Friday, February 13, 2015


LP  original cover (bottom reversal my own manipulation)
No. 35: TRANS, for orchestra and taped weaving loom sounds
1971 (~27 min.)

     The imagery and general sonic characteristics of TRANS came to Stockhausen in a dream he had in 1970.   The result was an orchestral work where the most active members of the orchestra are hidden from view, and a slow-moving wall of string players hosts several comically bizarre parodies of modern classical music practice.  At the same time, the sound of a huge wooden weaving loom ("clack-ahs-shuck!") moves across the stage, sometimes to the left and sometimes to the right.  The harmonic density of the 42-member string drone alternately increases  and decreases at the sound of each weaving loom sound, changing in "transparency", allowing the shadowy sonic figures of the hidden orchestra to peer through.

     Beyond the simple realization of a dream-vision, Stockhausen apparently used this scenario to communicate his impression of the modern orchestra musician as an ossified, creatively-starved "robot" at the service of the symphony orchestra "machine".  One title that he considered before settling on TRANS, was "Music for the Next to Die (Requiem for the Orchestra)" (Toop, "Dreamworks"), which seems to imply that the practice of grooming "assembly-line" classical musicians was (is?) indeed a very bad thing.  

     The 42 string players (including an electric organ) are set up as 2 rows at the front of the stage with a violet-red gauze curtain hung between them and the audience.  Behind this phantom string section is a solid wall, and behind that wall is the rest of the orchestra (4 groups of winds, brass and percussion), which is never seen by the audience.  The strings play loud drones (mezzo-forte amplified to forte) in coordinated, robotic bow strokes timed to the weaving loom sounds.  The pre-recorded sound of the wooden weaving loom shuttle ("treading the pedal and releasing the shuttle") sounds on average about every 20 seconds.  Several times during this literal "wall of sound" a member of the orchestra "acts out" and performs what could be considered an exaggerated pantomime satire of a modern concert soloist. The first soloist is a violist (with a parade drummer cueing him), followed later by a cellist (with a mischievous music stand assistant), a stuck "lock groove" violinist, a kind of parapet-mounted trumpeter, and finally the puzzled audience itself.  Another interesting element is that the harmonic density of the "wall of strings" varies, seemingly to modulate the acoustic clarity of the hidden orchestra.  In other words, the strings are designed to act as an acoustic curtain which allows the "hidden music" to peek through to different degrees.  This is done by organizing the string parts so that when "closed", the assembled pitches form a huge chromatic chord cluster.  When the curtain is "parted", the cluster has "missing notes", or in other words, they form a very complex poly-chord.

Orchestra Groups
     There are essentially 5 instrumental forces in TRANS.  The only one visible for the most part are the 40 front-stage string players (22 violins, 8 violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses), accompanied by an electric organ.  The other 4 groups are described below, situated from LEFT to RIGHT from the audience side (in each column the instruments are listed from left-most to right-most - i.e. bass clarinet is the left-most instrument in Group I):

1 bass clarinet
4 flutes
w. celesta

(electric organ far left)
4 oboes
1 trombone
w. vibraphone

4 clarinets
1 bassoon
1 contra-bassoon
w. tubular bells, gongs
4 trumpets
1 tuba
w. drums, tam-tam
(w. plastic, glass, cardboard objects)

LEFT                                                             Two Rows of String Players                                                             RIGHT

Form Structure

Stockhauen's hand-drawn TRANS form plan sketch, courtesy Stockhausen-Siftung (Click to enlarge)

     The form plan sketch above describes the structure of TRANS, which is divided into 6 large sections (in red squares) and 30 sub-sections (32 including 29B and 29C).  The top row shows the number of seconds separating each weaving loom sound.  The circled XXX's indicate triple loom sounds which signal a solo and the beginning of new section.  There are 6 sections (I - VI), each with 5, 6, 5, 6, 6 and 4 sub-sections (sub-section 29 has 3 parts).  Below that is an "INTERVALLE" graph showing the position of the "sonic curtain" created by the strings.  If the line is at the bottom ("curtain closed"), then the strings (and organ) play individual pitches which combined fill up a full chromatic cluster chord from C below the bass clef all the way up to the 2nd G above the treble clef.  The higher the curtain line, the more "skipped" notes in the chord cluster.  For example, sub-section 5 starts "closed", and then suddenly becomes very "open" (where only 8 pitches are played between the 2nd E below the bass clef and the 2nd E above the treble clef).  Every stroke of the loom signals a new note (and the beginning of a new bow stroke) for each string player.  Below the "transparency graph" columns are the "central tones" for each sub-section.  The numbers and roman numerals in the section below the graph indicate which groups play for each sub-section.  For example, in sub-section 1, all 4 of the hidden orchestra groups contribute, while in sub-section 2 only Group I plays.  Below the orchestration columns are the tempos for each sub-section.

