ETUDE, STUDIE I & II

www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
No. 1/5: (Concrète) ETUDE, 1952 [3'15"]
(Musique concrète derived from samples of piano string vibrations)
No. 3.I: STUDIE I (Study I), 1953 [9'42"]
No. 3.II: STUDIE II (Study II), 1954 [3'20"]
(Electronic music generated from manipulated sine tones)

     These 3 works are Stockhausen's earliest experiments with tape-based electronic ("synthetic") music.  He would go on to create modern masterpieces of electroacoustic music (GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE , KONTAKTE), but it's very fascinating to study these early works to see the gradual accumulation of skills and techniques which would reach full fruition in those works.  In brief terms these 3 pieces could be characterized like this:
  • ETUDE: fast serial patterns of cut up pieces of tape with concrete sounds on them (musique concrète)
  • STUDIE I: exploration of the serial organization of sine tones, with the use of reverb to create a spatial character
  • STUDIE II: sine chords sunk in a deep reverb wash to create unpitched "noise" sound masses

(Concrète) ETUDE (1952)
(a phonogène device used to alter
tape speed playback to get different pitches)
     In 1952 Stockhausen attended the Paris classes of Oliver Messaien who had inspired Stockhausen with his ideas of serial organization of musical parameters (ie - mathematical ways to create a fresh and unpredictable sequences of pitches, durations, dynamics, etc...).  During this time he also met musique concrète pioneer Pierre Schaeffer, who gave him access to the Studio for Musique Concrète  at RTF (French radio).  There he had access to various sound manipulating devices such as the phonogène, which could alter the speed and pitch of recorded sounds by changing the tape playback speed.

     For his tape piece ETUDE, Stockhausen first recorded 6 samples of a struck piano string (some strings "prepared") and then cut off the beginning and endings so that he could get an even sound suitable for looping.  Using the pitch-transposing phonogène device, Stockhausen was able to use these loops to get other variously-pitched loops from just these 6 samples.  After a period of trial and error he was able to combine these static loop fragments into a 6-layer work by literally pasting bits of these pitch-transposed tape-loops onto blank leader tape and then combining this with other prepared "zebra" tapes (the leader tape is white so the bits of tape pasted on it (with white pauses) gave it a kind of "highway passing zone divider" look).  The actual sequencing, measurement and selection of tape loops was based on a serial distribution.  The 6 layers can be visualized kind of like this (not an actual transcription):

     Because of the limited nature of the transposition machine (and the fact that Stockhausen only had access to the studio for a few hours a week), the final result has a relatively limited number of pitched timbres (six?).  But it's still quite a unique work of musique concrète and the discipline behind Stockhausen's organizational principle makes it stand out from concrète works of his peers at that time, especially from a rhythmic standpoint (in fact, Pierre Schaeffer himself didn't think much of ETUDE).  I personally find it organic and raw, and a nice touch is that Stockhausen actually lets the piano string ring out on the last note, as if it were surfacing from a sea of tangled tapes.  At 3 minutes and 15 seconds it also has the appropriate length for an etude based on 6 manipulated piano string samples.

STUDIE I (1953)
     The following year, Stockhausen was working on a new tape piece at the studios of West German Radio (WDR).  This new work was generated completely by manipulating "pure tones" - sine waves - created by devices originally designed for calibrating radio station equipment. By combining different frequency sine waves at different volumes he was able to generate different synthesized timbres ("additive synthesis").  Additionally, he chose fade-outs of sounds (as well as playing them backwards to create fade-ins) to form different attacks and decays of each sound.  Finally, some sounds were processed in an echo-reverb chamber to add another layer of diffusion to the combined sine wave frequencies.

