Friday, May 22, 2015


The Process Plan Works (aka - the "plus-minus pieces")

The German pavilion at the Osaka 1970 world's fair where Stockhausen performed 183 shows in a row.
Nr. 30 POLE (Poles) for 2 players/singers with 2 shortwave radio receivers
(Feb 1970) [variable length 22-65 minutes]

Nr. 31 EXPO for 3 players/singers with 3 shortwave radio receivers
(Dec 1969 - Jan 1970) [variable length 25-35 minutes]

     Despite the numbering, EXPO was composed first (in Kürten, Germany between December 1969 and January 1970) and POLE was written second (in Bali, February 1970).  These 2 works were then almost immediately premiered during Stockhausen's 1970 stay in Japan, where he oversaw performances of his works at the world's fair in Osaka ("EXPO '70").  In a large spherical auditorium (designed by Stockhausen and developed by Fritz Bornemann), the audience was literally surrounded on all sides (including the floor and ceiling) by 50 loudspeakers.  Against the wall at one end, Stockhausen controlled the vertical and horizontal positioning and movement of the sound mix, sometimes creating rising and falling circular motions (spirals) using a "rotation mill".  The performers (including Stockhausen Group musicians Peter Eötvös, Harald Bojé and Michael Vetter) played from various balcony stages or on an opposite-side podium.  Works were performed daily from 3:30 to 9pm for 183 days (20 musicians participated - see SPIRAL) and this German pavilion became one of the main attractions at Expo '70 (some of the other interesting exhibits included moon rocks, the first IMAX film, LAN technology and the first mobile phone).

     Compositionally, at this point Stockhausen had in the previous year completed and premiered KURZWELLEN (Short-Waves) and SPIRAL.  These works basically have the performer(s) draw thematic material from shortwave radio stations, after which they then perform progressively mutated reflections of these chosen shortwave sounds by expanding/compressing the radio material dynamically, registrally, duration-wise and/or through rhythmic subdivision).  The score uses so-called "plus-minus" notation (for reasons which will be very obvious) to organize these transformations into short sections ("Events"), connected by quiet transitions. 

     EXPO for trio and POLE for duo are both very similar to SPIRAL (for soloist), but obviously differing in the number of players.  They also have several new instructions mostly designed to shape and direct the exchange (imitation) of musical material between the 2 or 3 players.  More significantly I think, POLE includes a spatial movement score, which is scored in 2 additional staffs below the players' parts.  The spatial notation is designed to indicate movement in a sphere (such as laid out in 4 stacked circular layers, with controls for circular placement and height).  If a spherical auditorium is somehow unavailable ( :) ), the piece can be performed using an 8-channel speaker arrangement set up in 2 sets of 4 rows each.
Sideview cutaway of Stockhausen's Osaka spherical concert hall.  The loudspeakers were arranged in 7 circular layers (A - G).
Stockhausen mixed from the left (above the entrance stairs), and the players were situated on the right ("Orchester")
or on the balconies (Solisten Podium").
Shortwave Radio
     The shortwave radio is obviously not as common a household object as it was in the 1960's (Stockhausen:"Doesn't almost everyone own a short-wave receiver?").  When radio was first invented, it must have been a little spooky.  In fact, Stockhausen's own mother wondered why the voices didn't talk back to her.  The other fascinating thing about shortwave is that due to its habit of "bouncing" across the atmosphere, it's possible to receive signals from stations on the other side of the world.  For more on shortwave radio, see the page on SPIRAL.

     The scores for EXPO and POLE use the same plus-minus notation and basic instructions as SPIRAL, so instead of repeating a bunch of text I ask the reader to refer to that page first.  The first "new rule" from SPIRAL is that an Event can be also be realized by a radio alone (previously an Event was radio + soloist, or soloist alone).  Below, I include the additional aspects unique to EXPO and POLE.

