Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Studies in Electronics
Stockhausen was born on August 22nd 1928 in a large manor house, called by locals the “castle” in the village of Mödrath, Germany. His father Simon was a school teacher, and his mother Gertrud had been born into a family of prosperous farmers. His sister Katherina was born the following year, and a brother Hermann-Josef the next. He experience music in the house growing up, with his mother playing piano and singing, but when she suffered a mental breakdown, she was quick to be institutionalized in 1932. His borther died the following year, and she was later murdered in a gas chamber by the Nazi regime in 1941. She had been deemed what the fascists called a “useless eater,” and part of the mass murder they carried out on those they deemed socially or physically defective.
A version of this episode was later dramatized in his first opera Donnerstag aus LICHT.
In 1935 Stockhausen began the early stages of his musical training with piano lessons from the organist at the Altenberger Dom, or Abbey Church of Altenberg where they now lived. Around age ten his father married the family housekeeper. After his two half-sisters were born he left home and became a boarder in 1942 while continuing to learn music, adding oboe and violin to his studies. In 1944 Stockhausen was forced to join the armed forces as a stretcher bearer, working for the hospital in Bedburg. During this time he played piano for the wounded on both sides. In February of 1945 he saw his father for the last time, who was sent to the Eastern Front to fight, and is thought to have been killed in action in Hungary.
His father had been a Nazi fanatic, and the death of his mother at the hands of those whom his father adored, and all the horrors and carnage he had seen during the war, left Stockhausen with a strong aversion to war and its atrocities. When he had been living with his father, he had liked to blast the militaristic marches and patriotic music of the fascist regime on the radio. Stockhausen hated these sounds thereafter, and felt that such strict types of rhythms had been used to goad people into complacence and compliance. He sought solace in the rituals and music of the Catholic Church. As he matured his sense of spirituality expanded to encompass the teaching from other world traditions, but his native Christian was always a touchstone, albeit one that he took to more as a mystic rather than a fundamentalist. In a similar way, he left behind the comforts of traditional music to explore the fringes of the avantgarde.
After the war, between 1947 and 1951, Stockhausen studied music at the Hochschule für Musik Köln (Cologne Conservatory of Music) and musicology, philosophy, and German studies at the University of Cologne. It was also in this time period when he traveled with the stage magician Alexander Adrion, accompanying his performances on piano. Towards the end of this period of study he met Herbert Eimert and Werner-Meyer Eppler.
Stockhausen had often thought of being a writer. He had a passion for the novels of Herman Hesse and Thomas Mann. The Glass Bead Game by Hesse and Dr. Faustus by Mann, both of which deal with music, touched him on many levels. Yet it was the mystical philosophy of music, and how it could be related to other bodies of knowledge in Hesse’s novel that became a model for the work he would go on to produce, providing a lasting influence.
In 1951 Stockhausen went to the avant-garde version of summer school, the annual courses held in that season at Darmstadt. It was here where he first encountered the music of Olivier Messiaen. Inspired he began studying and composing serial music, and wrote his early pieces Kreuzspiel and Formel. In Januray of 1952 he went to Paris to study under Messiaen he had the chance to meet his contemporary Pierre Boulez, and see firsthand what Pierre Schaeffer was getting up to with musique concrète.
While hanging about with Boulez in Paris he also met composers Jean Barraqué, and Michel Philippot, all of who were investing their time and efforts to create works of musique concrète at GRM. As his year in France progressed Stockhausen was finally given permission to work in the studio, but on the limited basis of recording natural sounds and percussion instruments for their tape library. In December Stockhausen was given the go-ahead to make a piece of his own, the first non-French composer to use their resources. The source sounds came from a prepared piano that were cut into fragments and spliced back together, then transposed using the phonogène. It took him twelve days to make something the length of pop song, at three minutes and ten seconds, though there is nothing pop about the result. The process caused him to become disenchanted with musique concrète. The piece was only released with his approval in 1992 as part of a collection of his early work, the rest of which was realized in the WDR Electronic Music Studios.
As 1953 rolled around, Eimert invited Stockhausen to become his assistant in the WDR studio. Soon after his arrival in March of 1953 he determined that the Monochord and Melochord were useless when it came to his ambition to totally organize all aspects of sound, including the timbre. Only the humble sine-wave generator or beat-frequency oscillator would be able to do with sound what he envisioned. He asked for these from Fritz Enkel who was the head of the calibration and testing department. Enkel brought him the gear, but was beside himself. The station had spent a pretty penny, 120,000 Marks, on their two showpiece instruments. Enkel was also skeptical of Stockhausen’s ability to accomplish his task with just this limited kit, saying, “it will never work!” This was to become a refrain throughout his career, when people didn’t think he’s be able to finish his ambitious projects. His reply stood him well for the rest of his career, "Maybe you're right, but I want to try it all the same".
When it came time for Stockhausen to create his first piece of pure electronic music in the studio in 1953, he did not go in for the use of the Monochord or the Melochord, but went straight for the sine tone oscillators. His idea was to build a piece totally from scratch, following a plan of the serial organization of sounds, with added reverb to give a sense of spatialized sound. The devices he used to create what became Studie I, were all originally used for the calibration of radio equipment. Here they were put into the service of art.
These pieces were as much an exploration of musical mathematics and acoustic science as they were novel pieces of new music made on tape with lab equipment. Behind these works is the work of Hermann Helmhotz, and behind him that of George Simon Ohm, and behind him Joseph Fourier, all of who provided the intellectual additives necessary to synthesize Stockhausen’s new music.
Studie I can be heard as a musical-scientific exploration of Joseph Fourier’s ideas about sine waves and how they correspond to the harmonic of a common fundamental. It can also be heard as a further exploration of Ohm’s Acoustic Law which states that a musical sound is perceived by the ear as a set of a number of constituent pure harmonic tones.
He began his musical study with a question. "The wave-constitution of instrumental notes and the most diverse noises are amenable to analysis with the aid of electro-acoustic apparatus: is it then possible to reverse the process and thus to synthesize wave-forms according analytic data? To do so one would ... have to take and combine simple waves into various forms..."
A sine tones made with electronics contains no overtones, since it is able to be made with just a single frequency. In this respect, the sine tone can be considered to the prima materia, or first matter in the radiophonic laboratory, the basic building block required to create the magnum opus. Using the tape machines he recorded different frequency sine waves at different volumes, and mixed them together to build up new synthesized timbres, in a process of manual additive synthesis. Studie I became the first composed piece of music using this laborious additive synthesis method.
Stockhausen said the piece was “the first composition with sine tones.” In this respect this first piece of pure electronic music showed his devotion to the electron as a kind of musical unit unto itself. Looking at it another way, he chose this method to differentiate himself from what Schaeffer and Henry were doing with recorded sounds, what Cage was doing with prepared pianos, what others were doing with the proto-synthesizers.
Stockhausen had cut some teeth cutting tape at the RTF studios when he created his Konkrete Etude, and now got to use the tool kit of musique concrete, by doing such things as running tapes backwards, speeding them up, slowing them down, fading them in and out. The idea behind the piece was to start at the center of the human auditory range and move outwards in both directions to the limits of perceptible pitch. It was further organized around justly intoned ratios taken from the partials of the overtone series.
In Studie II, Stockhausen explored the serial treatment of timbre. He again uses sine tones, and chose a combination of five, whose frequencies are all related to each other by being the 25th root of different powers of 515. This amounts to a close approximation of the Golden Section or Proportion, and it is hard to think he came to those numbers and powers just by chance. (He later used the Fibonacci sequence as a time signature in his piece Klavierstucke IX, and his use of other mathematics and magic squares in his compositions shows his familiarity with these subject.) The method of combining these tones differs from Studie I. Here he plays them back-to-back in a reverb chamber and records the result.
The Konkrete Etude and the Studies comprise a masterful warm up act as Stockhausen got comfortable working in the studio.
Gesang der Jünglinge
There is a mystery in the sounds of the vowels. There is a mystery in the sound of the human voice as it is uttered from the mouth and born into the air. And there is a mystery in the way electrons, interacting inside an oscillating circuit, can be synthesized and made to sing. Karlheinz Stockhausen set out to investigate these mysteries of human speech and circuitry as a scientist of sound, using the newly available radiophonic equipment at the WDR’s Studio for Electronic Music. The end result of his research was bridged into the vessel of music, giving the ideas behind his inquiries an aesthetic and spiritual form. In doing so he unleashed his electroacoustic masterpiece Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths) into the world.
