Monday, August 17, 2015


Stockhausen Edition CD 81 Cover
for orchestra (including 2 pianos and 2 harps)
1952 version (8:20)
1962, 1964, 1966, 1993 versions (approx. 27:00)

     In the first 1952 version of PUNKTE (Points), Stockhausen took the melodically and rhythmically liberating ideas of the 12-tone/serial composers and expanded them so that each note would have it's own identity as an independent "point".  Instead of using notes to express the development of a melodic or rhythmic idea, notes were given independently-chosen pitches, durations, dynamics, and articulations.  Because these notes did not necessarily have a relationship with their surrounding notes, this produced a kind of "swarm" or "star-field"-like effect (though there are also instances of ensemble cadences).  Ultimately, Stockhausen found that this version required too many difficult-to-acquire instruments and/or was too hard for the musicians to play (tinfoil inside the piano strings was a point of contention), and it was never performed or even published.  However, this idea of scattered specks of sounds soon developed further into KONTRA-PUNKTE, where "hosts of points" would surface from the star-fields of points, and eventually clump together into "groups" with common attributes.

     In 1962, Stockhausen revisited PUNKTE and rewrote it so that the original points were each expanded into triangular pitch range envelope shapes (below).  In fact, the work was so dramatically expanded that its duration went from 8 minutes to 27 minutes long (points were lengthened and rests were put in between most of them).  At this time, Stockhausen had already written works using "group" and "moment" form (GRUPPEN and KONTAKTE), and these experiences probably influenced the reshaping of PUNKTE.  Additionally, Stockhausen began applying GRUPPEN's idea of "silent windows" to some structures (such as when a densely notated page has a shape drawn into it, and all of the notes in this shape are changed to rests - i.e. "erased").  The work was again revised several times up until 1993 (less dramatically then the almost complete re-imagining of the 1952 version, though, in 1964 an introductory page of layered  tremolo points was removed).  At this point no recording of the original 1952 PUNKTE exists, but the revised versions clearly have a kind of dramatic arc to the way it builds and shapes textures.

From Central Pitches to Envelope Shapes
In these shapes a "central tone" from the original 1952 version of PUNKTE is represented by the horizontal black line, and in the revised version additional pitches were used to fill out the yellow-shaded areas.  Sometimes the shapes from the 1st and 2nd columns were combined to make the shapes in the 3rd column.
      When Stockhausen revised PUNKTE in 1962, he grouped sounds together so that pitch ranges (think "bandwidths") of sound would expand/contract in upwards or downwards directions.  For example, in the top left case, notes would gradually be added to one of the original points of the 1952 version, with each of the additional notes having a higher register.  In the shape below that, notes would be added so that additional notes would have an increasingly lower register-space (the original central tone remains).  In the second column, the beginning of a sound group starts out with a large and dense available pitch bandwidth, but gradually the outer limit of the bandwidth falls or rises.
The 6 "shape types", somewhat graphically represented. 
In all of these cases, the top range of the pitch range shrinks,
until only the central tone remains.

     During these pitch-range shapes, a specific type of texture/property (sometimes in combination) is featured:
  1. Sustained notes
  2. Intermittent rests ("Morse code")
  3. Glissandi (falling/rising)
  4. Tremolos/trills
  5. Rhythmic subdivision
  6. Staccato, portato, legato chords (staccato shown)
     Shapes can also be based on things like instrumental colors (strings, brass, etc...), dynamic levels (loud, soft, etc...), tempo, etc...

A page (section 136-139) from the 1966 version of PUNKTE.
I outlined and numbered some of the more obvious shapes.
The bottom section strings thin out, allowing the woodwinds in the top portion to surface.
(Click to enlarge.)
     In the first few minutes of PUNKTE, the shapes occur as short isolated bursts, but soon these shapes begin to overlap (see above), and the music can become quite dense.  As mentioned previously, when a section seems to become too dense for a listener to perceive any kind of particular structure, Stockhausen used an eraser to carve "negative" shapes into them (as rests).  The most obvious visual examples in the score show diamond-shaped "windows" carved into walls of notes (section 117 for example, or above), resulting in a gradual reduction and then restoration of the middle register instruments.

     In some further revisions, Stockhausen would reshape ensemble rests/pauses as punctuation to highlight underlying instrumental groups or to suspend chord shapes as repeating “snapshots” (chord echoes).  Some of the loose, "unshaped" points were also connected to make melodic solo fragments (finding “figurative constellations” (zodiac signs) in the stars).  Even some of the "erased" shapes were refilled with new timbres (such as wind sounds).  At one point an introductory page of a swelling drone figure was present ("Page 0", recorded only once in a performance conducted by Pierre Boulez in 1963 at the Donaueschingen Musiktage), but was soon discarded.  Interestingly enough, this lost intro sounds a bit similar to the opening section of INORI, which would come 11 years later.