EXPO for 3
     EXPO is arranged in 3 "staffs" and grouped into 15 sections.  The Events are loosely coordinated amongst the 3 players through the use of "signal" sounds (in Michael Vetter's vocal versions, he uses harmonica, cowbell and megaphone, whereas in the Eötvös/Bojé versions (for electrochord and electronium) I suspect the crotales and woodblock sounds are the signals).  EXPO's additional notations (in addition to SPIRAL's, that is) include 3 kinds of instructions to direct one's own playing, and 7 to direct how one relates to another person:
  • hold sound
  • hold duration
  • add segments freely for the duration of the marking
  • intermittently imitate another person ("insert some of what is heard...into one's own event")
  • intermittently interrupt another person ("insert single segments into the other players' events")
  • play (an unlimited number of) echoes of another person
  • imitate a part of another's event ("play 1 of any other person's segments")
  • begin synchronously with another, also begin and continue to play synchronously ("all segments")
  • "relate" to another's event (typically a dialogue-like "hand-off" kind of thing)
  • play a Signal to coordinate amongst the players a transition from one section to the next (typically followed by a "relating" Event)
     Solid vertical divider lines indicate scored shortwave events.  These "forced" shortwave events help maintain coordination amongst the players, along with the pre-determined signal sounds.  One special event, a kind of "rhythmic refrain insert", occurs twice (once near the end of Section 2 and once at the end of Section 10, both times with radio):
[ ] : "Add 1 SLOW insert and 1 FAST insert, each one lasting up to 2.5 minutes; taking a synchronized beat, all players repeat 1 segment of the previous event PERIODICALLY, varying it slightly (syncopations etc...).  Make general pauses."

Complete EXPO score in 3 connected staffs.  Each staff has 3 layers, one for each player.
(graphic from Jerome Kohl's "Composing Processes: SPIRAL, POLE, EXPO", with a few additional colorations)
     The structure of EXPO has been described by Jerome Kohl (at least, in an intermediary analysis breakdown) as being in 7 sections (of which I added a couple minor observations as well):
  1. 1st beginning (preparation for Insert 1), Player II leads
  2. Duo between II and III
  3. Dialogue (alternation) between II and III
  4. Trio in canon-form (III/II/I), staggered "SPIRAL" events, after which the sounds are all exchanged (as "echoes")
  5. 2nd beginning (preparation for Insert 2), Player III leads, also just before this is a 2nd canon-form (III/I/II)
  6. Rotation of events (passed around and transformed)
  7. Synchronous events (unison), ending in a kind of "7 chorus refrain" and Player II coda
(In his lecture notes, "Composing Processes: SPIRAL, POLE, EXPO", Kohl continues to break down EXPO into further subdivisions in order to derive a possible underlying serial structure, but for the purposes of this page, I'll leave it at the initial 7 sections.)