Part of his inspiration for Gesang der Jünglinge came from his studies of linguistics, phonetics and information-theory with Meyer-Eppler at the Bonn between 1954 and 1956. The other part came from his spiritual inclinations. At the time of its composition Stockhausen was a devout Catholic. His original conception for the piece was for it to be a sacred electronic Mass born from his personal conviction. According to the official biography, he had asked Eimert, his other mentor, to write to the Diocesan office of the Archbishop for permission to have the proposed work performed in the Cologne Cathedral, the largest Gothic church in northern Europe. The request was refused on grounds that loudspeakers had no place inside a church. No records of this request have been uncovered, so this story is now considered apocryphal. There are doubts that Eimert, who was a Protestant, ever actually brought up the subject with Johannes Overath, the man at the Archdiocese responsible for granting or denying such requests. In March of 1955 Overath had become a member of the Broadcasting Council and it is likely he was an associate with Eimert. What we can substantiate is that Stockhausen did have ambitions to create an electronic Mass and that he experienced frustrations and setbacks in his search for a suitable sacred venue for its performance, one that would be sanctioned by the authorities at the church.
These frustrations did not stop Stockhausen from realizing his sound-vision. The lectures given by Meyer-Eppler had seeded inspiration in his mind, and those seeds were in the form of syllables, vowels, phonemes, and fricatives. Stockhausen set to work creating music where voices merged in a sublime continuum with synthetic tones that he built from scratch in the studio. To achieve the desired effect of mixing human voice with electronics he needed pure speech timbres. He decided to use the talents of Josef Protschka, a 12-year old boy chorister who sang fragments derived and permutated from the “Song of the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace” in the 3rd book of Daniel. In the story three youths are tossed into the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar. They are rescued from the devouring flames by an angel who hears them singing a song of their faith. This story resonated strongly with Stockhausen at the time who considered himself to be a fiery youth. Still in his twenties he was full of energy, but was under verbal fire and critical attack from the classical music establishment who lambasted him for his earlier works. Gesang der Jünglinge showed his devotion to the divine through song despite this persecution.
The electronic bedrock of the piece was made from generated sine tones, pulses, and filtered white noise. The recordings of the boy soprano’s voice were made to mimic the electronic sounds: vowels are harmonic spectra which may be conceived as based on sine tones; fricatives and sibilants are like filtered white noise; and the plosives resemble the pulses. Each part of the score was composed along a scale that ran from discrete events to statistically structured massed "complexes" of sound. The composition is now over sixty years old, yet the mixture of synthetic and organic textures Stockhausen created are still fresh. They speak of something new, and angelic.
Stockhausen eventually triumphed over his persecution when he won the prestigious Polar Music Prize (often considered the "Nobel Prize of music") in 2001. At the ceremony he controlled the sound projection of Gesang der Jünglinge through the four loudspeakers surrounding the audience.
These breakthroughs in 20th century composition practice wouldn’t have been possible without the foresight of the WDR in creating an Electronic Music Studio and promoting new music on their stations.
Making Telemusik at NHK
Following the success of the Studio for Electronic Music in Germany, other countries started to take note. Composer Toshiro Mayuzumi had already had his mind blown in May of 1952 at a musique concrete performance at Salle de l'Ancien Conservatoire in Paris, commenting that, “the concert was such a shock that it fundamentally altered my musical life.” He had visited Schaeffer’s studio while on the trip, and when he returned to Japan began to implement the techniques for a film soundtrack. Working at the JOQR (NCB) studios in Tokyo he produced his first explicitly musique concrete piece, “CEuvre pour Musique Concrete x, y, z”. The x portion was made up of metallic sounds, the y of human, animal and water sounds and the z portion was taken from sounds of musical instruments. When it was finished it premiered over the JOQR radio network and lit Japan on fire. In 1954 the station invited Mayuzumi to create more music in this vein. “Boxing” was the end product of this next effort and was a radio play with a script written by celebrated Japanese novelist, Yukio Mishima. For the work, Mayuzumi employed over 300 types of sounds, and it became a sensation across the island country.
That same year a group of technicians and program producers were sent some materials by their German colleagues at the WDR. This was the aptly named Technische Hausmitteilungen des NWDR's, 1954;Sonderheft tiber Electronische Musik (Technical In-House Communications from the NWDR, 1954; Special Issue about Electronic Music). The paper explored some of the gear and techniques being used in Cologne, and the theories they had behind their use.
Enter Makoto Moroi, a prolific composer who studied everything from Gregorian chant, to renaissance and baroque music on to twelve tone composition and serialism. Alongside his love of traditional Japanese instruments was a growing interest in what could be done musically with electronics. Music was an ocean he swam in, and many different rivers contributed to his flow. This led him on a pilgrimage to Cologne in 1955 to hang out with Stockhausen and take in the state of the art at the WDR Studio over a three week visit.
In the fall of 1955 the NHK followed the course charted by WDR and began to set up their studio in Tokyo. They acquired their own Monochord and Melochord alongside a collection of other oscillators, bandpass filters, tape machines, and the other gear that enabled Japan to start charting their own course in the world of avant-garde and electronic music.
Mayuzumi was quick to get to work and produced the first completely electronic music in Japan with his trilogy Music for Sine Waves by Proportion of Prime Number, Music for Modulated Waves by Proportion of Prime Number, and Invention for Square Waves and Sawtooth Waves. These investigations were directly influenced by Stockhausen’s Studie I and II. A year later in 1956 the laboratory in NHK had distilled its second piece of pure electronic music, Variations on the Numerical Principle of 7, by Mayuzumi and Moroi. For this piece the influence of Studie II was acutely copied, though with a different numerical basis, as here it was based on a scale of 49/7, divided into 49 tones up to the seventh overtone.
After these initial inquiries and treatments in the studio where the composers followed the lead of their European counterparts things started to move off in directions more thoroughly Japanese. Mayuzumi created the thirty minute Aoi-no-Ue based on a traditional Noh play from the Muromachi period (15th century). Noh singing is combined with electronics in place of the normal instruments and drums to create a unique 20th century version of the material.
In 1959 Mayuzumi started to explore the sonorities of traditional Japanese bells in his compositions. This resulted in a series of pieces with Campanology in the title. He started this work by recording the sounds of the huge bells found at Buddhist temples all over Japan. He acoustically analyzed the sound of these bells and then made his first Campanology, a 10-minute piece synthesized from the data retrieved from his recordings. In his Nirvana Symphony he called the first, third and fifth movements by this name. Later in 1967 when the NHK equipped an 88-string piano with magnets and pickups that could be electronically modulated, he wrote the first piece for it, Campanology for Multipiano.
The NHK continued to produce a variety of works by a number of composers throughout the 1950s and into the next decade. Wataru Uenami had been the chief of the studio from its beginning and he had always wanted to invite Stockhausen over to and commission him to create works for their airwaves. He finally succeeded in this endeavor and brought him over in January of 1966, four years after Stockhausen had himself taken over as director of the WDR studio from Herbert Eimert.
When he arrived in Japan Karlheinz was severely jet lagged and disoriented. For several days he couldn’t sleep. That’s when the strange hallucinatory visions set in. Laying awake in bed one night his mind was flooded with ideas of "technical processes, formal relationships, pictures of the notation, of human relationships, etc.—all at once and in a network too tangled up to be unraveled into one process.” These musings of the night took on a life of their own and from them he created Telemusik.
Of Stockhausen’s many ambitions, one of them was to make a unified music for the whole planet. He was able to do that in this piece, though the results sounded nothing like the “world music” or “world beat” genre often found playing in coffee houses and gift shops. In the twenty minutes of the piece he mixed in found sounds, folk songs and ritual music from all over the world including the countries Hungary, Spain, China, Japan, the Amazons, Sahara, Bali and Vietnam. He also used new electronic sounds and traditional Japanese instruments to create what he called "a higher unity…a universality of past, present, and future, of different places and spaces: TELE-MUSIK." This practice of taking and combining sound sources from all over is now widely practiced across all genres of music in the form of sampling. But for Karlheinz it wasn’t simply making audio collage or taking one sample to build a song around it. Even though he used samples from existing recordings to make something different, he also developed a new audio process that he termed intermodulation.
