Stockhausen Edition no. 46
(SPIRAL - complete version)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – Spiral (1968) for a soloist with short-wave receiver, complete version
Michael Vetter [voice]

Stockhausen 46
Durations: CD 1: 67:00 (99 index points) / CD 2: 71:88 (99 index points)

This is the third version of Spiral issued by Stockhausen Verlag, but the first complete one. The first one appears on Volume 15, in one version by Péter Eötvös on electrochord with synthesizer plus short-wave receiver, and another version by Harald Bojé on electronium and short-wave receiver. The recordings on Volume 15 were conducted in April 1971. It doesn’t say in the booklet, but since the first section out of the ten of the score is printed on pages four and five, I deduce that Eötvös and Bojé both used section one.

For the reader’s convenience, I insert a short passage from my review of
Volume 15 here:

[…] 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!

The second version is placed on Volume 45, where Cathy Milliken plays her version for oboe, voice, didgeridoo and short-wave receiver. This recording was made in 1994, and Milliken also kept to the first section of the score.

Here’s a short section of my review of
Spiral on Volume 45:

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…

Now we have reached Volume 46 and Michael Vetter’s full version of the work, in a setting for voice and short-wave receiver. It was recorded in 1995.

Michael Vetter recording SPIRAL 1995
photo: kathinka pasveer

Stockhausen says in the booklet for Volume 46 that “the sound world of ring modulation belongs to [his] musical language” since MIXTURE for five orchestra groups, four sine-wave generators and four ring modulators (1964) and MICROPHONY II for twelve singers, Hammond organ and four ring modulators (1965). He also states that the sounds achieved through the use of ring modulators has “a lot in common with the sound world of musically mirrored short-wave radios”, which came to Stockhausen’s attention when he was searching the short-wave band for national anthems for the composition of HYMNEN.

Stockhausen explains:

In HYMNEN I employed many different kinds of short-wave events, which I had picked up with my short-wave radio and then recorded. At that time I called the short-wave radio a folk-receiver, with which it was possible to pick up an immeasurably rich world of all kinds of music, languages, Morse signals, electronic and especially ring-modulated sound events.

A little later he says:

In the context of these new discoveries, the composition KURZWELLEN (SHORT-WAVES) for 6 players came into being in 1968, in which 4 short-wave receivers are played simultaneously and imitated and transformed with instruments […]. In the same year followed SPIRAL for a soloist with short-wave receiver. In 1969/70 I wrote POLES for 2 players / singers with 2 short-wave receivers and EXPO for 3 players / singers with 3 short-wave receivers.
After that, I used short-wave events in several other works and in
LICHT (LIGHT) they are used again.

Listening to Vetter’s SPIRAL is a weird and summoning experience, drawing you into strange worlds of static electricity and disturbing calls out of nowhere, out of everywhere: a guttural goblin Mass; refractions through time of ceremonies of a race on the brink of extinction: the Neanderthals of Brittany, our brethrens of 40 000 years ago – which now live on in our fairytales and myths, as goblins, as trolls; a hereditary memory dislodged and reinterpreted, securely embedded in folktales and myths, without any credit to the lost ones who seep into out times disarmed and disguised like this.

It is a decisive and crucial prerequisite for a version of
SPIRAL to decide what indications to apply. I have copied three CD booklet pages of the score with Michael Vetter’s inserted indications here, but to really study these, you would need the score itself, for comparison.

I chose to once again (like in the text on Volume 45) quote Stockhausen on the basics of SPIRAL performances:

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.

Michael Vetter describes his unique, complete version in great detail in the booklet. I recommend the interested reader/listener to acquire the double-CD and study his reasoning there, but I will paste here Stockhausen’s explanation of Michael Vetter’s indications in the form scheme, from the booklet:

The numbers below those indicating the order of events apply to the twice 99 CD tracks of the CDs 46 A-B.

The word in a box above or (once) below the seven “spiral events” characterizes the “limit transcendence” at hand.

The letters assigned to the + / – signs apply to the parameter being interpreted (G = segmentation, D = duration, I = intensity, R = register).

Numbers above or beside a + / – apply to the number of segments.
All other indications above the events apply to the employment of the short-wave receiver.

S: search; S with wavy line: search during the event; S with horizontal bracket: the length of time that the chosen station is employed.

Horizontal dotted line: frequent and spontaneous interruptions of the short-wave sounds.

Vertical brackets in the horizontal bracket: one interruption of the short-wave sounds.

Arrowheads pointing downwards: short-wave fade-in between two events.
Jagged line: chopped up short-wave sounds;

fermata above S: short-wave interlude.

Above event 57 (CD track 57 of CD 46 A) there is a fermata and pp. Both, exceptionally, apply to the vocal interpretation rather than to the recording

Perhaps, with these explanations of the structure of the work and the framework of Stockhausen’s artistic gesture in this special case, it will be easier to grasp the nature of the music – but this is a poor substitute for – or really, something very alienated from – the music the way music should be experienced, through hearing, and through listening.
Some may ask: isn’t hearing and listening the same? My passionate reply reads: no, no, no!

Let’s listen for a while:

A whisper in your ear, like a voice inside your head – and a little hum of a melody figure… but soon it hits you hard; the voice of the World Goblin, the Universal Troll, surrounded by voices from that gorge they call Earth; that dark crevasse in space-time that some call Tellus, where the collected memories of humanity flow and bubble like some indecent fluid, caught in the mad grip of gravity, from which the only escape is an immaterial one.