     Inside the string transparency graph starting from Section II are freehand-drawn shapes and figures.  These show in rough form the aleatory (asynchronous, free rhythm) elements of that section and their pitch trajectories.  Some of the graph columns have an attached dashed vertical line.  This indicates a double-stroke of the loom sound, and the end of an aleatory section (in Sections II - V, the aleatory elements start immediately and continue until a double loom sound).  The beginning of Sections II - VI are signaled by a triple-stroke of the loom sound.  Below the graph at the divisions of the large sections are also descriptions of the "solos" which occur at the beginning of those sections.  During the strings-only beginning and ending of TRANS, the strings slowly expand/contract in density and pitch range.  This is represented by the horizontally-shaded triangles before and after the "central tones" row.

     The table below describes in more detail the events in the studio recording of TRANS on Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 19 (tracks 11-20).   
No. of
Aleatory and Group Shapes
11 1:05 0:09 Beginning
Strings come in, staggered from highest to lowest (players begin as opening curtain edge passes them)


0:00 1 3x
(3 consec. loom sounds)
All 4 Groups: slow melody w 1 falling flute scalar figure
0:59 2 2x Group I solo
1:40 3 2x 4 Groups dialogue on material from previous sub-section
2:20 4 2x Groups I and III: lively dialogue with tremolo and ostinato figures
3:01 5 1xx
Rising scalar figures in Group IV and then Group I, supported by accents and drones in II and III


0:00 6 1xxx
Infantry Drummer roll and Viola Solo
Group I: Repeated aleatory falling staccato scales in flutes and bass clarinet (slow, irregular, scattered trills)
Groups II-IV: accelerating staccato tremolo figures separated by drones
(see score sample below)
0:41 7 2x Group I: continue aleatory falling scale
Group III solo accompanied by Group II decrescendi
1:20 8 2x Group I: continue aleatory falling scale
Group III and IV dialogue with figures ending in accents
2:02 9 2x Group I: continue aleatory falling scale
Group IV solo (with quiet Group IIII elements)
2:40 10 2x Group I: continue aleatory falling scale
Groups II-III: 4 blocks of slow melodic material
3:22 11 1xx
All 4 groups asynchronously play even quarter note rising/falling figures


0:00 12 1xxx
Music stand and Cello Solo (cello stops at 2nd loom sound)
Groups I and II play slow held tones
Group III: Repeated aleatory legato falling clarinets
Group IV: Repeated aleatory staccato rising trumpets
0:40 13 2x Cello Solo resumes, then stops in confusion at the 2nd loom sound as music stand is taken away
Group II plays slow held tones
Groups III and IV: continue rising/falling scales
1:23 14 2x Group I plays midtempo rising/falling melodic figure
Groups II and III: Group II aleatory staccato rising oboes replaces Group IV's trumpets
Group IV plays long tones
2:00 15 2x Groups II and III: continue rising/falling scales
Groups I and IV duel on fast tremolo phrases
2:41 16 1xx
Accelerating, ascending rhythmic phrases separated by held tones, each time with more held groups


0:00 17 1xxx
1st Violin gets "stuck" on a high note until everyone notices and he sits down
Groups I and II imitate the "stuck" 1st violinist with staccato notes
Group III clarinets (& cbsn) plays slow melody with rests
Group IV: Repeated aleatory rising and falling legato/staccato scale figures in trumpets
0:40 18 2x Variation of previous section
1:19 19 2x Groups I and II dialogue
Groups III and IV: Repeated aleatory rising and falling legato/staccato scale figures in clarinets/trumpets
2:01 20 2x Group III: Repeated aleatory rising and falling legato/staccato scale figure in clarinets
Groups I, II and IV: polyphonic melodic figures
2:38 21 2x Groups I and IV alternate held tones with short melodic figures
Groups II and III: Repeated aleatory rising and falling legato/staccato scale figures in oboes/clarinets
3:21 22 1xx
Blocks of 2-note tremolos (chords) with some groups creating a rising melodic line with single note tremoli, trills or regular notes


0:00 23 1xxx
Trumpet Solo, apparently floating above the back wall
Groups I and III: Aleatory zig-zag rising figures in flutes & clarinets, fast and with some flutter-tongue and trills
Group IV: slow figures
0:40 24 2x Trumpet Solo continues but peters out in a flatulent gesture just before the 2nd loom sound
Groups II and IV: slow figures, a fast descending figure, rhythms w upbeats
Groups I and III: Aleatory zig-zag rising figures in flutes & clarinets, fast and with some flutter-tongue and trills
1:25 25 2x Group I: slow figures
Group II: Repeated aleatory zig-zag rising figures in oboes, fast and with some flutter-tongue
Group III and IV: tremolos and short fast rising scalar figures
1:59 26 2x Groups I-III: Mixture of synchronous and asynchronous short fast figures
Group IV: Repeated aleatory zig-zag rising staccato trumpets, fast and with some flutter-tongue
2:39 27 2x All Groups: Mixture of mostly synchronous short fast figures (rising/falling/held)

28 1xx
Groups I-IV: Aleatory rising figures, unison legato, indiv staccato, conductor-cued accents
General Pause with 2 overlapping loom sounds ("audience solo")
17 1:01 0:00 29a 1xxx
Slow tutti figure with some glissandi shapes
18 0:41 0:00 29b 6x Slow tutti figure with some glissandi shapes
Strings silent.  
19 0:20 0:00 29c 8x Slow tutti figure with some glissandi shapes
Loom sounds accent Group rhythm
Strings return in force, playing all harmonics, making extreme swaying motions and matching rhythm with the wind/brass Groups.


