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.

Filed under: Miscellany, Phase 1, , , , , , ,

Recommended for Advanced Listeners Only

Some goodies inspired by (and some taken from) Delton T. Horn’s book titled “The Beginner’s Book of Electronic Music.

While the book is an excellent resource as a “hole”, there are some particularly great passages such as that on musique concrete and the Discography at the end (from whence comes the warning issued in the title of this post.

The hilarity aside, the book has a ton of really great analog circuit designs including parts lists (which need to be updated… future post) for voltage controlled oscillators, filters of many types, amplifiers, and more. The book can be picked up online at the link posted above. The book (published in 1982) also has a bunch of great reviews of then current and older synthesizers, including a modular Moog, the Korg VC-10 vocoder, the Prophet 5 and 10 series sythns, and more.

Filed under: El MuCo, Miscellany, , ,

Studie II: i’d forgotten

Recording of Studie II by Karlheinz Stockhausen
Studie II

When I heard this piece a few days back (for the first time in years) I’d forgotten how fundamentally good this piece is.  I’d forgotten the seductive, if abrasive, curves of its mellow, noisy goodness. I’d forgotten the insistent consistency of it. I’d even forgotten my initial reaction to it when a teacher played it for a class I took as an undergrad.

Conversing with a friend, we mused briefly over our shared experience with this piece.  Our first encounters ran much as I imagine others did: we were introduced to the piece in an academic/teaching environment and were initially put off by it.  We discovered that we had both felt disdain for the tape hiss, the antiquated sound (“it’s cheesy sounding!”), the cold, German emotionless-ness of it.  (sorry Germans!)



Hearing it again I am struck by the warmth of it, the continuity of thought and execution, and the musicality of the contour. I will neither explicate the musical material nor the electronics here, as there are many and better sources for this purpose. My only aim is to either remind you of an old friend that deserves another visit, or to introduce you to a piece you may find yourself admiring very much… some day!

Filed under: Phase 1, , , , ,

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