Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1928 – 2007


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From the Stockhausen Verlag:

PRESS RELEASE

The composer Karlheinz Stockhausen passed away on December 5th 2007
at his home in Kuerten-Kettenberg and will be buried in the
Waldfriedhof (forest cemetery) in Kuerten.

He composed 362 individually performable works. The works which were
composed until 1969 are published by Universal Edition in Vienna, and
all works since then are published by the Stockhausen-Verlag.
Numerous texts by Stockhausen and about his works have been published
by the Stockhausen Foundation for Music.

Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer, who have performed many of his
works and, together with him, have taken care of the scores, compact
discs, books, films, flowers, shrubs, and trees will continue to
disseminate his work throughout the world, as prescribed in the
statutes of the Stockhausen Foundation for Music, of which they are
executive board members.

Stockhausen always said that GOD gave birth to him and calls him home.

And for those of us who know the “age of aquarius” Stockhausen, the release goes on:

for love is stronger than death.

IN FRIENDSHIP and gratitude for everything that he has given to us
personally and to humanity through his love and his music, we bid
FAREWELL to Karlheinz Stockhausen, who lived to bring celestial music
to humans, and human music to the celestial beings, so that Man may
listen to GOD and GOD may hear His children.

On December 5th he ascended with JOY through HEAVEN¹S DOOR, in order
to continue to compose in PARADISE with COSMIC PULSES in eternal
HARMONY, as he had always hoped to do: You, who summon me to Heaven,
Eva, Mikael and Maria, let me eternally compose music for Heaven¹s
Father-Mother, GOD creator of Cosmic Music.

May Saint Michael, together with Heaven¹s musicians in ANGEL
PROCESSIONS and INVISIBLE CHOIRS welcome him with a fitting musical
GREETING.

On behalf of him and following his example, we will endeavor to
continue to protect the music.

Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer

Although it was easy to caricaturize late Stockhausen, he was one of a small handful of electronic music giants. He influenced not only those in the high art circles, but also The Beatles (his image shows up as part of the Sgt. Pepper’s cover, top row, left, partially obscured by W.C. Fields), Björk, and numerous sample and hip hop artists.

I’ve included a couple of pictures: one from the early 1960s, and one from the 1970s, as well as the above-mentioned cover.

ks_14.jpgks_2.jpg

ransgt.jpg

something new


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I don’t usually write about myself. Often, whenever I have something new that I’m finishing, the blog goes quiet. But a little self-promotion is in order, especially since readership of my blog recently spiked to double figures. (I’m still trying to figure out if there was a reason, or just mass hysteria.)

This coming Monday, November 12th, I’ll be performing a Bent Metal, a new work for laptop performance. The concert, EM | Two, is at BSU’s Sursa Hall at 8 pm, and listed as part of SEAMUS’s ElectroAcoustic Music Month. Laptop performing is a relatively new area for me, and so far I’m still wrestling with software right up to performances. It’s easy to notice how un-relaxed I look in this photo taken by Matthew McCabe while I did my soundcheck for the premiere performance at the Third Practice Festival in Richmond, Virginia.

Kothman - Bent Metal

The nice part: McCabe was running the FOH sound at the time. He was clearly struggling to keep up with me.

So if you’re in the area, stop by for the latest refinements in my laptop technique. Some guests from a little school to the south will be up as well.

Third Practice


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As my handful of loyal readers already know, process_sound goes silent around times when I’m pressed to finish a new piece and perform it away from home. It would be more interesting if I could balance things better, and maybe even blog from the event, but that’s what wish lists are for.

This recent journey took me to the Third Practice Festival, at the University of Richmond (VA). Ben Broening started this festival in 2001, and quickly carved out an interesting niche in the EM festival calendar. Ben has always had a good ear for programming a variety of interesting music, and since 2004 the festival has benefited greatly from having eighth blackbird as their ensemble in residence. But 3p07 moved a step further, with a range of concerts and performers that one rarely sees at an EM Festival.