     The organizational method Stockhausen used was based on ratios obtained from partials of the overtone series.  This series of ratios was used to determine the frequencies of the sine waves, the relative volumes of the sine waves, the number of sine waves for a sound-timbre, the number of sounds per phrase and phrases per section,  and the maximum peak volume of each phrase.  Another serial number sequence was used to determine whether a phrase would be layered on top of a previous layer or follow it.  The actual sequence (tone row) of sine wave frequencies is cycled through 6 times, but the frequencies have different dynamic values and rhythms in each cycle.  The choice of dynamic envelope curves for each sound (fade-in/fade-out, with or without reverb, etc...) is also based on a serial sequence.

     Each phrase is also followed by an "echo" which is a single repeat of all or part of the original phrase at a lower volume (the size of the echo is determined with a serial sequence).  Yet another serial sequence was used to divide a phrase into 6 sections and choose which sections were rests (in general lower frequencies and very high were shorter in duration).  The length of a phrase was obtained by taking the loudest note and dividing the frequency by 10 to get the duration in centimeters of tape (!).  The length of each phrase section is determined by the the end of the longest phrase (if layered) or the end of the last phrase (phrases laid consecutively).  Finally, each phrase-section goes through frequency (pitch) transpositions which follows the original overtone-derived series (the transpositions were done the same way as in ETUDE, through tape-speed manipulation).   

STUDIE I Score Page 1
(from CD Booklet)www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)

     This excerpt of the beginning of the score for STUDIE I shows the first section and the beginning of the 2nd (transposed).  There are 4 phrases here, layered on top of each other.  Each "staff" is made up of a frequency graph (1st line) and volume graph (2nd line, showing volume envelopes). The first phrase has 4 sounds (I labelled them in green), followed by its echo (in red), followed by the transposed following section (in blue).  The faint dotted lines indicate where the sounds are processed with reverb.  Very small alphabetic characters on each frequency line show the loudest pitch for that timbre.  Theoretically one could recreate STUDIE I using just this score.

     One of the main objectives of the textural assignments of STUDIE I (pitch, dynamic, duration...) was to make the highest and lowest pitches shorter and quieter. This makes the listener perceive the mid-range pitches as more "upfront".  With the unpredictable use of reverb, a very kaleidoscopic 3-dimensional sound-space is created, despite the fact that the work is in mono.
This signal (sine wave) generator (10Hz to 11 kHz) was used for all works from STUDIE II to KONTAKTE and beyond.
A slightly earlier model (30Hz to 11 kHz) was used for STUDIE I.

STUDIE II (1954)
    After first creating completely synthetic textures in STUDIE I, Stockhausen's next move was to basically take the timbres themselves and organize them serially.  In other words, in STUDIE II his timbres are more formally constructed than in STUDIE I (basically 5-part chords), but the serial treatment of the timbres is explored.

     To make his timbres more unified in consistency, he decided that each sound would be made from a combination of 5 layered sine wave frequencies, and that these 5 frequencies would all have equal intervals within the frequency range (for example 100, 107, 114, 121, and 128 would have 7 Hz as equal intervals between the range of 100 and 128 Hz).  193 different "notes" (with different starting frequencies and 5 different interval sizes) were created this way.  These sounds were then processed with reverb in an echo chamber.  In order to further "unify" the frequencies, Stockhausen used only the "wet" signal of the reverbed sine wave combinations.  This was done by literally cutting off the beginning length of tape with the original signal (leaving only the echo portion on the processed tape). 

     The score is simpler than the one for STUDIE I.  Since every sound is 5 sine tones, Stockhausen only drew a box showing the range of the 5 pitches and the starting and stopping points.  The bottom still shows the dynamic envelopes.  Interestingly, this looks exactly like the display for the MIDI editor I use! 
STUDIE II Score Page 1
(© Universal Edition)
It might be interesting to compare this with the spectral analysis of the resulting music that Stockhausen created:
STUDIE II Spectral Graph
     In the spectral view the 5 sine tones are clearly seen for each block.  The volume envelopes can be seen in how the lines fade in or out.  One effect of using the reverb sound only seems to be that not all 5 sine waves in each note are the same volume (brightness).  The lower notes are louder, which makes sense considering low frequency waves would diffuse less in a reflecting environment - at least that's my theory.  The beginning of STUDIE I in contrast looks like this:
STUDIE I Spectral Graph
     Since STUDIE I has many layers of combinations of sine waves in different dynamic envelopes, it looks much more "serial", so to speak, though the 5-tone rule makes it somewhat more unified than STUDIE I in it's pitch distribution for each sound.  However, I personally feel the most outstanding result of these experiments is the creation of filtered noise with the use of the reverb echoes.