In his own words he speaks of the difference between collage and intermodulation. “I didn’t want a collage, I wanted to find out if I could influence the traits of an existing kind of music, a piece of characteristic music using the traits of other music. Then I found a new modulation technique, with which I could modulate the melody curve of a singing priest with electronic timbres, for example. In any case, the abstract sound material must dominate, otherwise the result is really mishmash, and the music becomes arbitrary. I don’t like that.” For example he used "the chant of monks in a Japanese temple with Shipibo music from the Amazon, and then further imposing a rhythm of Hungarian music on the melody of the monks. In this way, symbiotic things can be generated, which have never before been heard"
Stockhausen kept the pitch range of Telemusik piece deliberately high, between 6 and 12 kHz. This is so that the intermodulation can project sounds downwards occasionally. He wanted some of the sections to seem “far away because the ear cannot analyse it” and then abruptly it would enter “the normal audible range and suddenly became understandable". The title of the piece comes from Greek tele, "afar, far off", as in "telephone" or "television". The music works consistently to bring what was “distant” close up. Cultures which were once far away from each other can now be seen up close, brought together by the power of telecommunications systems, new media formats, new music. By using recordings of traditional folk and ritual music from around the world Stockhausen brought the past into the future and mixed it with electronics.
To accomplish all this at the NHK studio he used a 6-track tape machine and a number of signal processors including high and low-pass filters, amplitude modulators and other existing equipment. Stockhausen also designed a few new circuits for use in the composition. One of these was the Gagaku Circuit named after the Japanese Gagaku orchestra music it was designed to modulate. It used 2 ring-modulators in series to create double ring-modulation mixes of the sampled sounds.12 kHz was used in both the 1st and 2nd ring-modulation, with a glissando in the 2nd ring modulation stage. Then music was frequency-filtered in different stages at 6 kHz and 5.5 kHz.
Writer Ed Chang explains the effect of the Gagaku Circuit: “For example, in one scenario the 1st ring modulation A used a very high 12 kHz sine-wave base frequency, resulting in a very high-pitched buzzing texture (for example, a piano note of A, or 0.440 kHz, would become a high 12.440 kHz and 11.560 kHz).The 2nd ring-mod B base frequency (in this case with a slight glissando variation on the same 12 kHz base frequency) has the effect of ‘demodulating’ the signal (bringing it back down to near A). This demodulated signal is also frequency filtered to accentuate low frequencies (dark sound).These 2 elements (high buzzing from the 1st signal and low distorted sounds from the 2nd) are intermittently mixed together with faders. By varying the 2 ring-mod base frequencies and the 3 frequency filters, different effects could be achieved. This process of modulation and demodulation is what Stockhausen means when he says he was able to ‘reflect a few parts downwards’.”
The first public performance of Telemusik took place at the NHK studios in Tokyo on April 25th, 1966. He dedicated the score to the spirit of the Japanese people.
After Stockhausen’s visit the experimental music germ continued to spread, and the composers who were already in on the game challenged themselves with bolder, more technical and ambitious pieces.
Telemusik prepared Stockhausen for his next monumental undertaking, Hymnen (Anthem) made at the WDR studio. The piece had already been started before Telemusik but he had to set it aside while in Japan. Hymnen is a mesmerizing elaboration of the studio technique of intermodulation first mastered at NHK. It is also a continuation of his quest to make a form of world music at a time when the people around the planet were becoming increasingly connected in McLuhan’s global village. To achieve this goal, he incorporated forty national anthems from around the globe into one composition. To start, he collected 137 national anthems by writing to radio stations in those countries and asking them to send recordings to the WDR in Germany.
The piece has four sections though it was first slated for six. The last two never materialized. These anthems from around the world are intermodulated into an intricate web of sound lasting around two hours long. Thrown into the kaleidoscopic mix are all manner of other sounds produced from the entire toolkit of the WDR studio, alongside added sounds from shortwave radio. These radio sounds make the entire recording sound as if you are tuning across the bands of a world receiver radio, and hearing the anthems of different countries as interval signals, colliding with each other, and causing transformations as the two signals meet. In the audio spectrum and in the radio spectrum borders and boundaries are porous, permeable.
The point of all this is, in Stockhausen words, “to imagine the conception of modulating an African style with a Japanese style, in the process of which the styles would not be eliminated in order to arrive at a supra-style or a uniform international style - which, in my opinion, would be absurd. Rather, during this process, the original, the unique, would actually be strengthened and in addition, transformations of the one into the other, and above all two given factors in relation to a third would be composed. The point is to find compositional processes of confrontations and mixtures of style - of intermodulations - in which styles are not simply mixed together into a hodge podge, but rather in which different characters modulate each other and through this elevate each other and sharpen their originality."
As with Telemusik, his aim was to go beyond what he thought of as mere collage, or what in the early 2000s might have been called a mash-up. The combination of the different materials is only the first step. When each of the elements interacts with another, it ends up being transformed, changed by the association, and something new is distilled from the alembic of creativity.
Just as Hymnen mixes different anthems together, it also fuses musique concrete with electronic music. Hymnen can be heard as just this recorded tape piece, but he also wrote a symphony version where the tape is played by a sound projector (or diffusionist) with a score for the accompanying orchestra. This shows his tenacity in using all manner of music making tools, and intermodulating these with one another.
Hymnen ends with a new anthem for a utopian realm called "Hymunion," a mixture of the words Hymn and Union. Perhaps Hymunion can be reached through the shared communion that comes from truly listening to each other.
Gyorgi Ligeti was born in Transylvania, Romania in 1923 into a Hungarian Jewish family. His parents were both doctors. He was the great-grand nephew of violinist Leopold Auer, and his second cousin with the philosopher Ágnes Heller. In 1940 the Northern Transylvania town of Kolozsvár (Cluj) his family lived in became a part of Hungary, and the next year he began his formal musical training in the local conservatory.
The events of WWII would not leave his family untouched for long. At the time Hungary had been a part of the axis powers, relying on fascist Italy and Germany for help to pull them out of economic plight caused by bank failures that had rippled through world during the Great Depression. In 1944 he was sent to a forced labor brigade by those inside the Horthy regime. His parents and sixteen year old brother suffered a worse fate, as all three were sent to the death camps, his parents to Auschwitz, and his brother to Mauthausen-Gusen. His mother was the only one to survive.
After the war was over, Ligeti was able to return to Budapest and take what solace he could in his musical pursuits and he graduated from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in 1949. Ligeti also spent some time doing ethnomusicological research into the folk music Hungarians in Transylvania, but eventually got a job at his alma mater teaching harmony, counterpoint and musical analysis.
Communications with those outside Eastern Bloc had been effectively stifled in the first half of the fifties when Ligeti was teaching. Communist Hungary was already putting restrictions on what was acceptable for his creativity. In 1956 there was an uprising against the People’s Republic, but it was quickly smashed down by the Soviets. In the aftermath he fled with his wife to Vienna, Austria and then made his way to Cologne where he met Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig. In the summer he attended the Darmstadt courses and started working in the WDR electronic music studio.
Ligeti, like the others in the Cologne milieu came under the influence of Werner Meyer-Eppler’s ideas and decided to write a work that would address “the age old question of the relationship between music and speech.” The piece was composed to be an imaginary conversation of multiple ongoing monologues, dialogues, many voices in arguments and chatter.
He first chose different types of noise to use to create artificial phonemes out of, made recordings, and grouped them into a number of categories. Then he made a formula to determine the tape-length of each type. After this he used aleatoric methods and took the different phonemes at random and combined them into what would become the sonic articulation of words. The work was realized in 1958 with the help of Cornelius Cardew (himself an assistant of Karlheinz Stockhausen). In it Ligeti created a kind of artificial polyglot language full of strange whispers, enunciations and utterance.
Artikulation was just one of many notable works produced at the WDR, which became a kind of ground zero for the subsequent explosion of electronic music and studios modeled on its image. Gottfried Michael Koenig was one of the technicians at the studio and composer who created many key pieces there, such as Klangfiguren II (1955), Essay (1957) and Terminus I (1962). Naim June Paik moved from Korea to Cologne in 1958 to work at the studio. While there he became interested in the use of televisions as a medium for making art, and he would go on to become a pioneer of video art. Cornelius Cardew and Holger Czukay all made use of the studio, among many others.
As the 1960s rolled into the 1970s new electronic music equipment became available and the place received a bit of an overhaul under Stockhausen’s direction. It was in this era that they obtained an EMS Synthi 100 as part of their laboratory set-up.
Read the rest of the Radio Phonics Laboratory: Telecommunications, Speech Synthesis and the Birth of Electronic.