While a more complete review will appear in an upcoming SEAMUS Journal, it is worth highlighting 3p07′s book-ends: an opening concert featuring So Percussion and Trollstilt; and a closing concert featuring eighth blackbird and I Gusti Putu Sudarta (shadow puppetry). The opening concert consisted of the hour-long performance of Five (and a half) Gardens, music by Dan Trueman, with texts by Jennifer Trueman and animated paintings by Judy Trueman. The percussion battery presented by So ran the gamut from resonant tubes to wheel barrow. More striking than their instrumentation was their ability to shift and meld a widely diverse range of styles and musical ideas. Trollstilt expands the musical realm even further, incorporating folk-inspired (Norwegian and American) new music into the already extensive landscape. This was a fascinating work and performance, and I found myself constantly impressed by how easily the piece and performers shifted among musical styles. It went beyond the basic ideas of postmodernism into something truly new.

The closing concert featured eighth blackbird and I Gusti Putu Sudarta in a presentation of experimental Balinese Shadow Theater. The merging of the western classical tradition with traditional gamelan was a starting point, but the most fascinating elements were the merging of traditional shadow puppetry with virtual shadow puppetry. Working with technology developed by Semi Ryu and Stefano Faralli, Sudarta could combine leather shadow puppets with virtual counterparts controlled by a Nintendo Wii-mote.

My own contribution to the festival consisted of a new work, Bent Metal, for live laptop performance. It’s still very much a work in progress, with another performance upcoming on the 12th here at BSU. Perhaps I’ll keep the blog sounding and share some reflective thought about working in this new (for me) domain.

The iPod wins a Nobel Prize (not really)


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Not the iPod, nor Steve Jobs, but the two physicists who discovered the process that led to the vast shrinking of the hard drive won the prize. As covered in a New York Times article, iPods and other small devices that carry large amounts of digital information would not be possible without this discovery.

Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg, both working independently in 1988, discovered “giant magnetoresistance,” an effect in which tiny changes in magnetic fields can produce a huge change in electrical resistance. Note the discovery date: 1988! Unlike the Grammies, which might shower awards on “one-hit wonders” that quickly drop off the map, the Nobel Foundation spends some time reflecting on the true significance of the development.

And don’t feel bad for Fert and Grünberg having to share the cash prize. Dividing US $1.4 million two ways provides a significant amount of party money for both.

Radiohead charts a new course


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Musically speaking, Radiohead explores new territory as constant practice. But with their new release, In Rainbows, Radiohead is shaking up the model for selling and distributing music. In a bold, and perhaps Utopian experiment, the band is releasing a downloadable version of the entire “record” for whatever price each individual purchaser wishes to pay. Listeners can choose to pay nothing at all, or as much money as they want. There is no negotiation, just a bid. All bids accepted.

Of course lot of musicians have sold their music online, but this is different. Radiohead has never offered its music through iTunes, mainly because it wants to sell entire albums – not individual tracks. (Other groups, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, stayed out of iTunes for a a long time for similar reasons.) But almost everyone puts a price on their music, whether it is the iTunes one-size fits all price, or some other variant. In an article in the New York Times, one record executive called it “variable pricing to the extreme,” a dig at iTunes.

While the Times talks about the challenge to iTunes and the monolithic structure of the music recording industry (four global corporations dominate the industry), Radiohead is also making a direct challenge to the notion of copyright. In fact, the two things go together. In a dramatic change from the 70′s and earlier times, pop artists make little if any money from their record releases. Concerts provide the real financial windfall. Why? Record corporations charge exceedingly high costs back to the groups, so on paper at least, there aren’t a lot of profits to distribute back to the artist. At the same time, major corporations have been successfully lobbying the U.S. and other governments to extend the copyright period to such great lengths that the original intent of “securing exclusive rights for a limited time” becomes a joke.

And this takes us to what might be the best thing to happen to the music industry, from pop to (especially) classical. If strategies such as the one Radiohead is employing can lead to a greater emphasis on making music, rather than preserving it and re-releasing it, then music could find a new model for economic survival not pegged to the rise and fall of CD sales.

Alex Ross, among many, has blogged about the record release, calling it “the death of popular music (as we know it). He also has a substantial previous post about the band and one of the very interesting artists, Christoph de Babalon, that often opens its shows.

Artistry + New Music = Excitement in Baltimore


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A short time ago I talked (locally, in person) about the need for real talent – artistic and managerial – to revive the mostly moribund state of orchestral music in this country. And also that contemporary music could use a bit of both as well.