POLE for 2
POLE score in 4 continued staffs.
The top 2 rows of each staff are transformation directions, the bottom 2 rows are for spatial movement.
(Cover of EMI Electrola LP)
Some of POLE's notations repeat EXPO's, some do not carry over (no rhythmic inserts), and 3 are new:
  • hold sound
  • hold duration
  • add segments freely for the duration of the marking
  • intermittently imitate another person ("insert some of what is heard...into one's own event")
  • intermittently interrupt another person ("insert single segments into the other players' events")
  • play (an unlimited number of) echoes of another person
  • imitate a part of another's event ("play 1 of any other person's segments")
  • begin synchronously with another, also begin and continue to play synchronously ("all segments")
  • "relate" to another's event (typically a dialogue-like "hand-off" kind of thing)
  • play a Signal to coordinate amongst the players a transition from one section to the next (typically followed by a "relating" Event)
  • play at the extreme range of 1 parameter (register/duration/dynamic/tempo)
  • "shadow" the other player
  • intermittently join another person and connect the segments ("legato")
     Unlike SPIRAL and EXPO, POLE has no "mandatory" shortwave radio Events, leaving these at the discretion of the performers.  The most apparent score difference is the bottom 2 "spatial motion" staff lines, which are graphically arranged in 8 degrees of vertical columns (or shapes), indicating which of the 8 speakers are "on" (2 sets of 4).  It is designed especially for the Expo '70 spherical auditorium, but on CD the different degrees are conveyed by reverb and stereo placement.  For example, on Stockhausen CD 103, Michael Vetter's male vocal goes (from 1 to 4) hard left/dry to hard right/heavy reverb.  Natascha Nikreprelevic's female vocal goes (also 1 to 4) hard right/dry to hard left/heavy reverb.  Some of the shapes can be described as follows:
  • extreme top/bottom/right/left
  • continuous transitions (spatial glissandi)
  • stepwise transitions (spacial scalar steps)
  • paired movements
  • shaded shapes indicating that all speakers are "on" in that range
  • intermittent spikes and improvisation sections
  • crossfades
  • etc...
Peter Eötvös playing the Electrochord, at Abbey Road. 
From the POLE/EXPO score cover. 
Photo Richard Bird.  
(Note the violin bow at far right.  A picture of the Electronium can be found on the PROZESSION page.)
      On Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 15, POLE is performed by Peter Eötvös and Harald Bojé playing Electrochord (a contact-miked and processed bowed/plucked zither, with a synthesizer and sometimes a folk wind instrument) and Electronium (an accordion-based synthesizer with reverb control), respectively.  Both players also seem to have ring modulation and variable-speed tape loop (sampler-delay) effects at their disposal.  A few months later, another recording of POLE was made by this duo (and mixed by Alan Parsons!) and released on EMI Electrola records.
     Below, I have a kind of "listening narrative" to the 1st Eötvös/Bojé recording of POLE on CD 15.  Trying to match up the musical gestures to the plus-minus symbols can be very tricky business, especially without knowing the parameters chosen for each Event or the nature of the Signal sounds (or even which "sections" were played).  So I basically include here merely a chronology of the more broad sonic gestures.  I'm taking a guess that Eötvös' bell (crotale) and Bojé's woodblock are Signal sounds, which basically indicate a "now follow me" kind of message.  The "home" position of the electrochord is on the left, and the electronium is on the right.
  • 0:07: Shortwave: high and middle register tremolos (w slow middle register gliss) and low hum.  Both players follow, switching between the layers (Electrochord bowing, Electronium high melodic points)
  • 1:09: Shortwave tremolo descends in pitch
  • 1:54: Electronium solo
  • 2:15: Shortwave: lower register tremolo, Electrochord returns
  • 2:29: Electronium: accents w pluck sounds over tremolo
  • 2:40: Woodblock Signal begins (ends 3:04)
  • 3:13: Electronium: high pitch melody
  • 3:39: Electrochord: plucks in pitch-shifted melodic clusters, Electronium: adds high tone melodies
  • 4:43: Bell Signal over Electronium high held tones
  • 5:57: high tones solo/duet, with pulses (slowing) and then glissandi
  • 7:05: pulse ritard, middle register wide vibrato "saucer wobble"
  • 7:44: Shortwave search phase
  • 8:13: low register impact and echo, followed by noise accents
  • 8:41: Electronium low notes, then Electrochord vocal articulations
  • 9:46: low drones/humming
  • 10:21: Electrochord: isolated plucks
  • 11:41: Electrochord: low bowing
  • 12:17: Bell Signal, Electronium begins changing timbre/register
  • 14:18: Shortwave search phase, ending on rising/falling tremolo, then imitated
  • 15:47: Shortwave search phase, finding descending "club band" fragment, imitated by Electrochord
  • 17:13: Shortwave solo - talking (German).  Popping noises and a high tones gradually appear
  • 18:20: rhythmic accents (insert?), eventually slowing down
  • 20:30: high tones with Shortwave static
  • 21:22: Shortwave search phase, settling on uptempo orchestral fragment and announcer

     On Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 104: EXPO, F.X. Randomiz plays electronics for the top staff, Michael Vetter sings/plays the 2nd,, and Natascha Nikreprelevic sings the 3rd.  In the first version, the stereo spread (left to right) is Vetter/Randomiz/Nikreprelevic.  On the second version the spread is Nikreprelevic/Randomiz/Vetter, but they play the same staffs as before. The CD tracks correspond to the 15 sections of the score (circled numbers in the graphic above).
     On Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 103: POLE, Michael Vetter (starting from the left) sings the top staff, and Natascha Nikreprelevic (starting right) sings the 2nd staff.  The attributes which are expanded/contracted (duration/dynamic/etc...) as well as places where a shortwave event was used are here added as annotations to the full score printed in the CD booklet. The CD tracks are broken into 7 sections corresponding to the large sections in the score.
     These 2 CDs also have copious notes from the performers themselves, describing their approach to the works and their experiences exploring them.  Michael Vetter himself had performed plus-minus works at EXPO '70, and returned to them much later to record the first "complete" version of SPIRAL (CD 46) in 1995.  POLE and EXPO were recorded in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Sound Impressions
     At the core of these works is the idea of "fusing" with a shortwave radio event and then performing considered, disciplined explorations (solo, duo and trio variations) of these basically unpredictable sound events (unless one knows the local DJ and can make requests :) ).  It's possible that in POLE and EXPO that multiple layers ("trains") of radio themes could surface, but any parallel tracks usually end up joining due to the frequent instructions to "relate" to another person's layer.

