Stockhausen Edition no. 45
(SOLO [two versions] - SPIRAL)

Karlheinz StockhausenSOLO for melody instrument with feedback, version for flute [17:13] / for synthesizer, sampler, sequencer, 8-track tape recorder [17:17] (2 versions) (1966) – SPIRAL for a soloist; version for oboe, voice, didgeridoo, short-wave receiver [20:20] (1968)

Stockhausen 45. Duration: 59:00

It’s been a while – a good while, some might say! – but as I flip open the booklet and immerse myself in the writings inside, in those pages crammed with charts and that characteristic blue text, I feel the surge again, into the wondrous wizardry of Karlheinz Stockhausen. I pick up where I left off. Lots of water under the bridges, yes, and a couple of slingshots round the center star!

I almost forgot the quality of these booklets, the orderliness into which creativity is released in these descriptive texts, which do not strive for that veil of mystery which some wrap around Stockhausen, but which instead try to open magnificence to the common man, to people like me, who are not musicologists, but, for what it’s worth, LISTENERS!

Stockhausen at the Todai-Ji temple in Nara, Japan, 1966

The first work here is SOLO for melody instrument with feedback, in a version for flute. I recall William Forman’s lecture on SOLO at the Stockhausen Courses, the 2002 version! It takes me an hour to browse through my photographs, but I find some Forman pictures, of which you will see a few here.

I did record William Forman’s lecture on
SOLO, so perhaps, time permitting, I will add a transcription of parts of it here, later.

In the booklet Stockhausen talks about how soloists had asked him for compositions for their various instruments. Mostly they had in mind the typical, strictly notated virtuoso solo concerto, in which they might bask in the benevolent light of admiration and stardom – but Stockhausen, of course, thought about the situation in quite a different way: he wouldn’t be Stockhausen if he didn’t, the way we have come to appreciate him!

William Forman's SOLO seminar at the Stockhausen Courses 2002
photograph: ingvar loco nordin

First of all, Stockhausen looked for a way in which a musician with a monodic instrument could perform polyphonically. He remembered how he had worked this way with the boy’s voice in Gesang der Jünglinge in 1955/56, layering choral sections of the recorded voice. In the case that he was pondering now, he wanted, however, the soloist to work this polyphony during live performances, perhaps with the aid of some assistants. He had in mind a performance practice in which the performer would shape musical structures and also react to what he had previously done and even what he was going to play! This is consistent with what I heard Stockhausen talk about in one of his seminars in Kürten early in the 2000s, when he elaborated on the player/the composition remembering and foreseeing; something to that effect – I can’t remember the exact wording or situation, except that it had to do with events in the music that involved the way in which the past and the FUTURE affected the NOW of the music, in effect achieving a kind of temporal layering which was extremely captivating and immensely engaging, including expectation as well as memory as key elements in the music.

It doesn’t stop there. Stockhausen describes his thinking in the booklet of
the Edition, Volume 45, and goes on to discuss the music he envisioned:

I imagined a music in which – as in life – at certain moments splinters or figures of the memory simultaneously superimpose audibly, to which the soloist could play commentaries, supplements, something new: a music in which one senses that the player is thinking out loud, and in which one experiences the creation and the dissolution of multi-layered processes, as they take place. Only when music makes us aware of polydimensional thinking and experiencing and of the process of the structure formation – instead of an object – a higher level of composing for a soloist would be achieved. Everything that the player thinks during the preparation and performance of his SOLO should become perceivable in sound: the feedback between the player and his “played” and his “to be played”, between him and his second I and third I and his many Is, who played before and are yet to play.
In the solo music to date, one thing had always succeeded another; the temporal span was conceived and heard as a line. What I had in mind, however, were musical spaces, in which the order of events is not fixed, but rather in which it is possible to move in all directions, similar to the way in which a mobile sculpture is viewed. The spontaneity of the playing and the acoustical “accumulation” and “verticalization” of musical moments should make it possible to experience this spatial awareness.
In any case,
SOLO is a first attempt in this direction. Already in 1964, I had made the first sketch, and it is closely related to the compositions PLUS-MINUS, MOMENTE and MIKROPHONIE I. SOLO may be interpreted with any melody instrument – also using several instruments.

