on Alice Records ALCD 004 and another one with piano and bassoon on Nosag 042). The melodies can be performed on any melody instrument or chordal instrument, and even sung, and Stockhausen has arranged them for a variety of ensembles. There are versions for high soprano, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass with chordal instrument; a version for octet or chamber orchestra (clarinet, horn, bassoon and strings), which can be performed with soprano and/or bass; a version for clarinet and piano and so on. The versions with voice exist in German, English and Italian, with possible other language versions to come. In “Texte zur Musik” Volume 4 the descriptive texts on all the characters of the signs of the Zodiac are printed [p. 306 – 309], and these are the texts used in the vocal versions of the work.
Tierkreis” has become one of Stockhausen’s most widely known and performed works.

There is a special magic in a work that is so short and concentrated, i.e. each melody is very short and concentrated. An entire performance of the whole piece, with each of the 12 melodies appearing three consecutive times lasts about 25 minutes. The value and significance of the melodies, and the concentrated energy that has been focused into each of them, drawing on the inherent characters of
the Zodiac star signs and the fine-tuned qualities that have been refined over eons of time, result in a music which is as filled and loaded with energy as the atoms of matter, and we’ve seen from the procedure of splicing atoms, what kind of energy is inherent in matter. This means that “Tierkreis” in its apparent carefree expositional flow of melodic events actually holds a series of melodies carefully and meticulously carved out, from the age-old passage of refinements of the knowledge of the Zodiac characters as well as from Stockhausen’s studies and his finely attuned intuition, which he applied in combination with the sense of the diverse characters of people he knew under the twelve star constellations.
Tierkreis”, therefore, is one of the most distinguished and clear-cut pieces I’ve ever come across, to be likened to Japanese calligraphy on rice paper, or to the jojk (yoik) of the Saami people of Sapmi (Northern Scandinavia and the North-East corner of Russia) which is a vocal tradition of shamanistic origin of “singing people or things”; not singing about people and things, but actually “singing them”.

Rehearsal of "Musik im Bauch" with Les
Percussions de Strasbourg at the Haras of Saints
for the world premier 1975
(Photo: Bernard Perrine)

Musik im Bauch” – the dreamed music - is the work from which “Tierkreis” (the separate work with all the twelve melodies) was born, so to speak.

As “
Music im Bauch” is scenic music with a lot of startling attire, it is necessary to describe it a bit further:
A birdman, slightly bigger than a man, with an eagle’s head, hangs center-stage. His expression is kind of grim. His name is Miron.
To the left a percussionist with glittering, silvery sound-plates and tubular bell is situated in front of a sky-blue sound-reflecting partition, and to the right two more players at a marimba stand. In back of the stage are three other players with antique bells and glockenspiel. The antique bells are situated to the sides, one set left, the other right, and the glockenspiel is centered in the rear.
At the front edge of the stage are three small tables. Right in front of Miron another small table sits, with a small glockenspiel on it.
The players approach their positions one after the other, in the jerky movements of mechanical dolls, and they retain that manner of movement throughout the performance.

After some initial playing, also involving the liberation of the air from evil spirits, achieved by ceremonial beating through the air with the switches of the three back players, the same three players approach the birdman, encircling him, surrounding him. They strike him, so that the small bells sewn to his shirt sound. As the inevitable is nearing, a player reveals a huge pair of scissors, cutting open the belly of the birdman. In the belly the players find three music boxes with
Zodiac melodies, which they play along with on a tiny glockenspiel.
All the while certain signaling sounds of the instruments serve as instigators of certain actions. The beating through the air, for example, is started by one stroke of the tubular bell. Before the three players in the back move towards Miron the tubular bell is struck twice.
The players leave the music boxes and depart, and the boxes keep playing until they are unwound and silent, and that is the end of the piece.

Each of the twelve melodies that Stockhausen wrote corresponds to a particular character and retains its own central pitch. “
Aquarius”, for example – the first melody, and incidentally the sign of Stockhausen’s daughter Julika, to whom “Musik im Bauch” is dedicated (her bubbly stomach started the whole thing!) – has E-flat as its central pitch. “Pisces” – the second melody out of the 12 – has E as its central pitch. The succession then leads chromatically upwards via each consecutive melody. “Leo” with A as its central pitch is situated in the middle of the sequence, and “Capricorn” last with its D.

For a performance of “
Musik im Bauch” three melodies out of the twelve are chosen. After the choice is done all of what the musicians play consists of these three melodies. It may be impossible even for a trained ear to determine that this is the case, since for instance the marimba plays its melody stretched out along the whole performance! The sound-plates play the chosen melodies, one after the other, and in doing so determine the total length of the performance. Stockhausen describes how “the other instruments interpret motifs and single notes of the melodies, or [how] they play the melodies in various tempi simultaneously.”