Maconie, Robin. Other Planets: The Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen
Maconie, Robin. Stockhausen’s Electronic Studies I and II. 2015
The works of Karlheinz Stockhausen, by Robin Maconie, 2nd edition
A video of the 2001 performance of Gesang Der Junglinge can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmGIiBfWI0E
Music and Technology in Japan by Minao Shibata (article)
Telemusik CD Liner notes, Stockhausen Verlag Edition
Hymnen, Liner notes from Stockhausen edition
Holmes, Thom. Electronic and Experimental Music. Sixth Edition.
Music of the 20th Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook
Dr. Friedrich Trautwein the Radio Experimental Laboratory
The story of The Studio for Electronic Music at the WDR is linked to the earlier work of two German instrument makers, Dr. Friedrich Trautwein and Harold Bode. Two institutions were also critical precursors for the development of the technology around electronic music, the Heinrich Hertz Institute for Research on Oscillations and the Staatlich-akademische Hochschule für Musik. For the latter, in particular, the opening of its Rundfunkversuchstelle, or Radio Experimental Lab, will be briefly explored as they important in the history of radio and electronic music. The philosophical and aesthetic milieu surrounding what was called “electrical music” in Germany at the time, became one of the intellectual cornerstones from which the studio in Cologne was created.
Dr. Friedrich Trautwein was born on August 11, 1888 in Würzburg, Germany and became an engineer with strong musical leanings. After beginning an education in physics, he quit and turned his attentions to law, so he could work for the post office in the capacity of a patent lawyer, and protect intellectual properties around developments in radio technology. When WWI broke out he became the head of a military radio squadron. The experience cemented his love for communications technology. After the war ended he went on to receive a PhD in electrical engineering. Between 1922 and 1924 he got two patents under his belt, one for generating musical notes with electrical circuits. Trautwein then went to Berlin in 1923 where worked at the first German radio station, the Funk-Stunde AG Berlin.
On May 3, 1928 the the Staatlich-akademische Hochschule für Musik (State-Academic University of Music) opened their new department the Rundfunkversuchstelle (RVS) or the Radio Experimental Lab. One of their goals was of researching new directions and possibilities associated with the development of radio broadcasting. At the time in Germany, much thought was going into the way music was played and heard over the radio. There were many issues around noise and fidelity on early broadcasting equipment and receiver sets that made listening to symphonies, opera singers and other music not as pleasant to listen to when it came over the air. Some people thought it was because listening to a radio broadcast was just different from the way music was perceived when at a concert hall or music venue. These minds thought that a new form of music should be created specifically for the medium. This idea for a new musical aesthetic came to be known as rundfunkmusik, or radio-music and neue sachlichkeit, or the new objectivity. The RVS was in part established to explore the possibilities of radio-music.
In 1930 Trautwein was hired as a lecturer on the subject of electrical acoustics for the RVS. One of the other goals of the institution was to create new musical instruments that specifically catered to the needs of radio. An overarching goal was to create new tonalities that would electrify the airwaves and sing out in greater fidelity inside people’s homes on their receiving sets. It was at RVS that Trautwein collaborated with the composers Paul Hindemith, Georg Schünemann and the musician Oskar Sala to create his instrument the trautonioum. Another objective Trautwein had during his time at RVS was to analyze problems around the electronic reproduction and transmission of sound, like Harvey Fletcher and others had at Bell Labs. Unlike the people at Bell Labs, the RVS was specifically part of a music conservatory, and though they also had the goal of clarifying speech, they were very interested in electronic music. It took Bell Labs until the 1950s to get in on that game.
One of the aims of the trautonium was to be an instrument that could be used in the home among family members for what the Germans called hausmusik. They wanted it to be able to mimic the sounds of many other instruments in a way similar to an organ. To achieve this aim they worked with various resistors and capacitors and employed a glow lamp circuit to create the fundamental frequencies. Changes in resistance and capacitance on the circuit altered the frequency. Trautwein also added additional resonance circuits to his design that were tuned to different frequencies. He connected these to high and low pass filters that could then create formants with the sound. All this control over the sound led to the ability to create very unusual tonalities alongside the familiar and traditional.
Changes in tone color were made available with the turn of a dial. A new sound could be dialed in just as a new station could be listened to by turning the knob of radio. Tone color isn’t static either, but changes as the sound moves through time. This is the acoustical envelope of a sound, and Trautwein took this into consideration when designing his instrument.
In their search for rich tonalities Trautwein and his colleagues stumbled across the mystery of the vowels. Preceding Homer Dudley’s vocoder by eight years, it became the first instrument able to reproduce the sounds of the vowels. This led Trautwein and Sala to discover the many similarities that exist between vowel sounds and the timbre of a variety of instruments.
Trautwein compared the oscilliograms of spoken vowel formants with those played by the trautonium and found that they conformed to each other. “The trautonium is an electrical analogy of the sound creation of the human speech organs” he wrote in his 1930 paper Elektische Musik. “The scientific significance lies in the physico-phsyiological impression of the synthetically generated sounds compared with the timbre of numerous musical instruments and speech sounds. This suggests that the physical processes are related in many cases.”
For the first iteration of the instrument there were knobs for changing the formants and timbre, and a pedal for changing the volume. The process it used to change the tone color was an early form of subtractive synthesis that simply filtered down an already complex waveform, rather than building one up by adding sine waves together.
On June 20th 1930 a demonstration of the Trautonium was given at the New Music in Berlin festival. This was to be an “Electric Concert” and one of the main attractions was the premiere of Paul Hindemith’s Trio-Pieces written for the instrument. On one of the three instruments Hindemith himself played the top part with Trautwein and Oskar Sala playing the middle voice. A piano-teacher named Rudolph Schmidt played the bass portion.
A commercial version of the instrument, dubbed the Volkstrautonium, was manufactured and distributed by the German radio equipment company Telefunken starting in 1932, but it was expensive and difficult to learn to play, and so remained unpopular. The company managed to only sell about two a year, and so by 1938 the product was discontinued. Composers remained were somewhat interested in its abilities and Hindemith, who had acted as an advisor to Trautwein, wrote the Concertina for Trautonium and Orchestra in 1940.
Oskar Sala became a virtuoso on the instrument and would play compositions by Niccolò Paganini on it. In time, he took over the further development of the trautonium and created his his own variations- the Mixtur-Trautonium, The Concert-Trautonium and the Radio – Trautonium. He continued to champion it until his death in 2002. Famously, the sound of the birds in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie of the same name is not sourced from real birds, but come from the Mixtur-Trautonium as played by Sala.
In 1935 the RVS was shutdown by Joseph Goebbels, but it did not disappear entirely as its various elements were diffused into different parts of the music school. After WWII, Trautwein had a hard time getting a job because he had been a card-carrying Nazi. He did build a few more instruments, including the Amplified Harpischord in 1936 and the Electronic Bells in 1947. A modified version of the original Trautonium called the Monochord (not to be confused with the stringed instrument and learning tool of the same name) was purchased by the Electronic Music Studio at the WDR in 1951, as detailed below. His later legacy was to create the first sound engineering programs in Dusseldorf in 1952.
Harold Bode and the Heinrich Hertz Institute for Research on Oscillations
Harold Bode was the next instrument maker to place his stamp upon the Electronic Music Studio at WDR, and later added a few flourishes to the work done at the Columbia-Princeton Center for Electronic Music. He was born the son of a pipe organ player, and in his own time became an inventor of musical instruments. He had studied mathematics, physics and natural philosophy at Hamburg University. His first instrument was the Warbo-Formant Organ in 1937, a completely electronic polyphonic formant organ. New sounds could be created on it by simply adjusting its half-rotary and stop knobs.
Bode’s next step for further education was the Heinrich-Hertz-Institut für Schwingungsforschungin or the Heinrich Hertz Institute for Research in Oscillations (HHI), located in Berlin where he went for his postgraduate studies. At the time the HHI had a focus on the following subjects: high frequency radio technology, telephony and telegraphy, acoustics and mechanics. The research done at the HHI had a focus on radio, television, sound-movie technology, architectural acoustics and the new field of electronic music. The HHI, like the RVS, was interested in developing and promoting the idea of electronic music and radio-music.
It was in this phase that Bode developed his Melodium, alongside his collaborators Oskar Vierling and Fekko von Ompteda. The Melodium was a touch-sensitive monophonic yet multi-timbral instrument that became popular with film score composers of the era. Since it was monophonic, it presented fewer problems with tuning than had his wobbly Warbo-Formant Organ. Feeling inspired by his achievement, Bode then decided that creating electronic musical instruments would be “the task of my life time.”