Already from Stockhausen’s description of the way he approached the idea of SOLO, one virtue characteristic of Stockhausen’s ingenuity is apparent: the versatility, the liberation of innumerable sounding nuances, the opening of how ever many different worlds of sound to the player and thus the listener – and the player surely is the most attentive listener in a work like SOLO! We have a score, which, however scrupulously followed, each time produces a new sounding result! No performance of SOLO is identical to another, but it is always SOLO! This thought – this kind of musical score – has implications way beyond its musical setting. The idea is revealing in all other situations of life. That is not hard to see, but we seldom stop to think about these things, about the nuances and shades of each day, of each moment, which, even if resembling other days, other moments, really is NEW. Swedish poet and aphorist Vilhelm Ekelund spoke many times about NEW beginnings; about the concept of newness. I believe he was thinking about this, that SOLO makes me think of: the infinite possibilities that lies in each new moment, each new choice, each new ray of starlight that falls on our eyes. Each moment, each second we live, every millimeter we move… constitutes pristine temporal and geographical properties: we’re fresh out of the preceding second, into the new second! This thought, of course, brings with it responsibility and not only the newfound joy of an explorer! Perhaps this though, this SOLO concept, makes us more aware of the richness of life, the immense possibilities of existence, and the uniqueness of every day, every minute, every second!

SOLO consists of 6 pages of music. Stockhausen explains – which further liberates the music, while still adhering to score! – that the player is free to utilize all his skills concerning sound production and playing techniques. For a performance, the player chooses between six form-schemes for the solo playing and the feedback. Further circumstances are explained by Stockhausen in the CD booklet:

In addition to the pages of music, qualitative stipulations are prescribed: when the player should form more polyphonic, more block-like or more chordal structures; when he should concentrate more on elements or parts or on figures in their entirety, or on combinations of these criteria; when he should choose only similarly or oppositely or differently articulated material; and when he should focus more on that which is presently heard (the polyphonic formations of the feedback are played back over loudspeakers) or on relationships between the present and the following, as musical “reminiscences” and “forecasts” – or on combinations of these “directions”.

However, Stockhausen observes, the process proved too difficult and new to the performers for them to realize the performances by themselves. This was evident already from the beginning, in preparation for the first two versions in Tokyo (SOLO was a Japanese commission).
Therefore all
SOLO performers since have prepared their own written version.

SOLO assistants in rehearsal; Frank Gutschmidt to the left
photograph: ingvar loco nordin

Stockhausen also describes the technique surrounding a SOLO performance, which has required four assistants. I would suppose that that number has dropped to maybe one now [which, by the way, is confirmed in the afore-mentioned Forman lecture], with the digital revolution, but still in Kürten in 2002 I observed three assistants; among them Frank Gutschmidt. Stockhausen describes the situation:

What is played is sometimes recorded by microphone onto tape, according to the instructions. The recorded events are copied – superimposed – in different polyphonic patterns, and are played back over loudspeakers at the moments indicated, as the soloist plays. In Tokyo, a table was built which had adjustable guide rollers for changing the time-delay of the tape playback. For following performances, 7 tape recorders were used, through which the same tape ran. The first feedback apparatus especially for SOLO was built at the Studio for Electronic Music in Utrecht.

William Forman performing SOLO in Kürten, 2002
photograph: ingvar loco nordin

At the Forman SOLO lecture in Kürten in 2002 I asked William Forman if he knew of any exchange of ideas or methods between The San Francisco Tape Music Center and Stockhausen during these years in the 1960s, when extended use of magnetic tape and tape loops and tapes running from tape recorder to tape recorder or between recorder heads and play heads placed at various distances from each other took place in San Francisco – but Forman didn’t know about the goings-on in California. I have seen no evidence that such exchanges of ideas took place in the 60s, but the same kind of tape experiments were going on in America, as those Stockhausen experimented with in Germany, at least on a superficial level. The composers in California – like Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley (who had long tapes running out through the windows even, to distantly placed tape recorders or magnetic heads) seemed to mostly have been looking for the illusionist effect of the layering and the recurrence of events, while Stockhausen was more orderly and wanted to use these new techniques for achieving new way of composing and new performance practices, resulting, for instance, in a composition like SOLO. Stockhausen always takes things a little further. It is interesting, however, that tape looping – if the expression is allowed! – was practiced in Germany and California simultaneously.

A couple of years ago I attended a tape loop night at Fylkingen in Stockholm, where a large number of tape recorders were placed around the hall, with a long tape running through them, with sounds being recorded on the tape at various places, and played back at other places; all mixed and diffused through loudspeakers at several locations. The effort was very random, and the effect almost unforeseeable, but it was a nice event with all that analogue equipment and that long magnetic tape traveling around the room, carrying newly acquired sonic memories, which were tapped here and there and sent into the audible realm.

Leif Elggren minding his Nagra at a tape loop night
at Fylkingen, Stockholm

Anyway, what Stockhausen describes above concerning the apparatus in Tokyo, is historical now, when a computer especially programmed is all that is required, and one person starting the program and stopping it at the end, as Forman put it. Well, you need a person who balances the totality of the sounds, also, but that’s it, and that person could of course be the same one that hits the button twice to start and stop everything. The idea behind SOLO and the performance of it, remains the same though, i.e. different from one time to the next, via the worked-out version that the player has prepared prior to the performance. The new technique does not take away from the beauty of it all.

In the first version of the two on
The Edition, Volume 45, we hear Dietmar Wiesner in his flute version of SOLO. This version was worked out by Dietmar Wiesner and Simon Stockhausen in 1994. They used form-scheme V for this procedure, through the means of a sequencer and a sampler by which they layered, transformed, perforated and recorded 7 tracks onto a digital multi-track tape. Stockhausen explains that this recording replaced the feedback loop contraption of the SOLO score. The flute samples that constitute the sole sound source, are treated in various electroacoustic ways. Wiesner plays live against this recording on the CD.

So what do I hear when I listen to Dietmar Wiesner’s flute recording of

The outset brings me surprising feelings and associations, to the pastoral landscapes of the Swedish district of Dalarna, and a melancholy practical music traditionally bestowed on inhabitants from there in the 19th century, when they supposedly blew their birch-bark horns across the valleys to stay in contact while herding their flock of cows on summer grace lands; a lonely endeavor for young girls, save for the presence of the cows and the invisible ones...

Of course, this feeling – unorthodox and anachronistic – dissipates quickly as the stark light of the following musical stanzas pierce the melancholy of cow herding and brings me on home to a more recent time passage…

William Forman performing SOLO in Kürten, 2002
photograph: ingvar loco nordin

Dietmar Wiesner travels the length of Form-Scheme V for the first three minutes of SOLO. The jingly, wobbling melody line inches across the terrain alone at first, but soon accompanied by a memory of itself, which comes up alongside and talks back at the present! We have a THEN talking to a NOW and it’s all happening at the “same TIME”!

Sharp trills stick their heads up out of the slowly progressing flow of simultaneously moving sonorities, like little children playing and joking at their parent’s very serious gathering at a PTA meeting in the schoolhouse!

Wiesner also produces vocal sounds that travel the general direction of the music as a whole. Various playing techniques are utilized, making listening a pleasurable ordeal of delicate and precise attention. It is also possible, however, to sit back in your armchair, in this gravity that is always on, and simply enjoy the flow, letting Dietmar Wiesner’s collected flute voices wash and gush over your perception like the ocean in starlight.