The creature – enacted by Michael Vetter – offers distorted vocal reflections of random messages on the airwaves; random thoughts, random expressions – one as important or insignificant as the other – “my banker in Iran”, for example…

After a spray of wor(l)dly short-wave chatter, Vetter suddenly surrounds himself with great silence, like a mad God in dark space wrapping a gown of zero Kelvin° void around himself (or a shivering madman hiding away in a closet in an asylum!), from which he talks like a parrot-man in his guttural speech, forming his mouth around the words that come out of the Siemens RK 721, tasting them, moving them around inside his oral cavity like Brussels sprouts: the banker in Iran molded and reformed and spat out on the moist mist of Vetter-goblin breath!

A distant station call emerges through the ether, in a pom-pom-pom-pom repetition, the last pom in a higher pitch than the three first, and Vetter, in a dark, hushed voice – almost (but not properly) retorting to his skill as an overtone (khoomei) singer (for example as demonstrated on his CD
Overtones on Wergo Spectrum SM 1038-50, released in 1984) – mirrors and develops this figure, carrying it into a reflective, almost dreamy mode, his molding of dark nuances rushing and wheezing like steam through the cracks between his teeth. I like this little section so much that I keep it on repeat for a while, immersing my room in this station call dreamscape out of the characteristic nowhere-and-everywhere of this work.

Another section; a haze of voices rising out of various human habitats around this mysterious globe, swarming with life forms, and out of this haze a distinct voice in English, talking about “the peace policies of Yitzhak Rabin”! The station call from before can still be detected deep inside the sound – and the observer of all this, the commentator, the shaman that lip-reads the peoples of all the nations: Michael Vetter, sings, speaks, chants a long, extended “neun und neun”, like “neeeeeeuuuuuuun und! neeeeeeuuuuunnnn”! – thereby reflecting a German voice that breezes by, hardly noticeable, in a German 99 (“neun-und-neunzig”). He catches these words, these numbers, like was he catching a butterfly in a butterfly-net.

It’s quite interesting to go along with Vetter’s pranks and tricks of vocabulary, which let the words appear without their inherited and habituated meaning, stripped of all their well-known values, simply experienced as sound. It’s hard to try to lose the meaning of words, and listen to the sounds of them, the way you do when you hear a language unknown to you – but it’s worth a try, here in Stockhausen’s

Vetter continues his “neun-und-neunzig” detour a bit longer, through another section, developing it into a wriggly ride down the toboggan path of molded and stretched vowels that spiral and dive into realms bordering, again, on khoomei singing – and he actually reaches overtone singing here, as a second, high-pitch melody rises above the darkness of the fundamental tone. It feels like you should grab something and hold on, like were you riding a steep roller coaster of human articulation.
Vetter’s voice digs deep here, becomes ground and soil, amalgamates with the humus layer; finally coming to halt in a mouthful of clay. (Later on in the work Vetter indulges in real live Obertöne, overtone singing, khoomei, in the style of the masters of Mongolia and Tuva)

I can feel that Vetter has reached a way of sounding that is very familiar and agreeable to him, because he keeps these “neun-und-neunzig” variations up even longer, blending the maze of voices and static from the short-wave receiver into loud insertions, this time swinging tolling bells by like shiny, frozen moments from some Greek orthodox Russian church.
Time is swelling and retracting in this music, reaching out and pulling back, like the tentacles of an octopus, or like the bubblegum in the mouth of a kid browsing through his 10th Earth year.

At index point 8 of CD 1 Vetter comments on a short lingual incident in German on the radio, breaking out into full-blown sound poetic exclamations, worthy of a Kurt Schwitters or a Raoul Hausmann. I get very inspired, as Vetter touches on one of my favored specialties; sound poetry: this primeval vocal catharsis; this morphemual archaeology of slithering tongues and the moist wilderness of oral cavities!

Karlheinz Stockhausen & Michael Vetter 1995
photo: kathinka pasveer

The sound-poetic excesses keep on keeping on for a while, solidly amusing me – and I can’t help but marvel at the richness of possibilities that lie dormant in a Stockhausen composition like this one, until someone picks it up and makes his version. The three versions so far recorded are so different from each other that you wouldn’t realize their common origin, had you not been informed. This says something about Stockhausen, and also about the world and about life. It forces you to realize the immense variety in life, the blazing richness of existence. Music isn’t just music! Stockhausen isn’t just a composer!

Michael Vetter keeps turning the dial, sound-shred-flying around the world, committing his vocal commentary to the recording. Do NOT miss out on Vetter's goblin mimicry of Arabian vocal music on track 91 of CD 2! It's not Om Kalsoum he is shadow dancing with, but maybe Warda, or Sabah... or even Lebanon's Fairuz! I could keep on writing a whole book of impressions and associative imagery, if I just jotted down my comments on each of the 198 indexed sections, but I’ll stop here, leaving further associations and immediate impressions to the listener. Stockhausen’s
SPIRAL in Michael Vetter’s complete two-CD version brings the world to your tympanic membranes by way of a short-wave receiver and a vocal commentary that is… out of this world! Enjoy!