Tuesday, August 11, 2015

ALPHABET for Liège, AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH

Original LP cover art.  Stockhausen is sitting where the audience would normally sit.
This rehearsal is in the same Oeldorf barn where HERBSTMUSIK was premiered.
No. 36: ALPHABET for Liège,
13 Musical Scenes for soloists and duets
(with electro-acoustic equipment)
1972 (~4 hours)

No. 36 1/2: AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH
(In the Sky I am Walking)
Indianerlieder (American Indian songs) for 2 voices
1972 (51:30)

ALPHABET for Liège

Development
     ALPHABET for Liège is semi-theatrical performance piece designed to illustrate the effect of sound vibrations on organic and inorganic matter.  For example, sounds were produced and amplified so that very light particles would move around and create patterns, or sounds were produced with the intention of harmonizing one's chakras, etc...  This work, a commission from the City of Liège (Belgium), was premiered in a basement complex of unfurnished white-washed rooms connected by unadorned open doorways and window openings.  As the audience moved from room to room during this 4 hour event, 11 sound "Situations" (out of a proposed 13) were realized by 17 participants, including Peter Eötvös (as a coordinator/prompter percussionist), Jill Purce, Michael Vetter, Herbert Henck, Joachim Krist, Hugh Davies and many others (all 13 Situations would have required 1 additional performer).

Structure
     The title ALPHABET comes from the use of 30 word-based actions (each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, plus 4 more blended characters) which individual members of the Situation groups would use when visiting another group (something like an "insert").  For example, one member of a duo could break off to visit another soloist in another room, and then have a dialogue with that person using one of these 30 alphabetized instructions (call/appeal, accompany, "chaos", "tootle", monotone, etc...), after which the sounds captured during this visits could be brought back to be incorporated into his/her home Situation..  Before a performance, each person draws 2 cards from a deck of these 30 words, and then uses these to make 2 visitations during their Situation.

     Stockhausen designed a "time plan" for this enormous production, and a "musical leader" used various percussion-based instruments to mark the sections for all of the performers.  These included kane (large Japanese bells), rin (Japanese singing bowls, small Indian bells, and a string of large camel bells (which signal 5 moments of frozen silence).  This aspect is well-represented in the film "Alphabet pour Liège", directed by Georges Yu.

13 Situations
     The 13 Situations (each performed by a soloist except for 1, 5, 6 and 8) are basically as follows (more detail can be found in the Wikipedia article):
  1. Perform AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH (see below), twelve songs on American Indian poems (duo).
  2. Make visible the vibrations of sound in liquids, light rays, flames.
  3. Make sound spectra visible in solid material (powder, iron filings, etc.).
  4. With tones, cause glass to break.
  5. Magnetize food with tones and make the magnetization visible by means of a pendulum (duo).
  6. Massage a human body with sounds (vibrations of a musical instrument are translated by a dancer) (duo).
  7. Play self-extinguishing tones (e.g., play a trumpet closely or at varying distances against a wall that is either bare or hung with a variety of surface materials, in order to muffle the sound).
  8. "Make love" with tones (e.g., with two recorders and/or voices generate beat frequencies) (duo).
  9. Using tones, harmonize the seven centers (chakras) of the body (using mantras).
  10. Use tones to repel thoughts and keep thinking at bay.
  11. Use tones to speed up and slow down the respiration and heartbeat of living creatures (such as fish).
  12. Invoke and summon the spirits of the dead with sounds (until in a trance).
  13. Pray using tones (sometimes intelligibly, informed by sung prayers of all religions).


Nr. 2: Amplifed voice vibrations makes white powder vibrate and bubble.

Nr. 11: An EMS Synthi A creates pulses to affect the heartbeat of fishes.

The musical leader with metal bowl to make signals.
(Images from "ALPHABET für Liège, click to enlarge)

AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH
     These 12 "Indianerlieder" (American Indian Songs) make up the only fully-notated Situation (the other 12 are all mainly based on verbal text instructions which the participant uses to make a performance).  These 1 1/2 to 10 minute songs ("scenes", performed without breaks) were composed in barely a week, and mainly use 12 texts from "The Winged Serpent/Indian Prose and Poetry: An Anthology" edited by Margot Astrov.  Besides the various rhythmic phrasings of the texts (including free repetitions of fragments), other additional vocal elements are also inserted throughout the text-settings, such as onomatopoetic vocal sounds (bird calls, war cries, etc...), "magic names", heckling, erotic whispering, a performer-chosen fairy tale (which must be about sounds), nicknames for Jill Purce or Stockhausen ("Jillika", "Eagloo"), etc...