And we have entered
Section B. For a while everything turns silent. A large space opens, wherein silence looms. The flute talks in low pitches that must be the result of electroacoustic manipulations, feeling like the anonymous humus layer below, that ensures nutrients and a base for human existence on the planet. Sharp, edgy and clean flute sounds fly up in undecipherable signs that convey secret messages. The colors are gold and blue. It’s a Japanese fairytale. I see enchanted cranes treading the fields, solemnly, their necks straight, their beaks pointed upwards. They can bring happiness and prosperity, or they can bring black death. It’s all a matter of the make-up of your character and the necessary karmic fluctuations that follow in the tracks of your deeds, be they ill or good or… indifferent. Indifference always brings death. Ill deeds can be neutralized and compensated for, but indifference is the sin of sins, impossible to rectify in hindsight… And I move again with the flute(s) inside this Japanese tale that the music builds inside me. I dream awake in Stockhausen’s SOLO, version for Dietmar Wiesner’s flute.

The second version of
SOLO on this CD is Simon Stockhausen’s version for synthesizers, sampler, sequencer and 8-track tape. It cannot be performed live. The recording we hear is the version, as is.

Simon Stockhausen, like Dietmar Wiesner, decided on
Form-Scheme V. Karlheinz Stockhausen describes Simon Stockhausen’s choices. When S. Stockhausen worked out the six pages of music, he picked out the following timbre groups:

1. Human voices – vocal-like sounds
2. Glassy – brilliant
3. Metallic – strange
4. Like wind instruments – (woodwinds and brass)

He then produced - with these timbres - pitches, dynamic levels, durations and rhythms, using a sequencer. He did some late-in-the-process corrections of dynamic levels at the mixing, when he also added spatialization.

Of course, this version sounds nothing like Wiesner’s flute version. Simon Stockhausen’s version immediately comes across as an electroacoustic piece of music, vibrant and dense with energy, which nonetheless moves with an airy, soaring flair that catches on rapidly. You get caught in the gushing flow right away, from the very first second. The glary, glossy, bopping and thudding sounds circle and spiral your listening position, while the initial tubular sonorities are joined by high-pitch progressions of upward glissandi, which soon stoop to begin a roller-coaster ride, swiftly through the music. Drones of human vocals are smeared across events in thick vowel layers, like oil on canvas, distributed generously. You almost feel the smell of these sonic colors.

The music casts veils of velvet and satin through large halls of noble circumstances, where the bodies of the well-to-do age in dreamlike vanities. The Northern Lights move in awe-inspiring displays across winter skies inside this version of
SOLO; stellar communications flashing through the magnetic fields of your cerebral cortex.

Distantly moaning voices are hinged with rusty screeches. The mimicries of human voices at times move into realms of obviously synthesized sounds, and it’s like you’ve been fooled by a mirage, but then the human property and content is there again, and you don’t know what to think; where to look for firmness and common gravity.

Glassy, percussive events embellish deeper, droning passages like jewels in the crown of a cruel Queen of Darkness

Simon Stockhausen’s synthesizer
SOLO opens vast halls of mirrors, where your imagination is amplified many times over, to create a surreal space where trans-real distributions of sound take place in ever-changing aural patterns and spatial transpositions.

The third and last Stockhausen composition on this highly engaging CD is
SPIRAL for a soloist from 1968.

Richard Toop, Karlheinz Stockhausen & Stephen Truelove
at The Stockhausen Courses 2002
photograph: ingvar loco nordin

Nobody describes the work better than Stockhausen himself, so let’s hear him, quoted from the CD booklet, before I go into my personal impressions:

In SPIRAL, events which are picked up by the soloist’s short-wave receiver are imitated, transformed and transcended.
In addition to the radio, the soloist may use any instrument, several instruments, instrument and voice, or voice alone.
Microphones and at least two loudspeakers are needed for the spatial projection and amplification of the instrument, voice and short-wave sounds. The loudspeaker levels must be controlled by an assistant at the center of the hall in order to musically form the relationship between the direct sound and the amplified sound.
SPIRAL consists of a sequence of events, which are separated by pauses of various lengths. An event is realized either with short-wave receiver and instrument/voice, or only with instrument/voice. The first event must be realized with short-wave receiver and instrument/voice. Its duration, register, dynamic level and rhythmic segmentation are relatively free.

A short-wave event should be matched by the simultaneous instrumental/vocal event so completely that it fuses with it. From the second event onwards, the alternation of events, which are realized with or without short-wave receiver, is free; a balanced ratio of events with or without short-wave receiver should be aimed for. For the second and each further event, the soloist determines the duration, register, dynamic level and rhythmic segmentation according to the consecutive order of the transformation signs, which are notated in the score.
All other characteristics – timbre, proportions of the intervals of entry of the rhythmic segments, melody, harmony, vertical layering etc. – which result from the short-wave event, should be imitated with instrument/voice as precisely as possible; they are retained from one event to the next as exactly as possible, until they are renewed by a newly-selected short-wave event.

In searching for a short-wave event, the soloist should quietly change from station to station until something is found which corresponds to the notated relationships of the pitch registers. In addition, it is decisive for the choice that he tries to use as wide a scale as possible between concrete and abstract sound events in an interpretation, and that he is always aware of the next transformation that he has to carry out using this event. The soloist should pause at individual station settings for different lengths of time, always musically articulating the searching process itself.

Besides simple transpositions (such as higher – lower, longer – shorter, softer – louder, more segments – fewer segments), there are also special transformations: ORnamentation, POLYphonic articulation, Periodic segmentation, Echoing, “recollecting”, “announcing”, PERMutation of segments, long BAND-like concentrations of elements, AKK = chord-like concentrations, expansions, contractions.
Now and then a transformation instruction occurs, which gave this process-composition its title. SPIRAL:

Repeat the previous event several times,
transposing it 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 SPIRAL

Karlheinz Stockhausen rehearsing with William Forman in 2002
photograph: ingvar loco nordin

Oboist Cathy Milliken’s equipment is listed in the booklet:

1 oboe
1 didgeridoo
1 short-wave receiver
1 tape recorder
1 microphone for oboe and voice
1 microphone for oboe (lower)
1 microphone for didgeridoo
1 effects unit (2 outputs)
1 foot-switch for the effects unit
1 volume pedal for the effects unit
1 volume pedal for the short-wave receiver or tape
1 monitor loudspeaker (behind her on the floor) in order to hear the short-wave receiver or the tape recorder
2 loudspeakers at the left and right as stereo loudspeakers pointing towards the listeners
1 mixing console for balancing all signals to a stereo mix

Cathy Milliken recording SPIRAL
photograph: karlheinz stockhausen

Starting with a few words of an unidentified song, this curious and lively, determined and un-determined work, kicks off! Cathy Milliken’s oboe injects recollections of hardwood worlds of yesteryears’ concert halls into the futuristic realms of short-wave static and forlorn voices of the airwaves swept off of their vocal cord birthplaces. The sense of random civilizations rises out of this planetary maze of sounds, so familiar and yet… so alien! I think to myself, as I listen to SPIRAL, that only when you’ve felt the alienation of familiar things, have you really familiarized yourself with them – because familiarity always is a kind of habitual nonchalance; a sort of home blindness. You have to estrange yourself from the most familiar circumstances in your life, to really get to know them. This is one aspect of this Stockhausen composition, to me. This is also what happens in anxiety attacks, which tend to place you at a vantage point of “otherness”, from where you see the most familiar people and things as very, very strange - which is why these attacks almost always serve a purpose; that of growing as a human, as a spirit, claiming spiritual ground that would otherwise be uncharted no man’s lands. Stockhausen – in the mind of the perceptible and sensitive – claims new territories, through his musical compositions. SPIRAL is certainly one of those probes into the unknown – or a probe into the familiar, revealing its… strangeness…

In the first instances of short-wave sounds I hear a rhythmic, sonically rich section for a while; a signal that I’ve recorded myself off of the airwaves once in the 1980s, and which I’ve heard also on a disc from New Zealand composer Stephen Gard. Very surprising, to recognize a signal like that as something familiar in the midst of all these other sounds that well forth in an unforeseeable manner! It must be a beacon of some kind that keeps broadcasting this signal. I recall how I used to modulate that particular signal by slowly, slowly and very gradually turning the frequency knob of the short-wave receiver as I recorded the signal, in and out of focus, as it revealed all its various characteristics.

