Music critic, novelist, and librettist Paul Griffiths offers insights into Karlheinz Stockhausen's Kontakte.
Stockhausen works on Kontakte.
The pianist's set up for Stockhausen's Kontakte
For Kontakte, Stockhausen made particularly engaging graphic representations that provide an approximate map of what the tape sounds like at any given moment. At the very top are time stamps. Below is a wide band of the musical staff devoted to an electronics graphic. The interwoven dynamics and pitch contours display a rollercoaster of sound, one which can be dissected in detail but also gives broad lines to follow. The pianist and percussionist, whose parts are below the electronic band of the score, can use the display up top to mark and time their entrances, tracking the progress of the tape and responding with their own percussive comments.
Music for the Eye
Electroacoustic works are simultaneously exciting and challenging to the ear for both listeners and performers. They can also be challenging for the eye. To perform this kind of music, the instrumentalists need to know what kinds of projected sounds to expect and when to interact with them. To this end, composers of electronic music have to find ways to visually display the electronic sounds they create.
Thomas Meadowcroft’s Cradles gives the performers more freedom. His score is mostly instructions, but he gives a loose timeline of the work that indicates the physical position of the two percussionists in relation to the playback tapes they manipulate. The bottom layer of this score functions much like the top layer in Kontakte, showing the harmonies and character heard in a third “e-piano playback” voice. However, the relationship between the players and this third part is the reverse of that seen in the Stockhausen. There are various options for realizing this third part, but in all of them the change in the electronics part is cued in response to the decisions of the percussionists. The electronics part is in a symbiotic relationship with the other musicians and not an unrelenting and consuming driver of structure as it is in Kontakte. These two score graphics point to the diversity of ways in which electronic elements can interact with instrumentalists to create chamber music.