His dream was put on hold when WWII broke out in 1939. Despite the dire conflict, and the spiritual sickness at work in his country, Bode counted himself lucky for being able to go into the electronics industry. The only other choice was active military duty. He still did make things for the German project, but he wasn’t a foot soldier, and worked on their submarine sound and wireless communications efforts.
In the aftermath of WWII he was newly married and moved from Berlin to a small village in southern Germany where he tinkered on his next invention up in the attic lab of the home where he had started a family. The result was the first iteration of the Melochord in 1947.
The Melochord was a two-tone melody keyboard instrument. Its most interesting features were the controls for shaping formants that included various filters to attenuate the sound, ring modulation for harmonics, and the ability to generate white noise and apply attack and decay envelopes. The Melochord was promoted on the radio and in the newspapers, where it was praised for its clear and resonant tones.
Werner Meyer-Eppler got wind of the Melochord and started to use it in his experiments at the Bonn. There was a lot of skill that went into playing the Melochord, and while Meyer-Eppler experimented, Bode set his sights on making a more user friendly version called the Polychord that became that first in a series synthesis type organs that Bodes took on his path of continued electronic creation.
Genesis of the Studio for Electronic Music
Just as the GRM had been built around a philosophy of the transformation of sound, so too was the Studio for Electronic Music of the West German Radio (WDR) built around a philosophy of the synthesis of sound. Werner Meyer-Eppler was the architect of the strategies to be employed in this laboratory, and the blueprint was his book, Elektronische Klangerzeugung: Elektronische Musik und Synthetische Sprache (Electronic Sound Generation: Electronic Music and the Synthetic Speech). This philosophy placed the emphasis on building up the sounds from scratch, out of oscillators and lab equipment. This was in contrast to the metamorphic, transformational approach purveyed by Schaeffer and Henry with musique concrete. Tape, however, remained an essential lifeblood for both studios.
Meyer-Eppler was still lecturing at the Institute for Phonetics and Communication Research of Bonn University while he wrote his book. In his book he had made an inventory of the electronic musical instruments which had so far been developed. Then Meyer-Eppler experimented at the Bonn with what became a basic electronic music process, composing music directly onto tape. One of the instruments Meyer-Eppler had used in his experiments was Harold Bode’s Melochord, and he also used vocoders. He encouraged his students to hear the sounds from the vocoder mixed with the sounds from the Melochord as a new kind of music.
The genesis of the Studio for Electronic Music came in part from the transmission and recording of a late-night radio program about electronic music on October 18, 1951. A meeting of minds was held in regards to the program broadcast on the Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk. At the meeting were Meyer-Eppler, and his colleagues Herbert Eimert, and Robert Beyer among others. Beyer had long been a proponent of a music oriented more towards its timbre than other considerations. Eimert was a composer and musicologist who had published a book on atonal music in the 1920s while still at school at the Cologne University of Music. He had also written a twelve-tone string quartet as part of his composition examination. For these troubles, his teacher Franz Bölsche had Eimert expelled him from the class. Eimert was devout when it came to noise, twelve tone music and serialism and he became a relentless advocate who organized concerts, events, radio shows and wrote numerous articles on this subject of his passion. He eventually did graduate with a doctorate in musicology in 1931 despite the attempts by Bölsche to thwart his will. Fritz Enkel who had also been at the meeting, was a skilled technician, and he designed a framework around which a studio for electronic music could be built. The station manager, Hans Hartmann, heard a report of the meeting and gave the go ahead to establish an electronic music studio.
Creating such a studio would give national prestige to Western Germany. After the war Western Germany took great pains to be seen as culturally progressive, and having a place where the latest musical developments could be explored and created by their artists was a part of showing to the world that they were moving forward. Another reason to develop the studio was to use its output for broadcasting. At the time WDR was the largest and wealthiest broadcaster in West Germany and they could use their pool of funds to create something that would have been cost prohibitive for most private individuals and companies.
Before they even got the equipment, when they felt the studio might not even get off the ground and become a reality, they made a demonstration piece to broadcast and show the possibilities of what else might be able to be achieved. Studio technician Heinz Schütz was tapped to make this happen, even though he didn’t consider himself a composer or musician. The fact that a non-musician was the first to demonstrate the potential of making music in an electronic studio is apropos of the later development of the field when people like Joe Meek and Brian Eno, who also didn’t call themselves musicians, none-the-less made amazing music with the studio as their instrument. The piece by Schütz was titled Morgenröte (The Red of Dawn) to signify the beginning of their collective efforts. The piece was made with limited means, using just what they had available, and its producer considered its creation to be at most, accidental.
The piece by Schütz was typical of what came out of the studio before funding was secured. They didn’t have much to work with except tape, test equipment, and recordings of Meyer-Eppler’s previous work with the Melochord and vocoders. Eimert and Beyer “remixed” these experiments while they got their set-up established. The process of working with the tapes and test equipment gave them the experience and confidence they needed for further work in their laboratory of sound creation.
Eimert and Beyer eventually put together some other sound studies as the studio came together piece by piece. These largely followed a “pure audio criteria” and were premiered at the Neues Musikfest (New Music Festival) presentation on May 26, 1953 at the broadcasting studio of the Cologne Radio Centre. The event marked the official opening of the WDR studio. Put together quickly, the pieces played did not live up to the standards Eimert had set for the studio, and this caused a falling out between him and Beyer, who thought they were adequate enough. The next year Beyer resigned.
Eventually Bode’s Melochords and Trautwein’s Monochord were acquired, and each was modified specifically for use in the studio. Once in place the studio really got cooking. Next to these they used electronic laboratory equipment such as noise and signal generators, sine wave oscillators, band pass filters, octave filters, and pulse and ring modulators, among others. Oscilliscopes were used to look at sounds. Mixers were used to blend them together. There was a four-track tape recorder they used to synchronize sounds that had been recorded separately and join them in musical union. It could be used to overdub sounds on top of each over as one tape was being copied to another, a then-new technique developed from Meyer-Eppler’s ideas. The mixer had a total of sixteen channels divided into two groups of eight. There was a remote control to operate the four track and the attached octave filter. A cross-plug busbar panel served as a central locus where all the other inputs and outputs met. Connections could be switched with ease between instruments and sound sources, as if one were transferring a call at a telephone switchboard.
Soon one of the early pieces of electronic music was transmuted from the raw electrons forged within its crucible of equipment into an enduring classic that showcased Karlheinz Stockhausen’s burgeoning genius.
Read the rest of the Radio Phonics Laboratory: Telecommunications, Speech Synthesis and the Birth of Electronic.
Schütz, Heinz, Gottfried Michael Koenig, Konrad Boehmer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Ligeti, Mauricio Kagel, and Rolf Gehlhaar. 2002. "Erinnerungen 2: Studio für Elektronische Musik". In Musik der Zeit, 1951–2001: 50 Jahre Neue Musik im WDR—Essays, Erinnerungen, Dokumentation, edited by Frank Hilberg and Harry Vogt, 147–54. Hofheim: Wolke.
[Read Part I]
Milton Babbit: The Musical Mathematician
Though Milton Babbitt was late to join the party started by Luening and Ussachevsky, his influence was deep. Born in 1916 in Philadelphia to a father who was a mathematician, he became one of the leading proponents of total serialism. He had started playing music as a young child, first violin and then piano, and later clarinet and saxophone. As a teen he was devoted to jazz and other popular forms of music, which he started to write before he was even a teenager. One summer on a trip to Philadelphia with his mother to visit her family, he met his uncle who was a pianist studying music at Curtis. His uncle played him one of Schoenberg’s piano compositions and the young mans mind was blown.
Babbitt continued to live and breathe music, but by the time he graduated high school he felt discouraged from pursuing it as his calling, thinking there would be no way to make a living as a musician or composer. He also felt torn between his love of writing popular song and the desire to write serious music that came to him from his initial encounter with Schoenberg. He did not think the two pursuits could co-exist. Unable or unwilling to decide he went in to college specializing in math. After two years of this his father helped convince him to do what he loved, and go to school for music.
At New York University he became further enamored with the work of Schoenberg, who became his absolute hero, and the Second Viennese School in general. In this time period he also got to know Edgar Varese who lived in a nearby apartment building. Following his degree at NYU at the age of nineteen, he started studying privately with composer Roger Sessions at Princeton University. Sessions had started off as a neoclassicist, but through his friendship with Schoenberg did explore twelve tone techniques, but just as another tool he could use and modify to suit his own ends. From Sessions he learned the technique of Schenkerian analysis, a method which uses harmony, counterpoint and tonality to find a broader sense and a deeper understanding of a piece of music. One of the other methods Sessions used to teach his students was to have them choose a piece, and then write a piece that was in a different style, but used all the same structural building blocks.