Cathy Milliken does a fantastic job with these incoming signals from the 17th of February 1995 in Kürten. When she starts playing the didgeridoo – that hollow piece of a tree that originates with the Australian Aborigines – the sounding space fills up with dark brown clay, pressing outwards on the walls of the vessel of the moment, rendering the music a rare palpability and density! Simultaneously, seeping gray sounds out of the radio – common short-wave static – supple the space through which distant voices speak calmly: shreds of circumstances worldwide flying up like soot in a whirlwind: everybody’s private and official lives sensed from the perceiver’s lonely place outside of everything.

Cathy Milliken forms her mouth while playing to make the didgeridoo sound like it talks; an ancient language derived from the Aborigines’ songlines across the vast Outback of the continent; blurry spells and magic incantations!

The didgeridoo recurs in a calm repetitious manner, like smooth waves of low-chakra sound rolling in from the openness of un-diagnosed levels of existence.

More violent and fragmented shreds of the world tumble in like sharp-edged rocks dashing down a Lapland mountain slope, in the form of speech fragments and louder short-wave disturbances. The speech fragments are rendered some reverberation, making them even stranger in this havoc of a flow that suddenly seems dangerous and ominous, like pieces of expensive hardwood furniture crushed and ground in an earthquake. I feel electric cords and wires sticking out of unidentifiable spoils of civilization.

Some of the spoken sections are wildly amplified and permuted into corrugated exclamations, bringing goblin breaths right down your neck – the acrid air burning you nostrils, your eyes smarting.

At other times you hear the swirling metallic sound of rotating discs of unknown origin. You simply feel their circular motion in the music, bringing up visions of some machinery of sorts, in an industrial process you have no way of recognizing. Something is going on, very intensely, but you don’t understand the aim of all this mechanical activity. It’s scary and alien… and… beautiful!

Cathy Milliken also uses her voice, which sometimes blend in with other sounds in soaring and hovering stanzas, sometimes enter that corrugation machine of goblinization: a peculiar permutation that wobbles and vibrates in blurry, obscure neighboring dimensions, while voices out of anonymity team up in distant congregations of inarticulate choral speech of black angels.

Much lighter events dance by like a summer’s breeze, when a happy-go-lucky jazz melody moves unconcerned through the wreckages of time, and Milliken picks up that lightheartedness and carries it on her oboe to safety.

For a while, Cathy Milliken seems to withdraw into a Central European Klezmer melody, in serpentine motions up the old faith.
Madly panning Slavonic voices flash by, until Milliken breaks out in a whole henhouse of cackling oboe naggings! Short-wave signals move in that same upset manner, like boiling water in a pan, inspiring Milliken to outdo even the most frantic moments of Wolfgang Fuchs’ celebrated saxophone record “
So – Und? – So!”, where he plays the sopranino much like Cathy Milliken treats her oboe here – but she’s a smidgen wilder!

It gets hilarious when an old, classic Vienna orchestra moves it’s forest of strings in a pretentious matter of course, which Milliken immediately mimicries and reflects with her oboe. It’s a sabre-sharp tour-de-force of humor and skill!

In an oily and jingly spiral motion of the sound, which causes, in me, a recollection of an old coffee grinder that we had at home when I was little in the 1950s, a female English voice appears, saying: “Oh, I’d like to start the whole thing again, I’m sorry!”

Stockhausen in Kürten 2004
photograph: ingvar loco nordin

A little later, a German-speaking man comes on out of the static, asking: “Was tust Du, eigentlich?” (What are you doing, really?), where after he falls back into the static again!

Maybe that was a message from The Powers to Professor Stockhausen, but in that case, I’m sure, with an appreciative smile and a chuckle, for
SPIRAL on this CD is a brilliant, magnificent example of Stockhausen’s incredible ingenuity on the one hand, and Cathy Milliken’s skill and hard work on the other.

As a whole, this CD of
Stockhausen Edition Volume 45 is crammed and stuffed with wonderful music and startling sonic adventures.