Monday, October 6, 2014


Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
Xi for Basset-horn performed by Suzanne Stephens,
(installation by Otto Piene)
(from Texte Vol. 11)
Monday Greeting (EVE's Greeting) for Basset-horn and Tape
1986/1988 [34']

No. 55 extracts 1, 2, 3:
Xi for melody instrument (with micro-tones) / Basset-horn / (Alto) Flute
1986 [6/9']

     MONTAGs-GRUSS is the Greeting, or opening work, for MONTAG AUS LICHT (Monday from Light), the 3rd-premiered opera of Stockhausen's 7-part, 29-hour musical-dramatic work, LICHT, based on the 7 days of the week.  LICHT has 3 main archetype characters, and Monday is the character EVE's day.  EVE's signature instruments are the basset-horn and flute, and so it's quite fitting that the Greeting and Farewell (MONTAGs-ABSCHIED) feature those two instruments respectively.  Before talking about MONTAGs GRUSS, though, it's probably good to go over Xi first.

     MONTAG's GRUSS had its birth in the solo instrumental work Xi (from the Greek letter, meaning "unknown quantity").  Designed for instruments with the ability to play "bent" notes microtonally (ruling out the traditional acoustic piano, vibraphone, accordion, etc...), one of the challenges of Xi is to develop techniques for keyed wind and brass instruments to play "in between" adjacent notes of the chromatic scale, with not one, but several steps (up to 12!) from note to note.  This is typically done with non-traditional key fingerings as well as embouchure techniques.  The basset-horn and flute-specific scores for Xi include the techniques and fingerings developed by Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer to play the micro-intervals necessary for those 2 instruments.  I imagine for slide guitar or bowed string instruments (violins, etc...), Xi wouldn't require as much instrumental research (only a very steady hand).  A theremin version would be very interesting.

Xi score cover sketch
     The melodic content of Xi is derived from Stockhausen's 3-layer melodic super-formula for LICHT.  This super-formula is used to define many aspects of LICHT, from the melodic content of a single measure to the formal structure of all 29 hours.  In Xi's case, Stockhausen took the MONDAY segment (first 3 measures) of the super-formula and created a single melodic line by criss-crossing notes and fragments from layer to layer, and indicating the layer-jumps through microtonal interval-based glissandi.  This brief fragment was then stretched out through rhythmic augmentation (expansion of note durations) to 9 minutes.  Stockhausen would revisit this technique of jumping from formula to formula (staff to staff) to create a glissando-based hybrid melody in the HELIKOPTER-STREICHQUARTETT.

First part of Xi for unspecified microtonal instrument. Stockhausen states, "glissandi with as many micro-steps as possible". The 5th and 6th notes have bottom-pointing note flags which indicate vocalizing (but without glissando) while playing.  The notes enclosed in the sagging ties (such as the 10th note) are single staccatto pitches whose placement during the gliss are aleatoric (free-choice).

This score excerpt from the basset-horn version of Xi shows the fingerings developed by Suzanne Stephens.  This passage requires circular breathing as well as singing a held pitch while playing all the microtonal pitches (with flutter-tongue!).

This excerpt from the flute version of Xi shows the fingerings developed by Kathinka Pasveer.  This passage requires some pitch bending through embouchure only as well as "colored noise" (the crossed note-heads) which basically means upper wind harmonics (~2 octaves higher).
(score excerpts©

     On a very basic structural level, much of the middle section is concerned with flutter-tongue textures.  This is followed by a section exploring "colored noise" which is obtained through finger and embouchure-produced upper harmonics.  Finally, trilling is applied to a long glissando.  Another aspect which is sometimes briefly explored here is the use of contrasting glissandi or held tones between vocalized sung tones and simultaneous basset-horn tones, which creates "growling" difference tones (beating).

     This kind of performer realization is in contrast to YPSILON, in that in Xi, the pitch range is determined and the number of scale steps is indeterminate (in YPSILON the pitch range is indeterminate, but the number of scale steps (16) are determined).