     As I wrote in my SPIRAL impressions, I think the impact of these works has much to do with the players and their chosen instrument(s).  Stockhausen has arranged some of his other works for alternate instruments (IN FREUNDSCHAFT, TIERKREIS, etc...), and some others also have open-ended instrumentation (STOP, YLEM, SOLO, PLUS-MINUS), but I think none are as open-ended in content as these works, leaving the performers' instrumental timbre and playing style as defining characteristics for each interpretation (even the "intuitive music" works (AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN, FÜR KOMMENDE ZEITEN) have at their core the rhythmic concept of slow ensemble "vibrations").  The SPIRAL-POLE-EXPO trio of works seems more concerned with relative degrees and kinds of reflection between individual forces (including with oneself), rather than larger structural processes.  Processes do exist, but since the choice and degree of parameters are so open-ended, it's harder to sense these without having an annotated score at hand.  In fact, it's even expected that performers start from different assigned points in the score from performance to performance.  ZYKLUS and KLAVIERSTÜCK XI also have this kind of "polyvalent form", but those are quite thoroughly-notated for percussion and piano (respectively) and require the player to "finish" the piece in one performance.

     Probably more so than in any other Stockhausen work, the performers' individual instrumental style comes through as a primary focus when listening to these works, especially considering that there could be a relatively wide latitude to the interpretation of the score symbols.  In other words, it may be possible to consider the version of POLE by Eötvös and Bojé as "showcases" for their skills on electrochord and electronium, and the more recent versions led by Michael Vetter to be something like fast-paced Brecht-ian comic-operas, threaded through with absurdist sound poetry and ethnic folk stylizations.  Another version of POLE in 2010 featuring European free improvisors Frank Gratkowski (on saxophone) and Anton Lukoszevieze (cello) sounds very much like, well, European Free Improvisation (this performance probably shouldn't count though since - based on the pre-talk - it appears that the sound projectionist mistook the spatial score for a dynamics score...).

     Now, remarking on these performer-based factors is not meant to undercut Stockhausen's contribution, since the key idea of using a shortwave to germinate trains of development is unique, and the "velocity" (or perhaps "proportions of change") in these works is very Stockhausen-ian (and possibly even serially organized).  The notation symbols are also a novel way of forming clear dramatic arcs, but leaving room for many surprises at every performance.  POLE is also the only work of Stockhausen's which includes a "mix balance" score for live performance (other electronically-realized works of his have notated motions, but those are not really for a performer/sound mixer to interpret live).  But for most casual listeners, the appreciation of these works may in the end come down to how much the listener likes the natural improvisational style and instrumentation of the performers themselves.  Actually, come to think of it, one could say that these works are Stockhausen's gift to the creative improvising musician.

      Historically, these works were created at the end of the "intuitive music" era as performed by the longest-serving members of the Stockhausen Group.  It is reported that some of his intuitive music collaborators were feeling unhappy about the open nature of the "free" music they were playing and beginning to contest ownership of the composition rights.  On the other hand, Stockhausen has been described as being unhappy with the "dilettantish interpretations" he was getting from his players.  When a performer was in a physically or mentally distracted state (such as being sick or depressed), the music suffered as well.  This "fragility" of intuitive music would not be as present in fully-notated music.  MANTRA would soon come into being, and this work for 2 ring-modulated pianos is completely composed down to the last tenth of second (though in a sense it is "intuitively-composed" as the product of one person's intuitively-based musical deliberations at a much slower pace..).

     One final thought before leaving the "process plan" plus-minus-notated works behind...  Taken altogether, the plus-minus notation scheme could easily be applied to any fully-precomposed work, as a kind of analysis tool.  Since most Western music is based on transformation of thematic material, these symbols could be used as a useful annotation.  Perhaps an even more useful scenario in which to use these symbols would be in analyzing free-improvisation recordings.  Again, free improvisation is more or less based on imitation, contrast and transformation (not to mention "SPIRAL" events).  In fact, it would be interesting to use these symbols to compose many more structured "free" works besides the ones Stockhausen composed (though I'm not sure how the copyright would work!).

Samples and CD ordering:
Buy the Score
On Harald Bojé's Electronium 
On Peter Eotvos' Electrochord 
"The Ephemeral Architecture of Stockhausen's Pole für 2" (Michael Fowler) 
POLE (1st Recording with Electrochord & Electronium, YouTube clip) 
POLE (2nd Recording with Electrochord & Electronium, Abbey Road, YouTube clip)
POLE Live excerpt with Natascha Nikeprelevic, Michael Vetter
EXPO Live excerpt with Natascha Nikeprelevic, Michael Vetter, F.X.Randomiz 
EXPO Live rehearsal excerpt with Natascha Nikeprelevic, Michael Vetter, F.X.Randomiz 
F.X. Randomiz on EXPO (with sound samples)

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