karlheinz stockhausen - stockhausen no.6 (zyklus / refrain / kontakte)

.:: Zyklus
Zyklus is the first fully notated score for solo percussion, and it was the piece which paved the way for the world of percussion in art music, notated as well as improvised, and the fabric of sounds we hear today in contemporary orchestras would appear quite different, and certainly much poorer, hadn’t it been for Stockhausen and his well-documented ability to think outside established frameworks, musically and philosophically, arriving at astonishing conclusions and utterly unexpected solutions to problems that themselves weren’t readily apparent before Stockhausen focussed on them.

A creativity like this, channeled through this rigid discipline, bears witness of a deep suffering, I’m sure, but as every real artist knows, the suffering, though hellish, is a much needed force, in the end leading to a deeper kind of joy. Read on

The second piece on the CD is “Refrain”, composed in 1959. The instrumentation is piano, wood blocks, celesta, antique cymbals, vibraphone and cowbells, so the percussive character lingers on. The recording was made in 1968, performed by Aloys Kontarsky (piano and wood blocks), Karlheinz Stockhausen (celesta and antique cymbals) and Christoph Caskel (vibraphone and cowbells), but it’s in no way aged.

The sound is crisp and clear to me, even though Stockhausen notes that the spoken sounds in particular are not clear enough, due to the circumstances surrounding the recording process. I don’t hear this, but naturally the composer had a vision of the sound, and if the reality of the moment didn’t quite measure up to the intentions, he has to say so. He justifies the release anyhow, referring to the fact that this is the only recording of “Refrain” with these particular interpreters, who later performed the piece many times. Read on

Finally this CD presents “Kontakte” for electronic sounds, piano and percussion (1959 – 60) in a recording from 1968 with Aloys Kontarsky (piano and percussion), Christoph Caskel (percussion), Karl Sieben (sound engineer) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (musical direction and mix-down).

“Kontakte” – a justly enormously successful early electronic work – exists in two versions. The first one, presented on Stockhausen Edition Volume 3, is the tape composition by itself. The second version, appearing here, is the version with instrumentalists playing with the tape.

As the title implicates, the tape part aims at setting up relations between electronic sounds and instrumental sounds, with gradual transformations between the sounds, so that you may not be able to tell the origin of the sound you hear. For this recording the instrumentalists worked for eight hours, trying to optimize the way the electronic sounds on tape would mix with the instruments.

They went about this by electrically mixing the sounds from the 4-track tape – without loudspeakers - with the instrumental sounds, which were picked up by a number of microphones. The musicians then each heard everything through headphones, i.e. the tape sounds, their own playing and the other instrumentalist’s playing. This made an uncanny precision possible, which we can now appreciate on the CD. Read on

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