Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Karlheinz Stockhausen - Mantra (1990)

| Avant-Garde | Electro-Acoustic |
| Experimental Electronic |

Karlheinz Stockhausen emerged early on as one of the most influential and unique voices in the post-WWII European musical avant-garde and his prominence continued throughout the rest of the twentieth century and into the twenty first. Combining a keen sensitivity to the acoustical realities and possibilities of sound, rigorous and sophisticated compositional methods expanded from integral serialism, innovative theatricality, and a penchant for the mystical, Stockhausen remains one of the most innovative musical personalities to span the turn of this century.

Mantra (1970) is a work for two pianos, two sine-wave generators, and two ring modulators. This piece represents a synthesis or "sublation" of the earlier serial method of composition and the emerging post-serial methodology, with its surrealistic or collage tendencies, and its post-modern anachronistic flair. Mantra is based on a thirteen-note series, beginning and ending with A natural. This series is quite complex, expanding from intervals as precise as a minor second, to a simple perfect fourth, always "spurred on" by the artificially introduced tonalities of the ring modulators and wave generators. Both pianists utilize a piece of equipment, placed near the left hand section of the piano, consisting of a microphone amplifier, a sound compressor and filter, a ring modulator, and a scaled sine-wave generator with volume controls. Behind both players are situated loudspeakers, which reproduce the various and sundry effects produced by the lefthand apparati. The purpose of this complex array of notes and effects is the production and exploration of a musical mantra: a precise repetition of certain sounds intended to place the producer (as well as the hearer) in a state of consciousness that is related directly to the musical sounds being produced. We witness here a typical "compositional" methodology of Stockhausen -- that of allowing the listener to participate in the musical moment in such a manner that any boundary separating the listener from the producer is removed, transforming the act of listening into an interpretative event. However, in Mantra the correspondence between producer and hearer is taken to a new and different level; for the purpose of a mantra, in Indian religious practice, is to bring the three principles of thought, expression, and breath into consonance, with the resultant unification of the mind and body with the meaning to which it is always attempting to relate itself. Therefore, by creating a "mirroring effect" between the acoustically produced piano sounds and their electronically produced counterparts, Stockhausen achieves a tension between the direct effect of the humanly-derived cause of the sounds (the actual piano performance) and the "altered repetition" of these sounds in and by an external modulator (the electronic apparatus, which exceeds the control of the performer), identified with the external meaning toward which human consciousness is always tending. Halfway though this piece, the original thirteen-note row is repeated (with alterations, of course), and a new level of dissonance is introduced, by the persistent presence of the electronic devices. It soon becomes clear to the listener that the source of this dissonance is the wave generator, which at certain intervals ceases to reproduce or "mirror" the acoustic sounds faithfully. This produces a tension in the music that is only overcome by the intelligent response of the performer to the sounds that s/he is unwittingly producing through the interaction of the piano with the electronic equipment. When the performers, equipment, and the sound produced finally achieve a unity or synthesis, the musical expression may be said to have reached completion. The persistent repetition of the initial form of the mantra (the original thirteen-note row) amidst all the electronically produced alterations, and the consequent dialogue, occurring as a result of this interaction, brings into being a synthesized and ordered musical expression that exceeds any individual consciousness or musical ideal.

Catalog: NA 025 CD (New Albion)
Album Overview on Allmusic

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