Sessions got a job from the University of Princeton to form a graduate program in music, and it was through his teacher, that Babbitt eventually got his Masters from the institution, and in 1938 joined the faculty. During the war years he got pressed into service as a mathematician doing classified work and divided his time between Washington D.C., and back at Princeton teaching math to those who would need for doing work such being as radar technicians. During this time he took a break from composing, but music never left his mind, and he started focusing on doing musical thought experiments, with a focus on aspects of rhythm. It was during this time period when he thought deeply on music that he thoroughly internalized Schoenbergs system. After the war was over he went back to his hometown of Jackson and wrote a systematic study of the Schoenberg system, “The Function of Set Structure in the Twelve Tone System.” He submitted the completed work to Princeton as his doctoral thesis. Princeton didn’t give out doctorals in music, only in musicology, and his complex thesis wasn’t accepted until eight years after his retirement from the school in 1992.
His thesis and his other extensive writings on music theory expanded upon Schoenberg’s methods and formalized the twelve tone, “dodecaphonic”, system. The basic serialist approach was take the twelve notes of the western scale and put them into an order called a series, hence the name of the style. It was called a tone row as well. Babbitt saw that the series could be used to order not only the pitch, but dynamics, timbre, duration and other elements. This led him to pioneering “total serialism” which was later taken up in Europe such as Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messiaen, among others.
Babbitt treated music as field for specialist research and wasn’t very concerned with what the average listener thought of his compositions. This had its pluses and minuses. On the plus side it allowed him to explore his mathematical and musical creativity in an open-ended way and see where it took him, without worrying about having to please an audience. On the minus side, not keeping his listeners in mind, and his ivory tower mindset, kept him from reaching people beyond the most serious devotees of abstract art music. This tendency was an interesting counterpoint from his years as teenager when he was an avid writer of pop songs and played in every jazz ensemble he could. Babbitt had thought of Schoenberg’s work as being “hermetically sealed music by a hermetically sealed man.” He followed suit in his own career. In this respect Babbitt can be considered as a true Castalian intellectual, and Glass Bead Game player. Within the Second Viennese School there was an idea, a thread taken from both 19th century romanticism and adapted from the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, that music provides access to spiritual truth. Influenced by this milieu Babbitt’s own music can be read and heard as connecting the players and listeners to a platonic realm of pure number.
Modernist art had already moved into areas that many people did not care about. And while Babbitt was under no illusion that he ever saw his work being widely celebrated or popular, as an employee of the university, he had to make the case that music was in itself a scientific discipline. Music could be explored with the rigors of science, and that it could be made using formal mathematical structures. Performances of this kind of new music was aimed at other researchers in the field, not at a public who would not understand what they were listening to without education. Babbitt’s approach rejected a common practice, in favor of what would become the new common practice: many different ways of investigating, playing, working with and composing music that go off in different directions.
During WWII Babbitt had met John Van Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Studies. His association with Neumann caused Babbitt to realize that the time wasn’t far off when humans would be using computers to assist them with their compositional work. Unlike some of the other composers who became interested in electronic music, Babbitt wasn’t interested in new timbres. He thought the novelty of them was quick to wear off. He was interested in how electronic technology might enhance human capability with regards to rhythms.
In 1957 Luening and Ussachevsky wrote up a long report for the Rockefeller Foundation of all that they had learned and gathered so far as pioneers in the field. They included in the report another idea: the creation of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. There was no place like it within the United States. In a spirit of synergy the Mark I was given a new home at the CPEMC by RCA. This made it easier for Babbitt, Luening, Ussachevsky and the others to work with the machine. It would however soon have a younger, more capable brother nicknamed Victor, the RCA Mark II, built with additional specifications as requested by Ussachevsky and Babbitt.
There were a number of improvements that came with Victor. The number of oscillators, had been doubled for starters. Since tape was the main medium of the new music, it also made sense that Victor should be able to output to tape instead of the lathe discs. Babbitt was able to convince the engineers to fit it out with multi-track tape recording on four tracks. Victor also received a second tape punch input, a new bank of vacuum tube oscillators, noise generating capabilities, additional effect processes, and a range of other controls.
Conlon Nancarrow, who was also interested in rhythm as an aspect of his composition, bypassed the issue of getting players up to speed with complex and fast rhythms by writing works for player-piano, punching the compositions literally on the roll. Nancarrow had also studied under Roger Sessions, and he and Babbitt knew each other in the 1930s. Though Nancarrow worked mostly in isolation during the 1940s and 1950s in Mexico City, only later gaining critical recognition in the 1970s and onwards, it is almost certain that Babbitt would have at least been tangentially aware of his work composing on punched player piano rolls. Nancarrow did use player pianos that he had altered slightly to increase their dynamic range, but they still had the all the acoustic limitations of the instrument.
Babbitt, on the other hand, found himself with a unique instrument capable of realizing his vision for a complex, maximalist twelve-tone music that was made available to him through the complex input of the punched paper reader on the RCA Mark II and it’s ability to do multitrack recording. This gave him the complete compositional control he had long sought after. For Babbitt, it wasn’t so much the new timbres that could be created with the synth that interested him as much as being able to execute a score exactly in all parameters. His Composition for Synthesizer (1961-1963) became a showcase piece, not only for Babbitt, but for Victor as well. His masterpiece Philomel (1963-1964) saw the material realized on the synth accompanied by soprano singer Bethany Beardslee and subsequently became his most famous work. In 1964 he also created Composition for Synthesizer. All of these are unique in the respect that none of them featured the added effects that many of the other composers using the CPEMC availed themselves of; these were outside the gambit of his vision.
Phonemena for voice and synthesizer from 1975 is a work whose text is made up entirely of phonemes. Here he explores a central preoccupation of electronic music, the nature of speech. It features twenty-four consonants and twelve vowel sounds. As ever with Babbitt, these are sung in a number of different combinations, with musical explorations focusing on pitch and dynamics.
A teletype keyboard was attached directly to the long wall of electronics that made up the synth. It was here the composer programmed her or his inventions by punching the tape onto a roll of perforated paper that was taken into Victor and made into music. The code for Victor was binary and controlled settings for frequency, octave, envelope, volume and timbre in the two channels. A worksheet had been devised that transposed musical notation to code. In a sense, creating this kind of music was akin to working in encryption, or playing a glass bead game where on kind of knowledge or form of art, was connected to another via punches in a matrix grid.
Wired for Wireless
Babbitt’s works were just a few of the many distilled from the CPEMC. Not all were as obsessed with complete compositional control as Babbitt, and utilized the full suite of processes available at the studio, from the effects units to create their works, and their works were plenti-ful. The CPEMC released more recorded electronic music out into the world than from anywhere else in North America.
During the first few years of its operation, from 1959 to 1961 the capabilities of studio were explored by Egyptian-American composer and ethnomusicologist Halim El-Dabh, who had been the first to remix recorded sounds using the effects then available to him at Middle East Radio in Cairo. He had come to the United States with his family on a Fulbright fellowship in 1948 and proceeded to study music under such composers as Ernst Krenek and Aaron Copland, among a number of others. In time he settled in Demarest, New Jersey. El-Dabh quickly became a fixture in the new music scene in New York, running in the same circles as Henry Cowell, Jon Cage, and Edgard Varèse.
By 1955 El-Dabh had gotten acquainted with Luening and Ussachevsky. At this point his first composition for wire recorder was eleven years behind him, and he had kept up his experi-mentation in the meantime. Though he had been assimilated into the American new music milieu, he came from outside the scenes in both his adopted land the and European avantgarde. As he had with the Elements of Zaar, El-Dabh brought his love of folk music into the fold. His work at the CPEMC showcased his unique combinations that involved his extensive use of percussion and string sounds, singing and spoken word, alongside the electronics. He also availed himself of Victor and made extensive use of the synthesizer. In 1959 alone he produced eight works at CPEMC. These included his realization of Leiyla and the Poet, an electronic drama.
El-Dabh had said of his process that it, "comes from interacting with the material. When you are open to ideas and thoughts the music will come to you." His less abstract, non-mathematical creations remain an enjoyable counterpoint to the cerebral enervations of his col-leagues. A few of the other pieces he composed while working the studio include Meditation in White Sound, Alcibiadis' Monologue to Socrates, Electronics and the World and Venice.
