MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Stockhausen’s Stimmung

At 17:00 PST on Sunday 17 May, under the direction of Cyril Deaconoff, Voices of Silicon Valley streams its performance of the abridged version of Stimmung for six vocalists, microphones and a tuning tape (Paris version). From Voices of Silicon Valley’s page:

STIMMUNG is in its simplest explanation a sequence of 51 different vowel-based vocal patterns which are interspersed with “Magic Names” and interrupted 3 times by passages of love poetry. Each vocal pattern (“Model”) is started by an indicated vocalist and the other vocalists gradually transform whatever they are doing to match the new Model. Magic Names of gods from various cultures can be introduced as new models. Only singers who have reached “identity” with the lead Model can introduce a Magic Name, but up to six (one for each singer) can be invoked.

There are 6 basic notes (from a Bb Major 9th chord) which the vocalists intone the Models on, and the Models are designed to bring out the overtones of the pitches with the help of the vowel shapes. The score arrangement (form scheme) lets the mixed vocal group create a kaleidoscopic layering of overtone frequencies on a single chord (actually a single note, since the chord is created by the harmonic partials (overtone series) of the Bb note).

Stimmung was commissioned and first performed by Collegium Vocale Köln. Stockhausen had just returned from a few weeks exploring the ruins of the Mayas in Mexico and was inspired by the stark but iconic architecture he found there, as well as the accounts of the ancient (and sometimes bloody) rituals conducted in those places.

A tape of 7 pitches as sine or square waves (the Bb Maj9th chord in just intonation) is quietly played during performance. This helps the tuning of the singers, who sit facing each other in a circle on cushions. Additionally the Magic Names are naturally aleatoric in nature. Periodically, Stockhausen calls on singers to move away from just intonation by singing around the pitch, thus creating pulsation in sound for a while, and then come back to pure intonation.

The official score is for two sopranos, and alto, two tenors and a bass vocalist, but Stockhausen has actually recorded Stimmung with some slight deviations…
For preparation, Stockhausen recommends that singers perfect their ability to emphasize the overtones of each vowel phonetic before attempting the Models themselves.

Filed under: Karlheinz Stockhausen

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