Karl O. Barkley (baritone) and Helga Hamm-Albrecht (mezzo-soprano)
 www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
     The 1st song only uses 1 pitch, and the following songs each in turn add 1 additional note until the 12th song includes 12 unique pitches.  At the same time, the rhythms between the 2 vocal parts becomes progressively more and more complex and contrapuntal.  For each song, the performers use dynamics and tempi chosen beforehand from 2 sequences of 12 possible types (independently).  This sequence can be different for each performance.  Within a 4 hour performance of ALPHABET, this Situation is repeated 4 times, and each time possibly with a different dynamics/tempo sequence.  The sequence chosen for the premiere recording (Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 20) is shown below.
Sequence of dynamics and tempi chosen for the premiere recording of AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH.
 www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
       In addition to the musical material, each song also has specific theatrical gestures and atmospheres indicated in the score, but for the most part they are seated cross-legged on rugs, singing to each other.  During a performance of ALPHABET for Liège, however, each of the performers frequently visits performers of the other Situations and engages them in a duet using his/her song (while the other Indianerlieder singer performs solo).

12 Indianerlieder
(based on the premiere recording by Karl O. Barkley (baritone, V1) and Helga Hamm-Albrecht (mezzo-soprano, V2) on Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 20) 

CD
Trk
Song
Title
Indian Tribe Musical/Stage Activity (each follows directly into the next)
For dynamics and tempo, see the above chart.
Text
sample
Dur.
1 (Entrance) Dream Song Chippewa Entrance sounds, then (at 0:58) unison rhythm on a single pitch, soon slightly drifting, and including a pair of mirrored glissandi. In the sky I am walking… 0:58
0:32
2 Love Song Chippewa After V1 sings a rolled vowel, he sings held tones on a single pitch, as V2 sings a more syncopated figure.  As V2 changes to held dynamic swells, V1 rises to a 2nd pitch held.  At the end, V2 features a repeating, fading "lo-ver", and V1 shouts "oh yes!". Oh I am thinking - I have found my lover… 2:04
3 War Song Pawnee Features repeated refrains of "Is this real", "tegedega", etc...   
V2 has somewhat more melodic activity than V1.  Mixture of unison, exchanged and counterpointed rhythms (and 2 Magic Names).
Let us see, is this real, this life I am living? 3:30
4 Love Song Nootka After a brief introduction, V1 huddles in a far corner, quietly whispering (erotically) with individual scored syllables surfacing from time to time, and V2 responds with the repeating refrain "You always come back to my mind".  Afterwards, both gradually rejoin in an accelerating dialogue, ending in a slow unison phrase separated by pauses. No matter how hard I try to forget you… 5:16
5 Song, Sung Over A Dying Person Chippewa The 2 voices are somewhat harmonized, or in alternating solos, or are in canon-form.  More Magic Names and "unusual vocal sounds" begin to be featured (wind, etc..). 
The "dying one" is imagined to be in between the singers, who sometimes cover their faces while singing.  
You are a spirit, I am making you a spirit… 4:19
6 Opening Prayer Of The Sun Dance Teton Sioux The performers react to one another with eyes, eyelid, neck and ear-cupping motions, as well as a gesture where V1 sprinkles water on V2 and as well as on the walls.
After a unison "Eagloo" and a V2 solo, V1 mostly hums with a few Magic names inserted in the end section (during the sprinkling actions).  V2 sings melodically, but in the end section uses accented repeated notes.
…All over the universe, a voice I am going to send… 4:37
7 Peruvian Dance Song Ayacucho V2 sings melodically and gradually begins dancing ("May the Dance arrive!"), as V1 makes quiet vocal noises.  In the middle section, V1 enters with a melody and V2 (dancing & clapping) rhythmically chants  "tageda".  Suddenly they "see Death" and sing "Da! What a chill..."  In the end they sing in rhythm. …Comes the dance, you must dance, comes the death… 4:30
8 Plaint Against The Fog Nootka The performers lean back, singing long held notes, "sowing the sky" (during pauses).  After a brief V2 solo and a duo vowel section in the middle, the singers vocally "draw clouds in the sky" (shaping rising/falling glissandi vowels and overtones by following top and then bottom edges) in between short unison fragments. …don’t you ever get tired of having the clouds between you and us? 5:19
9 A Song By Nezahualcoyotl Aztec Here, the performers at times make bird-like flying gestures with their arms.  After a tongue-rolling (flapping?) intro, the 2 performers sing rhythmically, but take turns singing melodies and single note rhythms.  After a section with a more lively unison rhythm, they humorously make pitched bird noises (whistling, cawing, etc...). I am like the quetzal bird, I am created in the one and only god… 4:16
10 Song To Bring Fair Weather Nootka After a brief intro of melody, vocal sounds and a Magic Name, V2 half-whispers a fairy tale (in German for the premiere recording), and V1 listens (sometimes interjecting Magic Names or vocal sounds).  While intoning her tale, V2 also intersperses forceful words from the Indian text and V1 (as listener) responds in imitation. …make it beautiful, get out your rainbow colors… 2:54
11 Love Song Aztec After a brief intro, the performers sing (independently) in counterpoint and in mirrored shapes (inversions).  The melody and rhythms sung are indicated in the air by hand signs.  They sing in unison at the end ("I know it is thou..."). …If my eardrops tremble in my ears, I know it is thou moving within my heart. 3:34
12 Song Of A Man Who Received A Vision 
(Departure)
Teton Sioux V1 points and throws blossoms over V2's head (who has made a kind of "goalpost" with her hands).  After a brief harmony intro, they sing in counterpointed rhythm, slowing down and then speeding up (twice).  After a faster refrain-driven middle section (rhythmic but melodically counterpointed), the singers independently sing the repeating refrain "Friends behold" over the complete 12-note pitch row, gradually inserting noises and Magic Names, and accelerating until "ecstatic".  The performers then depart while singing the refrain "Sacred he/she/I have been made..." Friends behold!...In a sacred manner I have been influenced at the gathering of the clouds… 10:42