El-Dabh influenced such musical luminaries as Frank Zappa and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, his fellow CPEMC composer Alice Shields, and west-coast sound-text poet and KPFA broadcaster and music director Charles Amirkhanian.
In 1960 Ussachevsky received a commission from a group of amateur radio enthusiasts, the De Forest Pioneers, to create a piece in tribute to their namesake. In the studio Vladimir composed something evocative of the early days of radio and titled it "Wireless Fantasy". He recorded morse code signals tapped out by early radio guru Ed G. Raser on an old spark generator in the W2ZL Historical Wireless Museum in Trenton, New Jersey. Among the signals used were: QST; DF the station ID of Manhattan Beach Radio, a well known early broadcaster with a range from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean; WA NY for the Waldorf-Astoria station that started transmitting in 1910; and DOC DF, De Forests own code nickname. The piece ends suitably with AR, for end of mes-sage, and GN for good night. Woven into the various wireless sounds used in this piece are strains of Wagner's Parsifal, treated with the studio equipment to sound as if it were a shortwave transmis-sion. In his first musical broadcast Lee De Forest had played a recording of Parsifal, then heard for the first time outside of Germany.
From 1960 to 1961 Edgard Varese utilized the studio to create a new realization of the tape parts for his masterpiece Deserts. He was assisted in this task by Max Mathews from the nearby Bell Laboratories, and the Turkish-born Bulent Arel who came to the United States on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to work at CPEMC. Arel composed his Stereo Electronic Music No. 1 and 2 with the aid of the CPEMC facilities. Daria Semegen was a student of Arel’s who composed her work Electronic Composition No. 1 at the studio. There were numerous other composers, some visiting, others there as part of their formal education who came and went through the halls and walls of the CPEMC. Lucio Berio worked there, as did Mario Davidovsky, Charles Dodge, and Wendy Carlos just to name a few.
Modulation in the Key of Bode
Engineer and instrument inventor Harold Bode made contributions to CPEMC just as he had at WDR. He had come to the United States in 1954, setting up camp in Brattleboro, Ver-mont where he worked in the lead development team at the Etsey Organ Corporation, eventually climbing up to the position of Vice President. In 1958 he set up his own company, the Bode Electronics Corporation, as a side project in addition to his work at Etsey.
Meanwhile Peter Mauzey had become the first director of engineering at CPEMC. Mauzey was able to customize a lot of the equipment and set up the operations so it became a comfortable place for composers. When he wasn’t busy tweaking the systems in the studio, Mauzey taught as an adjunct professor at Columbia University, all while also doing working en-gineer work at Bell Labs in New Jersey. Robert Moog happened to be one of Mauzey’s students while at Columbia, under whom he continued to develop his considerable electrical chops, even while never setting foot in the studio his teacher had helped build.
Bode left to join the Wurlitzer Organ Co. in Buffalo, New York when it hit rough waters and ran around 1960. It was while working for Wurlitzer that Bode realized the power the new transistor chips represented for making music. Bode got the idea that a modular instrument could be built, whose different components would then be connected together as needed. The instrument born from his idea was the Audio System Synthesiser. Using it, he could connect a number of different devices, or modules, in different ways to create or modify sounds. These included the basic electronic music components then in production: ring modulators, filters, re-verb generators and other effects. All of this could then be recorded to tape for further pro-cessing.
Bode gave a demonstration of his instrument at the Audio Engineering Society in New York, in 1960. Robert Moog was there to take in the knowledge and the scene. He became in-spired by Bodes ideas and and this led to his own work in creating the Moog.
In 1962 Bode started to collaborate with Vladimir Ussachevsky at the CPEMC. Working with Ussachevsky he developed ‘Bode Ring Modulator’ and ‘Bode Frequency Shifter’. These became staples at the CPEMC and were produced under both the Bode Sound Co. and licensed to Moog for inclusion in his modular systems. All of these effects became widely used in elec-tronic music studios, and in popular music from those experimenting with the moog in the 1960s.
In 1974 Bode retired, but kept on tinkering on his own. In 1977 he created the Bode Vo-coder, which he also licensed to Moog, and in 1981 invented his last instrument the Bode Bar-berpole Phaser.
.:. .:. .:.
Read part I.
Read the rest of the Radiophonic Laboratory: Telecommunications, Electronic Music, and the Voice of the Ether.
Holmes, Thom. Electronic and Experimental Music. Sixth Edition.
Music of the 20th Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook
Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center 10th Anniversary, New World Records, Liner Notes, NWCRL268 , Original release date: 1971-01-01
Babbitt, Milton. Words About Music. University of Wisconsin Press. 1987
Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky
In America the laboratories for electronic sound took a different path of development and first emerged out of the Universities and the private research facility of Bell Labs. It was a group of composers at Columbia and Princeton who had banded together to build the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (CPEMC), the oldest dedicated place for making electronic music in the United States. Otto Luening, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Milton Babbit and Roger Sessions all had their fingers on the switches in creating the studio.
Otto Luening was born in 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to parents who had emigrated from Germany. His father was a conductor and composer and his mother a singer, though not in a professional capacity. His family moved back to Europe when he was twelve, and he ended up studying music in Munich. At age seventeen he went to Switzerland and it was at the Zurich Conservatory where he came into contact with futurist composer Ferruccio Busoni. Busoni was himself a devotee of Bernard Ziehn and his “enharmonic law.” This law stated that “every chord tone may become the fundamental.” Luening picked this up and was able to put it under his belt.
Luening eventually went back to America and worked at a slew of different colleges, and began to advocate on behalf of the American avant-garde. This led him to assisting Henry Cowell with the publication of the quarterly New Music. He also took over from Cowell New Music Quarterly Recordings which put out seminal recordings from those inside the new music scene. It was 1949 when he went to Columbia where for a position on the staff in the philosophy department and it was there he met Vladimir Ussachevsky.
Ussachevsky had been born in Manchuria in 1911 to Russian parents. In his early years he was exposed to the music of the Russian Orthodox Church and a variety of piano music, as well as the sounds from the land where he was born. He gravitated to the piano and gained experience as a player in restaurants and as an improviser providing the live soundtrack to silent films. In 1930 he emigrated to the United States, went to various schools, served in the army during WWII, and eventually ended up under the wing of Otto Luening as a postdoctoral student at Columbia University, where he in turn ended up becoming a professor.
In 1951 Ussachevsky convinced the music department to buy a professional Ampex tape recorder. When it arrived it sat in its box for a time, and he was apprehensive about opening it up and putting it to use. “A tape-recorder was, after all, a device to reproduce music, and not to assist in creating it,” he later said in recollection of the experience. When he finally did start to play with the tape recorder, the experiments began as he figured out what it was capable of doing, first using it to transpose piano pitches.
Peter Mauzey was an electrical engineering student who worked at the university radio station WKCR, and he and Ussachevsky got to talking one day. Mauzey was able to give some technical pointers for using the tape recorder. In particular he showed him how to create feedback by making a tape loop that ran over two playback heads, and helped him get it set up. The possibilities inherent in tape opened up a door for Ussachevsky, and he became enamored of the medium, well before he’d ever heard of what Pierre Schaeffer and what his crew were doing in France, or what Stockhausen and company were doing in Germany.
Some of these first pieces that Ussachevsky created were presented at a Composers Forum concert in the McMillan Theater on May 9, 1952. The following summer Ussachevsky presented some of his tape music at another composers conference in Bennington, Vermont. He was joined by Luening in these efforts. Luening was a flute player, and they used tape to transpose his playing into pitches impossible for an unaided human, and added further effects such as echo and reverb.
After these demonstrations Luening got busy working with the tape machine himself and started composing a series of new works at Henry Cowell’s cottage in Woodstock, New York, where he had brought up the tape recorders, microphones, and a couple of Mauzey’s devices. These included his Fantasy in Space, Low Speed, and Invention in Twelve Tones. Luening also recorded parts for Ussachevsky to use in his tape composition, Sonic Contours.
In November of 1952 Leopold Stokowski premiered these pieces, along with ones by Ussachevsky, in a concert at the Museum of Modern Art, placing them squarely in the experimental tradition and helping the tape techniques to be seen as a new medium for music composition. Thereafter, the rudimentary equipment that was the seed material from which the CPEMC would grow, moved around from place to place. Sometimes it was in New York City, at other times Bennington or at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. There was no specific space and home for the equipment.
