Stockhausen’s Electronic Space at Issue Project Room

United StatesUnited States Stockhausen: Joe Drew (trumpet and sound projection engineer), Philip White (sound engineer), Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, NY. 9.12.2011 (DS)

Finding sounds isn’t something we consider in our everyday lives. Noise is everywhere, especially in an incessantly moving metropolis like New York City. However, when it comes to looking for music, interestingly, we do not consider it part of this noise but rather a removal, isolated from other sounds, neatly framed inside four walls built specially to surround it. So what happens when the music we search for reclaims that noise, reconfigures it, patches it, layers it, and even reconstructs those walls?

As part of the Darmstadt Series in early December at the Issue Project Room in Gowanus, Brooklyn, the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen addressed this issue. Listeners gathered together in this isolated 19th-century industrial complex-turned-art-conglomerate and sat – be it on chairs or the floor – surrounded by eight loudspeakers. The performer (trumpeter and sound projection engineer), Joe Drew, sat at a computer at the audience’s epicenter, harnessing the force that would rotate the noise (I mean, music) in orbit around us with the help of sound engineer Philip White.

We were there to hear Stockhausen’s own finding of sounds, as in Telemusik (1966) for magnetic tape, in which he gathers snippets from recordings he unearthed during a trip to Japan. He assembles a composition of manipulated waveforms resulting in electronic emissions of rhythm, pitch, and timbre. Found sounds passed through an electronic algorithm take on the basic elements of traditional music. So what do we hear? We enter into a space of recorded human activity, analog bleeps, subtly changing sine wave amplitudes, the occasional human moan and passing moments of chant. The noises display themselves in a structured collage counterpoint, allowing us to interpret this aural Rorschach test as it triggers memories of our own hidden relationships to external sounds.

The evening finished with the New York premiere of Cosmic Pulses (2007), the 32-minute work Stockhausen composed just before his death as the thirteenth hour of his cycle, Sound, representing 24 hours of the day. The audience huddled in closer around Drew as the speakers enclosed us in the 24 layers of electronically deconstructed melodic loops that traveled spatially through the room, at different tempi, often in a whirlwind of sonic experience not unlike the exhilarating whooshes of a race-car track. With the speakers’ emissions building powerfully, the room became the noise, the noise the room, and music a conglomeration of the experience – partly architectural, partly temporal.

Listening to works composed of found sounds or pre-recorded source material is not easy for everyone. By breaking boundaries, reconfiguring our ears, and even redefining the space around us, this type of electronic music can dismantle our comfort zone in which music typically acts as an escape. It teaches us to listen with an ear bent towards the unexpected and the multi-dimensional and with a new ability to incorporate the ever-changing modern experience. Thus, we reach a “higher unity,” as Stockhausen wrote of Telemusik, and, ideally, “a universality of past, present, and future, of distant places and spaces.”

Daniele Sahr