Today, Anthony Tommasini writes in the New York Times about the revival of the Baltimore Symphony under its new artistic director, Marin Alsop. The article notes that during the two years Ms. Alsop was director designate, the orchestra returned to recording, and has pushed its attendance levels from a low in the 60% range, to the upper-70% range.

She also opened the season with a pairing of John Adam’s “Fearful Symmetries” with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Neither work is easy listening. The Adam’s work is not one of his concert-opening crowd pleasers (see “A Short Ride in a Fast Machine”), with Tommasini calling the 30-minute(!) work “harmonically gritty,” and most symphony-goers really don’t want to put in the effort to follow the long trajectories of a Mahler symphony, no matter what they say about the beauty of Mahler.

Some notable quotes:

Paul Meecham, the orchestra’s president and chief executive, has said Ms. Alsop was the impetus for the turnaround, proving that dynamic artistic leadership is the obvious answer to the troubles facing American orchestras.

[....]

Starting her tenure with Mr. Adams’s work was a statement of purpose for Ms. Alsop and an invitation to adventure. Before the performance, an older woman sitting in front of me sounded dubious about “Fearful Symmetries.” After the performance, she was on her feet, shouting and waving her program in the air at Mr. Adams and Ms. Alsop.

Attali on Composition


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I’ve mentioned Jacques Attali’s book Noise before, and his prediction of a period of musical development he called “composition.” Although an economist, Attali offers some wonderfully poetic descriptions of composition:

We are all condemned to silence – unless we create our own relation with the world and try to tie other people into the meaning we thus create. That is what composing is. Doing solely for the sake of doing, without trying artificially to recreate the old codes in order to reinsert communication into them.

[...]

Composition thus leads to a staggering conception of history, a history that is open, unstable, in which labor no longer advances accumulation….Time no longer flows in a linear fashion; sometimes it crystallizes in stable codes in which everyone’s composition is compatible, sometimes in multifaceted time in which rhythms, styles, and codes diverge, interdependencies become more burdensome, and rules dissolve.

Special thanks to Timothy D. Taylor, and his book Strange Sounds, for returning me to these thoughts.

Canon Wars…


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No, not naval battles.

Literary battles. And by extension, culture wars.

Rachel Donadio, writing for the New York Times, has paid a nostalgic visit to the literary canon wars of the late-1980s (circa). The big defining moment was Allen Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind. While a Ph.D. student I was very much involved coming up with an intellectual and critical response to what was such a bald argument that non-white, or non-European, equaled non-good.

Now as I look back, the problem seems a little different. Sure, there is still more than a little racial hostility to Bloom, but I now am convinced that Bloom wouldn’t have liked anything new, regardless of where it came from. Although at some point all of the books, all of the great philosophical thought that he trumpeted so loudly were new books, new thought, the canon to Bloom was a history museum. Changing anything would have required less attention to something old, and Bloom didn’t seem to be able to let anything go.

Around the middle of the article, Michael Berube (author of What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?) says that the changes to the literary canon have been particularly beneficial to American literature, and which he notes has been easy to change because it has never been that stable. I especially like his quote that “[o]nly the Department of Surly Curmudgeons still disputes that we’re dealing with a usefully expanded field.” [emphasis added]

What does this have to do with music? Long before Bloom started ranting, musical practice in the U.S. has been mired in an exceedingly canonic, museum-like existence. The great works of Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg, are over half a century old (in some cases, much more), yet there performance is still something of a news-worthy oddity. And although we’re firmly in the 21st century, 1945 still seems to be the cut-off for a “new” work. [ok, so I'm not talking about New York City, or a few other prominent exceptions...]

I think the Berube quote is quite useful as the basis of a question: why can’t music institutions see the usefulness in an expanded field of music?

And related or not, it is interesting to me that literature and music are similar in how little affect technology has had in their creative processes, given how profound technologically-influenced change has been in the rest of the arts and culture in general.

EM | One concert, 9/19/07


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BSU’s first Electronic Music (EM) concert is Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 8 pm in Sursa Hall. I’ve got a new work for bassoon and Max/MSP on the program. Faculty member Mike Pounds also has a piece on, along with some current and former student works.

Stop by if you’re in the area.