The Louisville Orchestra wanted to get in on the new music game and commissioned Luening to write a piece for them to play. He agreed and brought Ussachevsky along to collaborate with him on the work which became the first composition for tape-recorder and orchestra. To fully realize it they needed additional equipment: two more tape-recorders and a filter, none of which were cheap in the 1950s, so they secured funding through the Rockefeller Foundation. After their work was done in Louisville all of the gear they had so far acquired was assembled in Ussachevsky’s apartment where it remained for three years. It was at this time in 1955 they sought a permanent home for the studio, and sought the help of Grayson Kirk, president of Columbia to secure a dedicated space at the university. He was able to help and put them in a small two-story house that had once been part of the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane and was slated for demolition.
Here they produced works for an Orson Welles production of King Lear, and the compositions Metamorphoses and Piece for Tape Recorder. These efforts paid off when they garnered the enthusiasm of historian and professor Jacques Barzun who championed their efforts and gained further support. With additional aid from Kirk, Luening and Ussachevsky eventually were given a stable home for their studio inside the McMillin Theatre.
Having heard about what was going on in the studios of Paris and Germany the pair wanted to check them out in person, see what they could learn and possibly put to use in their own fledgling studio. They were able to do this on the Rockefeller Foundation’s dime. When they came back, they would soon be introduced to a machine, who in its second iteration, would go by the name of Victor.
The Microphonics of Harry F. Olson
One of Victor’s fathers was a man named Harry Olson (1901-1982), a native of Iowa who had the knack. He became interested in electronics and all things technical at an early age. He was encouraged by his parents who provided the materials necessary to build a small shop and lab. For a young boy he made remarkable progress exploring where his inclinations led him. In grade school he built and flew model airplanes at a time when aviation itself was still getting off the ground. When he got into high school he built a steam engine and a wood-fired boiler whose power he used to drive a DC generator he had repurposed from automobile parts. His next adventure was to tackle ham radio. He constructed his own station, demonstrated his skill in morse code and station operation, and obtained his amateur license. All of this curiosity, hands on experience, and diligence served him well when he went on to pick up a bachelors in electrical engineering. He next picked up a Masters with a thesis on acoustic wave filters, and topped it all off with a Ph.D in physics, all from his home state University of Iowa.
While working on his degrees Olson had come under the tutelage of Dean Carl E. Seashore, a psychologist who specialized in the fields of speech and stuttering, audiology, music, and aesthetics. Seashore was interested in how different people perceived the various dimensions of music and how ability differed between students. In 1919 he developed the Seashore Test of Music Ability which set out to measure how well a person could discriminate between timbre, rhythm, tempo, loudness and pitch. A related interest was in how people judged visual artwork, and this led him to work with Dr. Norma Charles Meier to develop another test on art judgment. All of this work led Seashore to eventually receive financial backing from Bell Laboratories.
Another one of Olson’s mentors was the head of the physics department G. W. Stewart, under who he did his work on acoustic wave filters. Between Seashore and Stewart’s influence, Olson developed a keen interest in the areas of acoustics, sound reproduction, and music. With his advanced degree, and long history of experimentation in tow, Olson headed to the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) where he became a part of the research department in 1928. After putting in some years in various capacities, he was put in charge of the Acoustical Research Laboratory in 1934. Eight years later in 1942 the lab was moved from Camden to Princeton, New Jersey. The facilities at the lab included an anechoic chamber that was at the time, the largest in the world. A reverberation chamber and ideal listening room were also available to him. It was in these settings that Olson went on to develop a number of different types and styles of microphone. He developed microphones for use in radio broadcast, for motion picture use, directional microphones, and noise-cancelling microphones. Alongside the mics, he created new designs for loudspeakers.
During WWII Olson was put to work on a number of military projects. He specialized in the area of underwater sound and antisubmarine warfare, but after the war he got back to his main focus of sound reproduction. Taking a cue from Seashore, he set out to determine what a listeners preferred bandwidth of sound actually was when sound had been recorded and reproduced. To figure this out he designed an experiment where he put an orchestra behind a screen fitted with a low-pass acoustic filter that cut off the high-frequency range above 5000 Hz. This filter could be opened or closed, the bandwidth full or restricted. Audiences who listened, not knowing when the concealed filter was opened or closed had a much stronger leaning towards the open, all bandwidth listening experience. They did not like the sound when the filter was activated. For the next phase of his experiment Olson switched out the orchestra, whom the audience couldn’t see anyway, with a sound-reproduction system with loudspeakers located in the position of the orchestra. They still preferred the full-bandwidth sound, but only when it was free of distortion. When small amounts of non-linear distortion were introduced, they preferred the restricted bandwidth. These efforts showed the amount of extreme care that needed to go into developing high-fidelity audio systems.
In the 1950s Olson stayed extremely busy working on many projects for RCA. One included the development of magnetic tape capable of recording and transmitting color television for broadcast and playback. This led to a collaboration between RCA and the 3M company, reaching success in their aim in 1956.
The RCA Mark I Synthesizer
Claude Shannon’s 1948 paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communications,” was putting the idea of information theory into the heads of everyone involved in the business of telephone and radio. RCA had put large sums of money into their recorded and broadcast music, and the company was quick to grasp the importance and implications of Shannon’s work. In his own work at the company, Olson was a frequent collaborator with fellow senior engineer Herbert E. Belar (1901-1997). They worked together on theoretical papers and on practical projects. On May 11, 1950 they issued their first internal research report on information theory, "Preliminary Investigation of Modern Communication Theories Applied to Records and Music." Their idea was to consider music as math. This in itself was not new, and can indeed be traced back to the Pythagorean tradition of music. To this ancient pedigree they added the contemporary twist in correlating music mathematically as information. They realized, that with the right tools, they could be able to generate music from math itself, instead of from traditional instruments. On February 26, 1952 they demonstrated their first experiment towards this goal to David Sarnoff, head of RCA, and others in the upper echelons of the company. They made the machine they built perform the songs “Home Sweet Home” and “Blue Skies”.
The officials gave them the green light and this led to further work and the development of the RCA Mark I Synthesizer. The RCA Mark I was in part a computer, as it had simple programmable controls, yet the part of it that generated sound was completely analog. The Mark I had a large array of twelve oscillator circuits, one for each of the basic twelve tones of the muscial scale. These were able to be modified by the synths other circuits to create an astonishing variety of timbre and sound.
The RCA Mark I was not a machine that could make automatic music. It had to be completely programmed by a composer. The flexibility of the machine and the range of possibilities gave composers a new kind of freedom, a new kind of autocracy, total compositional control. This had long been the dream of those who had been bent towards serialism. The programming aspect of the RCA Mark I hearkened back to the player pianos that had first appeared in the 19th century, and used a roll of punched tape to instruct the machine what to do. Olson and Belar had been meticulous in all of the aspects that could be programmed with their creation. These included pitch, timbre, amplitude, envelope, vibrato, and portamento. It even included controls for frequency filtering and reverb. All of this could be output to two channels and played on loudspeakers, or sent to a disc lathe where the resulting music could be cut straight to wax.
It was introduced to the public by Sarnoff on January 31, 1955. The timing was great as far as Ussachevsky and Luening were concerned, as they first heard about it after they had returned from a trip to Europe where they had visited the GRM, WDR, and some other emerging electronic music studios. The trip had them eager to establish their own studio to work electronic music their own way. When they met Schaeffer he had been eager to impose his own aesthetic values on the pair, and when they met Stockhausen, he remained secretive of his working methods and aloof about their presence. Despite this, they were excited about getting to work on their own, even if exhausted from the rigors of travel. They made an appointment with the folks at RCA to have a demonstration of the Mark I Synthesizer.
The RCA Mark I far surpassed what Luening and Ussachevsky had witnessed in France, Germany and the other countries they visited. With its twelve separate audio frequency sources the synth was a complete and complex unit, and while programming it could be laborious, it was a different kind of labor than the kind of heavy tape manipulation they had been doing in their studio, and the accustomed ways of working at the other studios they got to see in operation.
The pair soon found another ally in Milton Babbit, who was then at Princeton University. He too had a keen interest in the synth, and the three of them began to collaborate together and share time on the machine, which they had to request from RCA. For three years the trio made frequent trips to Sarnoff Laboratories in Princeton where they worked on new music.
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Read the rest of the Radiophonic Laboratory: Telecommunications, Electronic Music, and the Voice of the Ether.
Holmes, Thom. Electronic and Experimental Music. Sixth Edition.
Music of the 20th Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook
Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center 10th Anniversary, New World Records, Liner Notes, NWCRL268 , Original release date: 1971-01-01
Babbitt, Milton. Words About Music. University of Wisconsin Press. 1987
Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.