Issues of Performance and Analysis in `mixed' electronic music - the case of `Mantra' by Karlheinz Stockhausen

Middlesex University Hendon campus
The Burroughs

`Mantra' (1970) is a seminal work of `mixed' electroacoustic music by Karlheinz Stockhausen. It can be argued that it is located at the conjunction of several different musical languages. There is traditional instrumentation as well as innovative piano techniques and live electronic manipulation. First, Stockhausen has written a score in standard notation for the two pianists. As such we see all the hallmarks of traditional piano writing along with expressive indications familiar to musicians such as `poco a poco diminuendo' and `ritardando'. These techniques are supplemented with additional playing methods consistent with the contemporary piano repertoire. Second, and of particular importance to my talk, is Stockhausen's use of a `system' by which the piano sound is elaborated or (some might claim) deformed by the use of two ring-modulators, two sine-wave generators and a two-track tape recorder or short-wave radio receiver (plus microphones, loudspeakers and mixing desk). Each individual element of this arrangement is, of course, a necessary part of the live performance. Like many `mixed' works Stockhausen has created a unique system the parts of which support or subvert each other. The role of `Formel Komposition' (formula composition) is of fundamental importance to `Mantra'. My talk will examine how the use of technology underpins this technique of composition. What, for example, is the significance of the changing sine-wave frequencies plus ring modulation at each appearance of the `formula'? Moreover, can the use of ring modulation be described meaningfully as an `instrumental' technique properly speaking? If so, by what criteria can we define the process as `instrumental'? My methodology will be to examine the score paying particular attention to the interaction between the piano pitches and the ring-modulated sine-waves and the consequences this interaction has for the articulation of form at both local and global levels.

adrian 2015-06-03