Live Performance

Xi for Flute: Shanna Gutierrez
Prize-winning performance from the 2013 Stockhausen Courses in Kürten, Germany.

     From a purely melodic standpoint, MONTAG's GRUSS is the basset-horn version of Xi slowed down from 8.5 minutes to 34 minutes, with 3 additional tempo-reduced layers of the same melody transposed down in pitch 3 times.  Because the tempos are reduced, the number of micro-steps is increased in some places from 7 to 12 (which of course meant that new fingerings had to be discovered for the additional micro-tones).  In a way, the 3 additional layers create a 4-part harmonized Xi chord melody, but there are 3 important factors which make the work more interesting on a smaller time-scale as well.

Held Tones vs Sliding Tones
     For each of of the 36 glissandi in the Xi melody, some of the 3 lowest layers are altered so that the 2 notes indicated are held from one to the next, instead of sliding. This, with the transposed element of the layers, creates an interesting "foreground-background" effect.

Tape Manipulation
     To create the 4 layers of MONTAGs GRUSS, Stockhausen slowed down the tape playback speed to obtain the lower registers.  The lowest layer is dramatically lower than the bottom range of the basset-horn (or any horn for that matter).  Technology exists to digitally pitch-shift notes downwards, but inevitably the sound is cluttered by unwanted artifacts.  By using the tape-speed method, Stockhausen retained all of the frequency information in each manipulation.  This is the same reason many audiophiles prefer vinyl LPs to CDs.

The method of creating these layers is a bit painstaking but is basically as follows:
  1. Record Xi layer 4.
  2. Reduce playback speed of the above version and overdub Xi layer 3 (played live at the reduced tempo)
  3. Reduce playback speed of the above 2-layer version and overdub Xi layer 2 (played live at a more reduced tempo)
  4. Reduce playback speed of the above 3-layer version and overdub Xi layer 1 (played live at an even more reduced tempo)
The result is that the final version has an un-manipulated ("live") recording of Xi on Layer 1, and 3 speed-reduced versions on layers 2-4.

     Finally, sound samples of running and splashing water ("crashing surf") were over-dubbed at various points of the final recording.

Suzanne Stephens' foyer photo which corresponds to pitch C,
3rd in the 12 note inverted EVE nuclear cell. (from CD booklet).
     MONTAGs GRUSS can be played as a 4-channel tape piece as "entrance music" to the opera MONTAG AUS LICHT.  In this case, the foyer space "is bathed in greenish wave, in which waves of sunshine are broken, bent and mirrored."  A sculpture of a female basset-horn player is in the center of the room, while the walls are adorned with photographs of the sculpture subject (Suzanne Stephens in all cases so far) in 12 playing poses corresponding to the 12 pitches of the inverted EVE nuclear tones (pitches of the EVE formula). MONTAGs GRUSS can also be played as a concert piece where a live basset-horn player accompanies the 3 speed-manipulated layers on tape.

Sound Impressions
     This piece has a very warm and woody tranquil feel to it. I'm glad that Stockhausen used the tape-speed method of creating the layers since the key noises and breath sounds of Suzanne Stephens sound much more organic that way.  The cascade of "colored noise" in the latter part of the piece sounds like winds from an other planet.  One thing I noticed is that when I try to sing the micro-tones myself, I discover how much space there is (alot!) between 2 adjacent chromatic notes.
     In the spirit of Stockhausen's practice of playing live works on top of his electronic/tape works (such as in FREITAG AUS LICHT, MICHAELION and ORCHESTER-FINALISTEN), I sometimes like to listen to MONTAG's GRUSS at the same time as KLANG 4: HIMMELS-TÜR (Heaven's Door), since the latter's percussive wood tones provide a nice counterpoint to the basset-horn's burnished tones (though I'm not sure Stockhausen would have approved of me taking this liberty...).

Sound samples, tracks listings and CD ordering
Stockhausen Introduces MONTAGs-GRUSS and ADIEU, 1992 (PDF transcript of ADIEU DVD)
Score samples of Xi from James Ingram's site.
Sonoloco review of Xi (for Flute)

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