Stockhausen Edition no. 41

Karlheinz Stockhausen OKTOPHONIE;
electronic music from TUESDAY from LIGHT
Stockhausen 41
Duration: 69:30

Stockhausen in Kürten August 2003
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)

The pure, electronic OKTOPHONIE is released separately on Stockhausen Edition Volume 41, which is the one we focus on here. I quote, for the convenience of the reader, a section of what I wrote about OKTOPHONIE in my text about DIENSTAG aus LICHT:

Act II of DIENSTAG AUS LICHT commences with 1st AIR-DEFENSE. This is also where the electronic music, which is called OKTOPHONIE (OCTOPHONY), begins. This is released in its pure form, without acoustic instruments or sound scenes, on Volume 41 of the Stockhausen Edition. All the way up to index 50 of CD 2 of DIENSTAG aus LICHT the indexes are identical for DIENSTAG on CD 40 B and OKTOPHONIE on CD 41. This makes it quite easy to compare the two. Since I have different stereo equipment in different rooms, I played DIENSTAG’s CD 2 in one room, and OKTOPHONIE in the adjacent room, and placed myself on a chair in the doorway between the two rooms, carefully calibrating the recordings. It was quite interesting to hear how Stockhausen had inserted the opera version additions. I recommend a similar procedure for this, when possible. It is to be noted that the stereo bridge in PIETÀ is omitted on CD 41; the pure electronic OKTOPHONIE.

Those who, like myself, were fortunate enough to be present at the Stockhausen Courses of 2002 in Kürten in Bergisches Land 30 kilometers outside Cologne could hear a realization of
OKTOPHONIE the way Stockhausen intended it, as much as the limitations of the Sülztalhalle admitted, with the proper octophonic loudspeaker set-up, a hall in darkness with the exception of the projected moon, on 28th July. It was magic!

Albrecht Moritz (who also publishes Stockhausen reviews at Stockhausen’s official website) writes in his review of
OKTOPHONIE, after having been present on 28th July 2002 in Kürten:

I have heard the composition in 8-channel reproduction at the Stockhausen Courses 2002 in Kürten, Germany, and I can testify that such experience is positively mind-blowing. The movements of sounds not only in horizontal direction but also vertically, up or down, and diagonally, are incredibly fascinating, and the spatial resolution of sounds allows you to listen into the music even more or more easily than in the stereo version. Especially slow, parallel moving sounds can be heard more easily in timbral separation from each other due to their enhanced separation in space. Yet also in its stereo version, as heard on the CD from Stockhausen-Verlag, the work is effective as a musical composition and most compelling.

Stockhausen talks about the possible ways to hear OKTOPHONIE in the accompanying CD booklet:

The octophonic spatial composition cannot be reproduced un a stereophonic mix. Those who want to experience the original spatial composition must therefore hear a performance of OCTOPHONY with the correct loudspeaker distribution. At the moment, there are scarcely any halls in which this is possible. The opera hall in Leipzig was 14 meters [42 feet] high and thus well suited for the performance of TUESDAY from LIGHT (1993), but the seats below and on the balcony could not be used. It is hoped that, in the foreseeable future, halls will be built which allow an all-round electroacoustic installation, enabling omni-directional sound movements, as was the case at the 1970 World Fair in Osaka. […]
The 8 simultaneous movement-layers have, however, been preserved in the stereo version of
OCTOPHONY, and none of the stereo versions of other woks (GESANG der JÜNGLINGE, KONTAKTE, HYMNEN, or SIRIUS) are so directionally polyphonic, three-dimensional in their movements, outer-spacious, or flight-dreamy as that of OCTOPHONY.
One of the reasons for this is that – after countless experiments – I discovered a new way to convert the octophonic movements into stereophonic movements. This discovery surprised me even after decades of stereo mixing. It is recommended, when listening repeatedly, also to listen to the whole composition over earphones. Whoever can, should place 4 loudspeakers in the four corners of an almost square room and play back the two tracks over 2 loudspeakers at the left and 2 at the right – if possible, not softer than circa 80 phone. You will be amazed!

Stockhausen at the WDR Studio for Electronic Music
(Photo: Kathinka Pasveer)

In the booklet Stockhausen also dwells some on the production of OCTOPHONY:

[…] First, I produced 8 sound layers, together with my son Simon, using our own electronic instruments and equipment. There were recorded on tracks 1 to 8 of a 24-track digital tape […]. Pitches, durations, and approximate dynamics are notated in the score. The timbres and all other sound details can be studied with the aid of tapes on which the sound layers have been recorded individually. The tapes may be ordered from the Stockhausen-Verlag.
The sounds of
OCTOPHONY were produced electronically, with the exception of the numbers spoken by Simon Stockhausen starting at 19’12. 6’’, the words sung by Kathinka Pasveer starting at 23’03’’, the words sung by Karlheinz Stockhausen starting at 27’09. 1’’, and several sampled and subsequently altered sounds.

Stockhausen also points out that the production and spatialization are described in the separate OCTOPHONY score. This score is indeed a very meticulous and detailed one, indispensable for aficionados who will want to enter the inner workings of the OCTOPHONY structure. It is an extreme score in this aspect, in the minute details of its contents.

It is a fact that the ultimate
OKTOPHONIE experience occurs with the proper loudspeaker set-up in the spatial shape of a cube in a hall, but you come far with good equipment at home too, especially if a sub-woofer is included. OKTOPHONIE is rock bottom music as well as light-of-dawn music; a firm basis in the lower chakras and a rising of spirit through the higher ones; Dionysus and Apollo in one long breath of heavy matter slowly transforming into transparent spiritual ether!

Since I’ve lingered on
OKTOPHONIE quite extensively in my text on DIENSTAG aus LICHT, I will simply supply some – as always! – subjective aspects on the piece here.

I have often found, with Stockhausen’s music, that what ever occupies my mind at the time of listening – i.e. the dominant intellectual or emotional force of the immediate period surrounding the elusive now-moment – fits right into the experience of the music. This can’t be just by chance. It must have to do with the enormous potential of the music; the inherent depth and width of the compositions and, ultimately, the waves of sound they emit, making them perfect vehicles, no matter what your mind is set on, as long as the force within is allowed to flow along the natural and so-called intuitive paths of enlightenment, which can happen if you let go and let happen, provided you’ve reached a stage at which you’re worthy of this.

Swedish poet and writer Harry Martinson (1904 - 1978)

I have been listening a lot, lately, to late Swedish actor Ulf Palme’s recitation of Harry Martinson’s space epic ANIARA, recorded by Swedish radio in 1959. Aniara comprises 103 stanzas (songs), describing the goldonder (space ship) Aniara, and it’s forlorn and hopeless journey towards the Lyre.
Aniara was one of many space ships evacuating people of Earth to the tundras of Mars after a radiation catastrophe caused by Man, but it was hit by space gravel and drifted off course. Finally all attempts to turn back were abandoned as impossible, and the course Aniara – with it’s many thousands of humans – happened to have at the accident, was the course it would continue indefinitely, drifting towards the Lyre constellation, many thousands of light years away.
The book
Aniara describes, in masterly language and in masterly insights and visions, the predicament of this group of people in their cocoon, adrift forever in nameless space like a bubble in crystal glass.

Harry Martinson, obviously, wrote a multi-layered story with
Aniara, reflecting on life as such for humans in this space which is our habitat, and our ambiguous purpose here, as we travel these lives in our body vehicles – and what is the difference, really – except in size - between Aniara and Earth?

Swedish composer Karl-Birger Blomdahl (1916 - 1968) composed an opera on
Aniara, with both orchestral and electronic music, which was premiered in 1959, and subsequently performed at, among other locations, The Royal Opera in Stockholm (109 performances from 1959 - 1970), Hamburgische Staatsoper in 1960, Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels in 1960, and Landsteater Darmstadt in 1963.
The libretto for the opera
Aniara was written by Swedish poet Erik Lindegren (1910 - 1968).

Ulf Palme recorded the whole book – which was finished in 1956 - for Swedish Radio in 1959, and I recorded it off the radio once when it was broadcast. I have since transferred it onto four CDs, and currently I listen to one of the CDs every night as I go to sleep. Ulf Palme’s hypnotic recitation of the stanzas makes this a perfect way to slowly drift into semi-sleep and sleep, leaving my body in the gravity of Earth to soar in the fateful atmosphere of Ulf Palme’s voice and the
Aniara stanzas.