     In summary, these are the steps taken to transform the 1-dimensional "points" of the 1952 version into the 2-dimensional "shapes" of the 1962 version:
  • assign shapes to the original pitches (expanding/contracting upwards/downwards)
  • assign pitch ranges to the shapes (i.e. highest/lowest note)
  • assign shape texture types (sustained, trills, glissandi, etc...)
  • assign tempi
  • erase notes from dense sections in the form of shapes
  • add chordal echoes over long fermatas
  • connect "loose" central tones into melodic solos

12 by 12 Sections
     There are a total of 144 sections (12 groups with 12 sections in each with many sections being as short as 1 measure).  These section groupings sometimes sound a bit ambiguous (some shapes sustain into the following section, and some seem to start early) but in any case the Stockhausen Edition CD2 track divisions match the large group structures (tracks 1-4 are FORMEL, SCHLAGTRIO and SPIEL).
Section Textures Dur.
5 1-12 Shapes begin as short isolated bursts, accompanied by a few melodic fragments.
Ends with a string fermata and 2 brass "echos"
6 13-24 Shapes begin to bunch together, getting longer and overlapping.  More pedal tones surface in between shapes. Percussion (vibraphone, piano) becomes more prominent (glissandi).  
Ends with isolated accents from different solo groups (points)
7 25-36 More dynamic variation in the shapes occur.  
Low strings solo at 1:01.  
Quiet sustained tones continue to surface between shapes.
8 37-48 Long violin drone/trill begins, eventually joined by piccolo trill, 
Shapes are generally quieter, and more melodic fragments now occur in between shapes (as well as during them).  
Ends with a wind fermata and 3 string echos
9 49-60 Shapes are pierced by brass and then piano/harp accents. Harp solo at 0:35.  In general, shapes are made up of groups of accents. 
Melody fragments continue during fermatas.  
From 2:20 a trombone pedal tone begins, soon joined by a brief explosion of brass
10 61-72 More variation in shape lengths but generally softer.  Sometimes quiet sustained shapes contain short accent shapes.  
Piano/harp solo at 1:52
More extreme high and low register elements appear (greater shape heights).
11 73-84 Strings w. glissandi, harmonics, create a "wispy" texture, punctuated by plucked bass melodic fragments and glockenspiel.  A couple stray wind/brass notes appear (1:24, 1:55), but otherwise all strings. 2:14
12 85-96 Plucked bass solo is joined by melodic fragments from other groups, but shapes soon resume at 0:20.  More percussion enters (marimba, vibr.).
At 0:53 a long trumpet drone begins and leads a long sustained shape.  
At 1:52 a bassoon solo fragment appears, followed by a mixture of different shape texture types (tremolo, glissandi, etc...)
13 97-108 Sustained strings are pierced by accented attacks from other instrumental groups, with strings themselves soon joining in. 1:33
14 109-120 Sustained textures with accents continue.  Strings briefly change to pizzicato rhythm at 0:39, followed by various other textures (tremolo, etc...).  
At 1:40 the shapes are no longer pierced, but become more isolated, connected by high harmonic string tones.  
Ends with a few accent points.
15 121-132 After an introductory section of melodic fragments, shapes resume.  
At 0:40 a large shape is accompanied by multiple solos.  
At 1:21 a falling scale and a rising scale harmonize.
At the end a long sustained shape is punctuated by a tolling bell, followed by more scalar figures.
16 133-144 The final group is characterized by loud, brassy shapes with percussive rolls.  After another scalar figure at 1:02, a quiet moment occurs before a final conglomeration of shapes and shape types. 1:50

Sound Impressions
     Listening and following PUNKTE may be a kind of "educational" experience, since most people are conditioned to follow melodic ideas or rhythmic figures made of orchestral group mixtures.  In this work, the "theme" is actually the development of each individual attack and how their envelope shapes interact.  Perhaps it's easier to first appreciate PUNKTE as a train of chordal bursts (as if Stockhausen were "playing" the orchestra like a pulse generator), and then on further playbacks follow the shapes of the evolving sound-masses.  These expanding/contracting bandwidths of sound in the beginning are often as short as 1 measure, but soon more and more overlapping shapes occur (resulting in a timbral change, but not necessarily a clear wedge-shaped change in sound density).  As the work progresses, more of these expanding/contracting shapes seem to be audible (especially when the shapes are applied to longer held chords).

     It's interesting to consider how Stockhausen might have come to the idea of revisiting PUNKTE in 1962.  The concept of pitch-space envelope shapes occurs as early as STUDIE II, and continues on into works including KONTAKTE  and FRESCO (and the idea of "negative space" would soon be explored again in a very different way as the "negative bands" in PLUS-MINUS).  His methodology in 1962 seems to be much closer in spirit to the way he worked out things like GRUPPEN and CARRÉ
      Sadly, I never really paid that much attention to PUNKTE until now, mainly because the title and number (Points, Work Nr. 1/2) doesn't sound very promising.  This "1/2" numbering is unfortunately misleading, considering that the completely re-imagined 1962 version was completed in the same year that MOMENTE was begun, and it's compositional style is very much reflective of Stockhausen's maturity as a composer.  Fortunately this work seems to be getting performed a bit more frequently these days.

Sound samples and CD ordering:
PUNKTE Wiki Entry
Purchase the Score
Punkte 1962 version (includes discarded intro)
The Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (Robin Maconie)
Sonoloco Review

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