0:00 30/End 1xxx Tutti accelerates in a 2 note tremolo towards climactic scale figures
0:21 1x Strings begin fading out from lowest to highest as the curtain slowly closes.

Harmonic Design
     Jerome Kohl's entries in the TRANS Wikipedia article provide more background information on the melodic and harmonic design.  The work is based on a 36-note pitch sequence made up of a fast, descending 12-note tone row followed by 24 notes which slowly wind their way back upwards (these trajectories are apparently reflected in the aleatory figures as well).  Each of the four concealed wind groups consists of 1 or 2 bass instruments (playing the "central tone") and four treble instruments providing the "upper harmonics" of that central tone (in sub-section 1, the 4 flutes play the 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th harmonic of the bass clarinet pitch).

Score page for the hidden orchestra groups (I-IV).  Sub-structure 6 beginning.

This score page shows all of the string parts for sub-sections 22 through 30, as well as the ending decrescendo.  The organ staff is at the bottom.  The big gap in 29b is the only time in TRANS where the strings do not play.  The last measure graphically shows the decreasing string forces at the ending, where the lower strings stop first and the higher strings play to the end.  From this page (and the page for sub-sections 1-21), each string player makes a small cardboard mini-score mounted on his/her violin.

Live Performance
There are some good excerpts of a TRANS rehearsal in the 1973 film "Trans … und so weiter" with Stockhausen at the mixing board.  The DVD (with excellent excerpts of HYMNEN mit ORCHESTER, CEYLON and MIKROPHONIE I) is available from Stockhausen Verlag.
At left is a the standing solo violist with a parade drummer to the right of him.  
At right is the trumpet solo with the trumpeter "peeking" over the dividing wall hiding the wind/brass players.

Sound Impressions
     TRANS was one of the first Stockhausen pieces I ever heard on the radio and even though I found it very odd and alien, I still was very curious about it.  After reading the scant information about TRANS available at the time, I was under the wrong impression that some kind of giant wooden box was swinging back and forth over the audience and making the loom shuttle sounds.  The reality was of course, much safer!  However it was still a very mysterious piece, and the constant wall of strings made the whole thing seem very hazy.  After giving it some more time and attention, I realized that there was actually quite alot of activity going on underneath that blanket of droney strings.

     For the audience at the premiere of TRANS, it must have been a completely puzzling experience (and the Stockhausen Edition CD includes the recording of that premiere, complete with whistles and boos).  Even watching the clips from the documentary film, one gets the feeling of cognitive dissonance: the only thing to be seen are the string players in a hazy violet fog, but a full orchestra playing dense and active figures can still be heard.  Not only that, but several times individual orchestra musicians seem to be staging some kind of open revolt against their peers.  One must have wondered if it were "real" or not.  Finally, the string players mechanically bow with blank facial expressions, as if they were just wind-up toys.  Actually, with the reddish haze, it seems a bit macabre to me.

     The solos are all excellent and exuberant, and shows that Stockhausen could write "virtuosic solo music" with ease when he wanted to.  The idea of having these bizarre skits is pretty comedic, and I think could be a predecessor to the "games" of DER JAHRESLAUF 6 years later.  The concept of the string orchestra "opening and closing" the curtain is an interesting one, but ultimately it seems to be more an organizational technique (such as using a Fibonacci series, or a formula, etc...) than a literal one, since the hidden orchestra is pretty much heard at the same level of "clarity" throughout the performance, no matter how dense the string chord cluster gets (at least to my ears).  The use of aleatory elements provides some nice "statistical" textures, though at times the figures are a bit hard to hear (intentional obfuscation?).  One thing I would be curious to hear one day would be the string orchestra and the hidden orchestra parts separate from each other.  Perhaps a new release of TRANS someday would include these isolated tracks.  Both parts are beautifully conceived and despite the novel concept of 2 forces at odds with each other, the individual parts are well worth exploring as well.

TRANS Sound samples, tracks listings and CD ordering 
Purchase the Score
Purchase DVD of "Trans...und so weiter"
"Trans … und so weiter" (Youtube clip)
"Dreamworks" (Richard Toop, from Gedenkschrift for Stockhausen)
TRANS 2008 Performance Review

1 comment:

  1. A wild piece full of onirism. A great spiritual experience. Another puzzling work of the great Karlheinz Stockhausen.