A few thoughts from the first night of a Stockhausen weekend held at De Bijloke in Ghent, which I had the pleasure of attending on Friday.
We were presented with one of Stockhausen’s most celebrated early electronic works, Kontakte (1958–60), in the version that includes piano and percussion and his last electronic work, Cosmic Pulses (2006–7). In between the Ictus Ensemble performed an improvisatory electronic work, Electronic Concert Piece, which drew heavily on Stockhausen as a source of inspiration.
I sat near the centrally placed mixing desk in both Stockhausen works, feeling that that would probably yield the best balanced sound. It was mostly a good decision, even if the full quadraphonic effect—there were speakers behind us— seemed only to make itself felt well into the first piece, Kontakte. Once it did, it was spellbinding. Pianist Jean-Luc Plouvier and percussionist Miguel Bernat were both superb, playing with a super-abundance of energy and, as far as one could tell in such a layered and complex work, precision.
Electronic Concert Piece, which used scraps of material from both Kontakte and Microphonie I as well as a selection of electronic equipment with which Stockhausen would have been familiar, was a rather playful homage that seemed to pose more questions than it answered. One was never quite sure what was prepared and what was improvised and at times I wasn’t even sure whether I was hearing live electronic manipulation or prerecorded samples, a fact that was made concrete when the players stopped and let Stockhausen have the last word in a recorded extract from Kontakte.
The final work, Cosmic Pulses, is an 8 speaker electronic work. It was played in complete darkness, apart from the eerie glow of the mixing desk. I was completely unprepared for its arresting cauldron of counterpoint, which over its half-hour stretch barely lets up. Whilst the barrage of sound became, perhaps, a little exhausting, the texture was so bristling with life and subtle change that I was easily held spellbound. To me it also spoke of the sheer compositional energy of Stockahusen—although written in his late 70s it bristles with youthful exuberance.
The mixing desk for Cosmic Pulses, before the lights went out:
The two-day homage to the Stockhausen also had an exhibition of the types equipment used by the composer. Here are a few pics: