Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Stockhausen blasts Barbican ! Cosmic Pulses, Stimmung

Ed Chang's brilliant GIF on Stockhausen's drawings for Cosmic Pulses (For link, read below). 

Stockhausen lives again !  Cosmic Pulses and Stimmung at the Barbican Hall, London. Two pieces which need to be experienced live for maximum impact; and what an impact they made at the Barbican Hall !  Cosmic Pulses reaches outward : the performance space becomes an instrument to be played by sound waves. Stimmung reaches inwards : like incantation, the sounds release inner space.  Programming them together isn't easy and I had wondered what might happen.  But the Barbican rose to the challenge. Thrilling experiences !

Stimmung, conceived during the Summer of Love, 1968, deals with the concept of "coming together". The word "Stimmung" means convergence, the concept of disparate forces being drawn together.. Attunement through tuning forks !  Harmony is achieved through a process of distillation,  a series of 51 segments or "models" which can be arranged in different ways and like throwing dice, the sequence can fall in many ways. Within each segment there are some fixed points but also much room for choices made in the course of performance. This isn’t straightforwardly notated music by any means: Stockhausen gives basic templates, but within them, there’s great freedom of invention and the onus remains with the performers, whose artistic responses “create” the piece anew each time. Yet, personal as the artists' choices may be, the ultimate goal of Stimmung is to rise above ego, and seek a kind of transcendence through interaction.   Stockhausen specifies that the singers sit in a circle around a glowing globe that emits light, providing symbolic focus.   The singers sit on soft mats, wearing loose clothing, so their bodies relax : meta-yoga, where physical and mental flexibility go together. The segments create a formal patterns, which Stockhausen, in his meticulous way, specified in great detail.  Yet within the formula, there's improvisation. The lead singer leads, but listens, and sound passes from singer to singer.

Is Stimmung ritual magic ?  The names of deities surface quite clearly above the hubbub.  The atmosphere is reverential: perhaps the electronic sound effects represent some invisible spirit.  Years ago, I heard Singcircle do Stimmung  at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building in Oxford.  The performing space is small and cosy,  and the roof rises upwards like a steeple. Not unlike a wigwam.  As the singers did their thing I thought of Native American rituals, where people cleanse themselves spiritually by sitting together in claustrophobic smokehouses, seeking wisdom through meditation.  The singers on this occasion were Gregory Rose (director), Jacqueline Barron, Zoë Freedman, Heather Cairncross, Guy Elliott and Angus Smith.

Cosmic Pulses is the 13th of the planned 24 hours in Klang, Stockhausen’s visionary epic.  It's not opera, but definitely a theatrical experience.  Please read more about it and on Stockhausen on Ed Chang's website : Stockhausen - Sounds in Space.  Stockhausen's elaborate diagrams for Cosmic Pulses  are almost obsessively detailed but in practice, the specifications adapt to improvisation, depending on the physical qualities of the performance space.  No performance can ever be the same. 

I first heard Cosmic Pulses in 2008, soon after it was completed in the most extravagant performance space of all, the Royal Albert Hall.  There, in a cavern that seats 6000, with a huge dome, Cosmic Pulses had room to grow.  Massive light beams flying across the arena, whorls of colour and light thrown long distances and bouncing back. At the RAH surface aren't flat, but curved and ornate, thus refracting sound even further, dispersing it and forming new, complex patterns.  The Barbican Hall, being much smaller and shoebox shaped, doesn't offer such complexities, but the impact was powerful, concentrated in a relatively small place.  Again, patterns in sound. Long, direct explosions, spiralling emanations, waves that expanded and shrank. The show was thrilling - light sabres and swirly whorls.   But I kept hearing more than the visuals showed.Traceries of broken fragments  for example, bursting like machine gun fire: Towards the end these appeared in lines of dot and dash.  With Kathinka Pasveer doing the Sound Projection we had a wonderful ride. But what might Stockhausen have achieved had he more fully embraced computer aided design ?

 Please read my other pieces on Stockhausen.

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