A closer look at the instrumentation of “Musik im Bauch” reveals the following set up, here cited – with a few minor exceptions – directly from the CD booklet:

3 sets of ANTIQUE CYMBALS, mounted chromatically on boards, or 2 sets of ANTIQUE CYMBALS and 1 GLOCKENSPIEL.

1 GLOCKENSPIEL without pedal, on a 35 cm high table. On the floor behind the table is a cushion on which to kneel.

3 SWITCHES that are to be whipped in the air with whistling glissandi (ceremonial cleansing from evil spirits). The pitches of the 3 switches should be slightly varied.

KLANGPLATTEN (SOUND-PLATES: panels made of metal alloys which sound like low bells when struck, with very strong, penetrating low fundamentals and long resonance. They are different from Plattenglocken [plate bells], which are made of bronze and sound just like church bells]). The sound-plates should be struck with felt-tipped wooden hammers and possible a felt beater with an iron core.

1 SPINNING TOP on a stand, very loud, displaying an overtone chord; not a melody – or 1 TUBULAR BELL with long resonance.

1 MARIMBA with a certain range. The player has a choice between two different octaves.

12 MUSIC BOXES with the 12 melodies of the Zodiac. 3 of the boxes are chosen for the performance. The choice can vary from performance to performance. 3 small tables (35 cm high) are placed at the front edge of the stage, for the music boxes. The music boxes are amplified. A microphone is fastened to the rear edge of each table. The microphones are balanced by a sound projectionist situated at a mixing console in the middle of the hall. The sound is diffused through three loudspeakers at left, right and in the middle, above the stage.

MIRON, the Birdman. He is a male doll, larger than life-size (human life-size, that is) at about 220 cm. The birdman is equipped with a striking eagle face, which can be made out from afar. He has large eyes, and his face, hands and bare feet are made of flesh-colored cloth. He can be dressed up in a Mexican wedding shirt and light linen trousers or beige jeans. The objective is to have him stand out from the background. He should look tense and awake – absolutely not relaxed or dead! The skeleton of Miron is a light metal construction, and the arms and the legs have joints. His chest cavity, and if possible also his lower body and arms and legs, should be made of thick zinc wire in a spiral form, or several spiral-formed steel springs, which should produce a singing sound when Miron is struck by a switch. The belly should be a cavity, open in front. The opening is to be covered with the wedding shirt, which has a (invisible to the audience) slit in it in the stomach region. Through this slit you can penetrate with the scissors. The cavity in the belly must be big enough to host 3 music boxes. Miron is suspended above the floor at the center of the stage by an invisible nylon chord, which is attached - through a hole in the top of the skull of the doll – to a strong steel coil inside the head. The distance from the soles of Miron’s feet to the floor should be 53 cm. Players 1, 2 and 3 should just be able to reach into the stomach opening. The doll’s feet should be secured to the floor with four nylon threads each, making sure that Miron at all times looks directly at the audience, and doesn’t swing around. Small Indian bells and other tiny bells with high, silvery sound are to be loosely fitted all over Miron’s clothing; shirt and trousers alike. Furthermore, strings of small bells are to be hung over the neck and the shoulders of the doll so that the chest and the back are covered with bells.

A pair of huge SCISSORS.

Stockhausen takes a music box out of
the belly of Miron II
(Photo: Ralph Fassey)

A more detailed performance description of the 7 sections of “Musik im Bauch” is also found in the booklet, from which I will cite for the convenience of the reader with only very minor divergences from the original text:

The Klangplatten (sound-plates; LEO melody stretched over about 7 minutes) and marimba (CAPRICORN melody extended over 28 minutes) begin simultaneously. Then players 1, 2 and 3 (antique cymbals and glockenspiel) begin simultaneously. They vary fragments of LEO (left player), AQUARIUS (middle player) and CAPRICORN (right player), which are designated by brackets in the score, changing from one fragment to the next as the sound-plate melody progresses from main – sustained – pitch to main pitch (1 – 13). They rouse the bright tones to a brilliant melodic sound atmosphere for Miron, the Birdman.

With a stroke of the tubular bell, the sound-plates (Klangplatten) begin the melody of AQUARIUS, stretched to about 6 and a half minutes, and at the 1st main pitch player 1 jerkily begins to whip the rhythm of LEO with a wooden switch, varying the tempo, whipping in all directions. At the 2nd main pitch of the sound-plates player 2 begins to whip the AQUARIUS rhythm with his switch. From the 3rd main pitch player 3 whips the CAPRICORN rhythm. At the 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th main pitches they freeze in poses indicated in the form scheme by the interruptions. The whistling, whipping and hissing of the switches cleans the air of evil spirits. In I and II all three players whip synchronously at the places designated 1 to 7.

