Alex Landrum

Hymnen     Karlheinz Stockhausen 1928 -2007
Wednesday 29th March 4-5pm

The Work
Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Hymnen   (National Anthem) 1966-67 exists in three performance versions. The one that we’re exhibiting for Annihilation Event is the fully electronic version that was originally produced as a 4-track analogue-tape mix but we will be exhibiting it in the 2-track stereo mix-down version available on 4 CD’s from Stockhausen Verlag (Publishing). The original 4-track, quadrophonic mix enabled Stockhausen to create, what we now refer to, as a more immersive, affective audience experience and what Stockhausen himself referred to as ‘spatial music’. Hymnen was composed to produce the effect of sounds moving, slowly or quickly around the audience - coming from multiple loudspeakers positioned around the perimeter of the auditorium -creating the auditory illusion of being within a 360-degree soundscape. Stockhausen continued to develop his ‘spatial music’ in later compositions -such as Oktophonie, (Octophony) 1990-91 - that became even more complex in their spatial movements as he exploited the possibilities of new technology. The full length of all 4 Regions /movements of Hymnen is just under 2 hours but we are playing the second part of the work, Regions 3 & 4 only, which lasts 57 minutes.

Stockhausen in the German Pavilion built for the 1970 World Fair ‘Expo ‘70’ Osaka Japan. Designed by the architect Fritz Bornemann in collaboration with Stockhausen. The spherical construction enabled Stockhausen to realise his long-term ambition to create a truly 3D soundscape by using 50 speakers situated in both the horizontal andvertical plane.

Historical Context
The work Hymnen can belocated historically within the broader artistic avant-garde context of mid 20th Century Modernism, and more specifically, in 20thC avant-garde musical terms, the radical post World War 2 serialism of the Darmstadt Schoolthat included, along with Stockhausen, the composers: Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, John Cage and Luigi Nono as internationally influential members.

Stockhausen began working with taped and electronically produced music within the twin contexts of the musique concrete experiments of Pierre Schaeffer in the French Radio studio, Paris and the scientific context of statistical analysis into sounds used in the vocalization of all languages. The latter research gained state interest –and therefore funding -after WW2 in both America and Europe, in its potential value for state intelligence eavesdropping, but also to support the development of automated electronic systems for the simultaneous translation of many different languages; as needed in the United Nations for example. Between 1954-55, Stockhausen had studied theories of the statistical shaping of sounds based on research into the linguistic field of phonetics and information theory at Bonn University. He applied his theoretical research, and analytical approach to music –and to speech analysis in particular –in tandem with his earlier experiments with musique concrete–very effectively in his experiments with electronic music composed in the WDR studios, Cologne in both Gesange de Jungelinge, 1955-56 (Song of The Youths) and Hymnen, 1966-67 (National Anthems).

Stockhausen had started to explore the new world of electronic music seriously from 1952 when he completed his first musique concrete work Etude with Pierre Schaeffer in Paris and from 1953 when he was appointed assistant in the newly established electronic music studio of North West German Radio in Cologne. The studio was set up initially within the radio drama department and although there are some similarities with the BBC’s Radiophonic workshop - set up later in 1958 in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios, London - in terms of the kinds of electronic equipment they had to play with -it differed in that the Radiophonic Workshop’s primary function was to provide BBC radio & television programmes with otherworldly sound effects and ‘space-age’ incidental music and theme tunes. Whereas the WDR experimental music studio had much more creative freedom to engage in the production of avant-garde music; for example, from as early as 1956 the emigre Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti was working alongside Stockhausen enabling him to learn the techniques to produce his own electronic work entitled Artikulation (1958).

A sine-wave beat frequency oscillator. Image taken from the CD catalogue of Hymnen, Stockhausen Verlag.

The development of Hymnen, from an initial idea to the significant piece of 20thC music that it is now considered to be, was the culmination of over a decade of Stockhausen’s experiments with electronic music composition. Stockhausen started working on his ideas for Hymnen: Electronic & Concrete Music, from 1964 completing it in 1967. His access to state-of-the-art, and enormously expensive, electronic equipment in the WDR studio in Cologne was crucial in the production of the epic scale, complexity and ambition of the work

Cropped portrait of Karlheinz Stockhausen by Arnold Newman in the WDR Experimental Music Studio, Cologne.