Now, when I listen intensely to Stockhausen’s
OCTOPHONY, in this Aniara atmosphere, it all comes together in unison, perfectly, and OCTOPHONY further heightens my Aniara experience, which I think is wonderful! Simultaneously, Aniara brings OCTOPHONY into hitherto – for me – unknown and un-traveled realms. I have found a unifying force in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s OCTOPHONY and Harry Martinson’s Aniara – and suddenly it dawns on me why I have left OCTOPHONY so long by the computer, waiting to write about it, waiting for that right moment: I had to bring in Aniara first!

I think there are translations into both German and English of
Aniara, and I recommend one and all to read it, especially in connection with OCTOPHONY!

With that famous, metallic chord it begins, a soaring, relentless force, a mighty, dark backdrop for the panning, closer, wheezing and whining audio, until a tremendous, torturous statement is made, like an electronic orchestra tutti that comes crashing down like a fist on a table in the midst of a domestic argument! A circling whining motion in a downward spiral focuses attention to a spot just below and in front of you, and you feel like you’re on a platform in a maneuver hall in a space ship, a goldonder, the Aniara goldonder, perhaps, just at the moment of space gravel impact and the confusion that rises amongst the crowds of evacuees…

The tremendous sound – so full and dense, yet so detailed and transparent (usually an impossible merger of opposites!) – keeps up a sense of high voltage suspension, as one and all hold on dearly to their lives; unlikely human flames of 310 degrees kelvin in a 2 degree kelvin universe…

OCTOPHONY is a perfection of an electroacoustic method that involves a forceful, droning motion as a backdrop for shorter, closer-up events, like the experience of leaves of fall caught in sudden, short-lived gusts of wind, flying up in chaotic flurries right in front of you, around you on your forest walk, as the violence of the storm as a whole rumbles fiercely in a mass of timbres that dominate nature completely for as long as the storm lasts.
In the
OCTOPHONY storm I often see colors from dark violet to black in the forceful might of the heavy sounds, with gray figures dancing like the writing on the wall in front of my eyes, in symbols that I can’t make out, but that I feel have great importance, which must be interpreted.

As Stockhausen suggests, I listen over headphones, quite loudly, and let myself be carried away by the storm, the wind blowing though my clothes, in a feeling of the true pettiness of many of my worries and concerns – and suddenly I get an understanding of how it can happen that whole peoples can be persuaded and carried away by the storm-like force of a strong leader, and I see before my eyes the trenches of World War I and Dresden engulfed by firestorms in World War II, on February 13th 1945… I feel the storm, the meteorological storm and the political storm, the emotional storm and the Bardo storm of transitions between lives, and the storm of righteous wrath, Jesus of Nazareth cleansing the temple of merchants (
Matthew 21:12-13)… all envisioned in the mighty OKTOPHONIE storm out of a Cologne studio; out of the mind and spirit of the man from Mödrath!

Gustave Doré (1832 - 1883):
Jesus cleansing the temple of merchants

As I hear the sounds moving through my head between the earphones, I even feel like I can hear other motions than just panning ones; I mean up and down, closer and more distant, and diagonal, but maybe this is because I once heard the piece in a dark Sülztalhalle, superimposing that experience on my current listening – but I do state that a headphone run-through is exhilarating too; really maddening!

Sometimes gleaming pearls of sound rise out of the music like golden dust out of a magician’s generous hand, in a benevolent gesture towards the finest version of yourself; the version that will ultimately count, on behalf of all these lesser worth versions of you!

In some instances I’m riding
OCTOPHONY like a little child riding a merry-go-round, but the merry-go-round seems to appear in a cloud of Tellus paraphernalia, carried on the storm like Alice borne towards Wonderland, and this is Wonderland, I’m with Stockhausen in Wonderland! He is the Knight of Sound in Wonderland! I’m traveling with big ears! He feeds them the wonders of the ether! My brain is lighting up, skull illuminated! I’m sitting on the head of a nail that balances on a vibrating sphere of shining steel! OKTOPHONIE!

The geometry of worlds in perfect equilibrium plays the nameless myriads of galaxies and galaxy clusters in an evening-out torque of divine laws, the frightful powers of destruction and creation in a Shiva-Krishna glitter across the score;

Stockhausen with Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer
in Kürten, August 2003
(Photo: Ingvar Loco Nordin)