S C O T T E R I C P E T E R S E N

Composer, electronic musician, improviser

Stockhausen: Étude (musique concrète) 1952

I recently ran across this piece which I had not previously heard. It is the first piece of musique concrète by Stockhausen composed in 1952-53 at the RTF in Paris.

A quote about the work by Stockhausen from an online source:**

“First I recorded six sounds of variously prepared low piano strings struck with an iron beater, using a tape speed of 76.2 centimetres per second. After that, I copied each sound many times and, with scissors, cut off the attack of each sound. A few centimetres of the continuation [steady state], which was – briefly – quite steady dynamically, were used. Several of these pieces were spliced together to form a tape loop, which was then transposed to certain pitches using a transposition machine. A few minutes of each transposition were then recorded on separate tapes.

I was only allowed to have the studio with a technician for a few hours each week.Therefore, I hammered a nail into my desktop at the student hostel, laid a metal tape hub on the nail, fastened a ruler horizontally onto the desk in front of me, and placed a series of hubs with modulated tapes and one hub with leader tape next to each other at the rear of the desk. Then I cut many short pieces from a roll of white splicing tape and stuck them next to each other on the edge of the desk.

I then chose, according to my score, one of the tapes having a certain sound transposition, measured the notated length in centimetres and millimetres, cut off that length, spliced it with a little piece of the splicing tape onto a lengthy piece of white leader tape, and wound the white tape plus the first little piece of magnetic tape around the metal hub on the nail. For this I used a pencil which was inserted into the outer hole of the hub.

Next, I chose another prepared tape, measured and cut off a piece, and spliced it onto the previous piece. Whenever the score prescribed a pause, I spliced a corresponding length of white tape onto the result tape. Occasionally, my winding apparatus did not function, and tape salad was the result: I then crawled around on the floor under my desk searching for one end of the fallen tape. Once found, the confusion of the entangled tape was unravelled with great difficulty, and it was wound around the hub again.

When my studio time came, I synchronized two of my spliced tapes using two play-back tape recorders, recorded the sum on a third tape recorder and copied this result again – depending on the polyphony desired – on top of a further zebra-tape of bits of brown tape and little pieces of white pause. Already upon hearing two synchronized layers, and even more so hearing three or four layers, I became increasingly pale and helpless: I had imagined something completely different!

On the following day, the sorcery undespairingly continued: I changed my series, chose other sequences, cut other lengths, spliced different progressions, and hoped afresh for a miracle in sound.”

From another source quoting Stockhausen:**

“I can no longer recall exactly how many weeks I carried on this cutting and splicing, with ever-increasing perfection of my winding-skill. Anyway – on this CD released in 1992 – the world can now hear my Concrète ETUDE of 1952, which for many years I had presumed lost until I finally found it again in a pile of old tapes.”

While hyperbole and useless, flowery, and overtly descriptive language often accompanies any description of this piece online, I feel it is both important and necessary to describe it as awesome.  I wonder if the score is laying around in a pile somewhere… I sure would like to see it!

**all quotes from the sources above were taken from: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Compact Disk Number Three; Electronic Music 1952-1960, from the complete edition (Stockhausen Verlag), accompanying booklet.

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