Stockhausen believed that by using such well known musical material as the world’s national anthems as the material content for Hymnen the audience would be able to focus more upon the formal, transformative, processes he used to create his electronic, sonic work of art; rather than trying to interpret symbolic meaning from its content:

"When familiar music is integrated into a composition of unknown, new music, it is possible to hear especially well how it was integrated: untransformed, more or less transformed, transposed, modulated, etc. The more self-evident the What, the more attentive one becomes to the How.

(Extract from the Hymnen CD booklet, p.122 Stockhausen Verlag)

In this sense his method was similar to Jasper Johns’ use of the American flag as a motif for a series of paintings that he made from the mid 1950’s. Johns’ stated his interest in using the American flag as a motif was that he saw it as an example of, “a thing that the mind already knows”, and that through its universal familiarity we can focus on the material & formal aspects of his painting’s construction rather than speculating about its possible symbolic meanings. Stockhausen was well aware of the Neo-Dadaists, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg’s work and the close relationship between his own compositional methods and their incorporation of found and banal objects into their work. He also greatly admired the work of their friend and mentor John Cage, so much so that he dedicated one of the 4 Regions of Hymnen to him.

From Tate Magazine, autumn 2016 a comic, group photograph from 1964 showing Stockhausen, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg, among others. The photograph documents the participants of Merce Cunningham’s 1964 World Tour on their visit to Cologne

Signed photomontage of John Cage & Stockhausen C1958 source unknown

Hymnen Now

Stockhausen’s original vision of Hymnen was avowedly utopian:

"The composition of so many national anthems into a common musical temporal and spatial polyphony could make it possible to experience – as musical vision – the unity of peoples and nations in a harmonious human family."

And yet it is evident when listening to Region 4 particularly, that a disturbing post-apocalyptical vision of a destructive technological power emerges. The disturbing affect that listening to Region 4 engenders is, in large part, produced through the transformative material processes of the compositional techniques that Stockhausen used to construct Hymnen. He collected tape fragments of numerous countries’ national anthems as his ‘raw’, auditory material, that were then transformed by several highly specialised – but analogue - electronic devices. The national anthems were also interwoven with other recorded found sound-objects, his own field recordings and shortwave radio signals, resulting in a heavily distorted and complex, multilayered musical soundscape. He literally takes the national anthems apart and reassembles them in a distorted form to produce machine-music. In the middle section of region 4 particularly he produces a sonic effect, through his use of electronic manipulations/modulations, that sounds like the overwhelming, threatening whine of jet engines that are far too close for comfort. Stockhausen was very much aware of the darker aspects of his work soon after he completed it, as his comments in response to the public reception of Region 4 in particular show:

"You see, usually we read about catastrophes that are about to come. But I find even talking to very conscious people that they always think in the back of their minds there might be an escape; perhaps they think it's just words and that the scientists who announce these catastrophes do so as an early warning system in order to escape from these crises. They think it might not come. But it will come. And even for the most conscious people, this requires an effort. We have to go through these crises at the end of this century and during the first decades of the next, there is no other way."

(Extract from Jonathan Cott, Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer, Pan Books Ltd., 1974, p.23 Hymnen: Music For The Post-Apocalypse)

Listening to Hymnen in our current unstable global political context confers upon it an ominous prescience. Hearing the fragments of national anthems that emerge out of its fragmented soundscape reminds us of the fragility of nation states and the many ideological and nationalist inspired catastrophes of the 20thC. It also stands as a warning to the burgeoning isolationist nationalist politics of the present day, which seem hell-bent on propelling us into a prolonged state of global political instability. As the recorded voice of Stockhausen himself says at various points in Hymnen:

Faites votre jeu mesdames et messieurs s’il vous plait”.

Place Your Bets Ladies & Gentlemen Please.  

Alex Landrum March 2017