Score
Indianerlieder 8: Plaint Against The Fog.  In the top system's bracketed notes, the sky is "sown".
In the bottom system after the brackets with vowels, the bracketed notes are "clouds" are shaped by glissandi.
 www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
Sound Impressions
     The idea of exploring how sound can affect living and non-living matter is a fascinating one.  Often times the sound levels experienced at a loud rock concert or in a subway train tunnel during rush hour can cause physical discomfort.  The movie "Dune" by David Lynch even had sound-based weapons.  Fortunately the Situations in ALPHABET for Liège aren't designed for destruction!  In fact, the main idea seems to be the use of sound to achieve harmony or balance, or at least harmlessly illustrate sound vibrations on inanimate matter.  This idea was probably born from discussions with singer Jill Purce, who even now still uses sound and voice for therapeutic healing.  It's actually an ancient tradition to use music as a therapeutic method (for example, using Turkish makamlar).  In any case, it's a fascinating idea for a sound installation, and nowadays this kind of sound illustration still seems to be popular (for example, Bjork's Biophilia concerts).  The DVD showing the dress rehearsal of ALPHABET gives a pretty fascinating look into this performance piece, though it does seem to belong most at home in the "free-wheeling" late 60's/early 70's...

     AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH's text-influenced melodies could possibly be viewed as Stockhausen's version of the madrigal tradition, mixed with ancient ritual and a glorification of nature (I suppose the fact that they are typically performed between a man and a woman makes them come across as love songs as well).  The idea of having almost innumerable possible dynamic and tempo sequences for each song cycle allows the possibility of many different interpretations, but also highlights Stockhausen's ingenuity and craftsmanship in creating a scenario for just 2 voices building from only 1 note.  Even when the 12th song reaches a pool of 12 notes, the melodic structure remains tightly-controlled and focused, and anything but "point-like".  The spare setting and ritualistic interactions between the performers also makes this one of Stockhausen's most intimate and playful vocal works.  The Peruvian Dance Song especially sounds like 2 children playing a game of some sort and the following song, Plaint Against The Fog, certainly inspires me to "sing a cloud shape" next time I'm lying down in the park...

Links 
AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH Sound samples, tracks listings and CD ordering 
AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH Score
DVD of "ALPHABET für Liège, World première, September 23rd 1972" (dress rehearsal footage)
English translation of DVD narration (PDF)
Wiki Entry
AM HIMMEL WANDRE ICH (alternate staging, Youtube)

1 comment:

  1. This is some article, detailed and covers all the aspects. The fundamental idea underlying Alphabet is the notion that sound vibrations can affect both living beings and inanimate matter. thanks for sharing this informative article.

    ReplyDelete