STUDIE II Form Structure
     The bulk of the analyses above is derived from Stockhausen's texts in the book that comes with the Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 3: ELECTRONIC MUSIC 1952–1960, which includes much more detail concerning the application of serial rows to calculate the musical parameters.  STUDIE II has also been analyzed by Richard Toop as being in 5 sections, each divided into 5 further sub-sections.  Each subsection has 5 kinds of groups (each with 1 to 5 linked sounds).  His large section divisions are as follows:
Section Character Start
Time
(from CD 3)
1 Horizontal ("melodic"), linked sounds 0:10 (0:00)
2 Vertical ("chordal"), groups alternately beginning and ending together 1:02
3 Horizontal, with sound plus silence
(I actually think of this section as a kind of fast "points" cadenza)
1:36
4 Vertical, same as 2 1:49
5 Horizontal/Vertical combination 2:27

STUDIE II Score
     Below is a video I made of STUDIE II using the graphic animation from a program written by Georg Hajdu.  His program animates the score, and I used Stockhausen's realization of STUDIE II from the official release.  The shapes in the lower half (volume envelopes) clearly show the above form structure's differently shaped "attack formations", especially in sections 2, 3, and 4.

Sound Impressions
     These early electronic works are fascinating glimpses of Stockhausen's explorations of marrying serial sequencing techniques with concrete and synthetic textures.  As innovations they are unarguably important.  As music however I think they may have a limited appeal for most people.  Perhaps the high level of abstraction reached in these early works using non-traditional sounds puts them into a category better labeled "sound design" than music.  At the same time, STUDIE II could easily be the atmospheric soundtrack to a science fiction film.

     In any case I like ETUDE for it's simplicity and rawness (it actually sounds a bit like an alien pinball machine with 6-channel stereo movement), and STUDIE II for its brevity and variety.  Despite that Stockhausen was very much involved in serial structures in this period, I get the feeling that some of STUDIE II had an intuitive element.  You can "see" for yourself in the video above.  Another thing that the score reveals is a possible foreshadowing of the pitch-space triangle shapes used in the 1962 version of PUNKTE (particularly in Sections 2 and 4).

     STUDIE I's main strength for me is actually the unpredictable use of reverb which puts sounds both near and far away at the same time.  Also, I find it very interesting that the concept of "echoes" first used in STUDIE I's phrase structure resurfaces in the LICHT super-formula almost 25 years later.

Links
ETUDE, STUDIE I, II Sound samples, tracks listings and CD ordering
Purchase the Scores
ETUDE Wiki
STUDIE I Wiki
STUDIE II Wiki
WDR Electronic Music Studio Tour (photos of electronic gear, 2015)
WDR Studios Vintage Pictures & Video Tour (120 Years of Electronic Music)
"From Tape Loops to MIDI, Karlheinz Stockhausen's 40 Years of Electronic Music" (Manion) 
Six Lectures from the Stockhausen Courses (Toop)
Additive Synthesis in Stockhausen's Studie I and II (Krzyzaniak)
STUDIE II Score Animation Software (Hajdu)
Recreation of STUDIE II using modern computer software (Ellejohara)
Albrecht Moritz Review
Sonoloco Review

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done, though I do think these works should be taken as music per see, not as soundtracks for aliens (or what have you).
    DM

    ReplyDelete