The tubular bell rings twice and the sound-plates begin the melody of CAPRICORN. At the 1st main pitch player 1 starts to walk stiffly towards Miron, continuing to whip his rhythm in the air with his switch. When he arrives beside Miron he also occasionally whips lightly at Miron’s body, which is thickly hung with bells. At the 2nd main pitch player 2 begins to step towards Miron, and at the 3rd main pitch player 3 does likewise. At the 5th main pitch all three are standing near Miron and together strike an accent against him. At the 6th main pitch they repeat that. In between these two pitches they continue whipping their respective melodies in the air and against Miron.

The sound-plates suddenly change back to the melody of AQUARIUS, which is now played faster, lasting about 2 and a half minutes, very loud and unmuted. The three players begin very slowly, then gradually faster to run bizarrely in a circle around Miron, hitting him with increased intensity, until they are ecstatically dancing and leaping wildly, creating a dense rattling and tinkling of bells and treading on the floor.

At three peals of the tubular bell they all freeze and stare at Miron. Player 1 looks to he exit, runs out, comes back with a large pair of scissors, and cuts open Miron’s belly! He searches inside the belly with one of his hands, pulls out a small wooden box, looks around, sees one of the small tables at the left edge of the stage, walks to it, places the box on the table, finds the cover of the box, opens it – and the music box melody of LEO begins. He walks to the small glockenspiel in front of Miron, and the second time the music box melody of LEO begins, he plays along with it on the glockenspiel.

The sound-plates player interferes loudly with the continuation of CAPRICORN, and player 1 runs out, disappointed. Player 2 next tries his luck in the belly of Miron, and he also finds a little wooden box. He first closes the LEO music box, then goes to the second table, in the middle, and opens his own music box, from which the melody of AQUARIUS rises. The 2nd player also plays along on the glockenspiel when the music box melody repeats. He then restarts the first music box, so that both the boxes play, mixing together. He then greets Miron and runs out. Now player 3 reaches into the belly of Miron, finding a third music box, which he opens on the third table – to the right – after he has closed boxes number 1 and 2. The opened third music box plays the CAPRICORN melody, and player 3 also performs it on the glockenspiel, as the melody appears the second time around on the music box. The 3rd player then winds the three boxes a little, starts them all, bows several times to thank Miron, and runs out, turning once to the audience, disconcertedly.

The sound-plates (Klangplatten) die away. The players disappear, unnoticed. The two marimba players have been, since the beginning, like extremely slow automatons. From one stroke to the next each raises his arms up and brings them down, always staring blankly ahead. They come to an end, and slowly glide out. Only the three music boxes remain. Their springs become more and more tired and unwound, and their playing continuously slower. They stop one after the other somewhere in their melodies. LEO stops first, then AQUARIUS, and finally CAPRICORN. All is quiet, and Miron is alone again.

An obvious observation is that the percussion used herein produce extremely brittle, clear and beautiful sounds, penetrating the perception of everyone present with vibrations of crystalline qualities, while the theatrical or ceremonial expressions may startle, and also set in motion unexpected strains of emotion and also aesthetical longings. One might even smell the disagreeable stench from burning human offerings of times long gone down the centuries, as the scene has an atmosphere of age-old ceremonial implications, and people have speculated as to the cultural origin of Stockhausen’s dream:

Robin Macone sees “
Musik in Bauch” as a fairy-tale for children, with traces of Japanese Nô theatre, while Michael Kurtz points to the ties to Mexican indian rituals. He points out the importance granted birds in Mexican indian myths, and provides the example of the well-known Quetzalcoatl, who keeps showing up in contemporary works of art all over the world, like for instance in the poetry of the late Finnish poet, writer, philosopher and historian Pentti Saarikoski. The eagle of course has a special place in many cultures even today. In olden times the Toltecs loaded the eagle symbol with mysterious powers. Their culture and religion also practiced human sacrifices, which involved cutting the stomachs of the sacrificed people open, removing the contents.
It was American anthropologist Nancy Wyle who built two of the three existing Miron the Birdman for Stockhausen (the third was constructed by the Dutch costume designer Anja Roemer), and you may recall that Nancy Wyle made Stockhausen a collection of illustrations of prayer gestures and postures from all possible cultures for “
Inori”. You may also remember that she earlier also collected the names of gods from all different cultures and religions for Stockhausen’s composition “Stimmung”. She has no doubt been a very important collaborator of Stockhausen’s.

Musik im Bauch” and “Tierkreis” (played in the opposite order on the CD) are mysterious, magical – and beautiful! - pieces of music and theater, evoking many feelings and moods, casting shadows way beyond the recorded history of Man and his ancient rites under the stars.


Volume 25