KONTAKTE - Electronic Music Techniques

(© www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
No.12: KONTAKTE (Contacts)
for 4-channel tape
1958-60 (35:30)

No.12 1/2 (ie 12.2) - KONTAKTE for tape, piano and percussion
No.12 2/3 (ie 12.3) - ORIGINALE (Originals), Musical Theatre with KONTAKTE (1961)  [90 min]

Part 3:

The first 2 parts of this analysis of KONTAKTE can be found in

Pulses and Sine Waves
     The basic sounds of KONTAKTE were mostly generated by a pulse generator which could create bursts of noise ("white noise clicks") at the rate of 16 clicks/second to 1 every 16 seconds, and with durations between 1/10000 of a second and 1-second. These "full-spectrum" noise impulses were then fed through a frequency bandwidth filter in order to produce pitches, noises and mixtures of both.  Other devices employed include reverb units and ring modulators.

  1. Pulse wave generator
  2. Level-control amplifier
  3. Amplifier
  4. 12 different filters
  5. Reverberation unitEMT.140No 108
  6. Ring modulator
  7. Sine-Square-wave generators
  8. Low-tone generator
  9. Difference-tone ‘hummer’
  10. Four-channel variablespeed tape recorder
  11. 3 other three-speed tape-recorders connected to a patch board
  12. 3 Terz-filters (band pass)
  13. Hand-operated rotation table to be used with four microphones (up to 6 rotations per second)

Tape Loops
     The first phase of creating KONTAKTE was to create bits of tape loops with "source material" with which to work from.  These tape loops were then manipulated and processed in various ways.

     One of the ideas Stockhausen explored is that when periodic impulses are looped at high speed, they create stable tones (pitched drones).  However, by varying the placement of an impulse on a tape loop, a noise can be created, with the bandwidth related to the length of variation between the impulse placements and the proportion of irregular to regular rhythms.  A transition from a pure tone to a noise can be done by gradually varying the amount of regular periodicity in the tape loop.

Creating Structure X
  1. Record 60 secs of pulses with pitch zigzagging upwards.
  2. Speed up 10x to 6 secs (zigzag melody becomes rising tone color) .
  3. Record 30 seconds with pulses in decreasing speed (zigzag down) with pitch falling and then rising in a smooth curve.
  4. Record 45 seconds with pulses continuing to evenly slow down with pitch falling in a zig zag and then holding steady.
  5. Record 45 seconds with pulses continuing to evenly slow down.  7 pulses play a melody in the middle and then hold again, slightly lower.
  6. Final pulses have gradually altered "filter feedback time" so that the timbre becomes metallic.
  7. Combine result of 1-2 with slightly sped up result of 3-6.
  8.  Afterwards, the sound is filtered higher and higher.
     Interestingly, the final pulse frequency (160 Hz), generated through frequency filtering, is about the same at the beginning's 1st pulses (166 Hz), generated by the pulse generator. 

Score notations (from Jonathan Harvey's book)

The Realization score of KONTAKTE (cover at top of page) is basically in 4 parts:
  1. Pictures and descriptions of the studio equipment.
  2. Descriptions of the creation of 16 categories of tape loops.
  3. Descriptions of the mixing/manipulation phase for each of the 16 Structures.
  4. Visual transcription ("score") of the resulting electronic music.
     In contrast to every other article on this site, for KONTAKTE I've decided to refrain from charting out a beat-by-beat, impulse-by-impulse "listening guide".  Every time I hear KONTAKTE, the experience always feels like a "first time". For this reason I think I'll leave the "mystery" intact. In any case, the Stockhausen Edition has track breaks for each Structure, so one can easily follow the proceedings with an eye on "moment-structure" if one wants.

Live Performance
Structure XIIIB/C, from KONTAKTE w Perc & Piano
( © Universal Edition/© www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
     KONTAKTE for tape, piano and percussion is the most commonly presented live version of KONTAKTE, as it has a very accessible visual element. The live instrumental parts were originally conceived as improvised accompaniment to the electronic tape (which is precisely what HYMNEN mit SOLISTEN is) but Stockhausen's initial auditions with this concept didn't produce the interactions he was looking for. He soon realized that he had to fully notate an accompaniment to the tape part. Thus, the score to KONTAKTE for tape, piano and percussion is one part graphic score (top staff) and two parts notated music (lower section). Stockhausen's compositional strategy for the piano and percussion elements could probably be best gleaned from the transcript below:

     "The instruments point at certain events in the electronic music, underline... It’s like having a painting with special coloring, and certain forms and figures are underlined with (this) color...they play along with what’s happening, sometimes even "multiply" - like at the beginning, the first two minutes, they really multiply what’s already happening in the electronic music."

 -  Stockholm Q & A transcript

      To get an idea of what Stockhausen is going for here, see the directives for the musicians in HYMNEN mit SOLISTEN.

     This piece is essentially a performance art theatrical work, involving many surrealistic characters and plot elements, many of them pretty funny. Part of the proceedings is a live performance of KONTAKTE with piano and percussion. This staging of KONTAKTE functions as a "performance within a performance". For video and more, check out the page on Ubuweb.

Sound Impressions
(see INTRODUCTION, or "I Remember KONTAKTE...")

Sound samples, tracks listings and CD ordering
Four Criteria of Electronic Music (Stockhausen on Music)
The Concept of Unity in Electronic Music (Stockhausen, PoNM 1)
Wikipedia Entry
Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (Robin Maconie)
Electronic Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (Heikinheimo)
Compositional techniques in the music of Stockhausen (1951-1970) (John Kelsall PDF)
Kontakte by Karlheinz Stockhausen in Four Channels (Kevin Austin)
On Stockhausen’s Kontakte (1959-60) for tape, piano and percussion (John Rea PDF)
"Zur Entstehungs- und Problemgeschichte der Kontakte von Karlheinz Stockhausen." (On the Origin and Problem of "Kontakte", Helmut Kirchmayer, in German, included with original Wergo LP)
Stockhausen Introduction for “KONTAKTE”, Stockholm, 12th May 2001
Stockhausen Q & A after KONTAKTE, Stockholm, 12th May 2001
Revisiting Kontakte (Talea Ensemble)
Relationships of Isomorphic Elements in Stockhausen's Kontakte (Stephen Lucas) 
The Music of Stockhausen (Jonathan Harvey)
WDR Electronic Music Studio Tour (photos of electronic gear, 2015)
WDR Studios Vintage Pictures & Video Tour (120 Years of Electronic Music)