Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 25. 6 October 1972
Curved Air — Phantasmagoria
It goes without saying that a lot of current interest in electronic music has been provoked by the increasing numbers of rock groups using electronic synthesizers people like Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, and Emerson Lake and Palmer. It is hardly surprising that the rock world should turn on to the infinite possibilities of electronic vibrations, especially after Hendrix showed how creative and expressive some comparatively simple modifications of his guitar's output could be. However, nobody in rock is using the synthesizer as an instrument. Present use is confined to modifying the outputs of other instruments, or imitating them, or to generating special effects, which probably mirrors the relentless rush of the rock perfomer's scene, Rick Wakeman of Yes only got into synthesizers because there happened to be one lying around the studio when he needed an unusual noise. Apart from Pink Floyd, there isn't a group that is prepared to let the synthesizer go solo long enough to fabricate its own acoustic structures and patterns. On the contrary, there are groups that exploit contemporary interest in electronic music to market shit, and, I fear, Curved Air are one of these. Or perhaps they're just sadly misguided.
Curved Air are a nice enough group - their singer Sonja Kristina has an ethered haunting voice. Some of her songs, like the title track on this album are really beautiful and well-performed. However, the extensively paraded electronic tracks are disappointing. These people had access to the facilities at Electronic Music Studios (London) Ltd., manufacturers of the Synthi, and all they can offer are processings of their singer's voice, and a crass crap-up of Vivaldi, barely matching the compositional competence of the most trite air and variations.
I suspect you're thinking, Jeezuz, why all this fuss about a couple of tracks on an obscure album? Well, I've made Curved Air a scapegoat. The point is, a helluva lot of people in rock music are content to use electric technology merely as an aid, rather than relating to it and forming a symbiotic art form with it. Plunge your mind, into some Stockhausen: you might be amazed.
Stimmung for 6 Vocalists ('68)
In 1966 (the same year things began to happen in San Fransisco) Stockhausen began to develop his theories of World Music. He was in Japan.
During my first 8 or 9 days in Tokyo I could not sleep: one vision came again and again, a vision of sounds, new technical processes, formal relationships, pictures of notation, human relationships all at once and in a network too tangled up to be unraveled in one logical process. In all this I wanted to come closer to the realization of an old dream: to take a step further in the direction of composing not 'my' music, hut a music of the whole world, of all countries and of all races.
The result of this was Telemusik, a composition incorporating, in a unified integrity, music from the West and East, from the past and present, performed music and electronic music.
Soon after this came the monumental Hymnen, probably the greatest tape composition yet made. Here, national-anthems from all over the world were incorporated with all sorts of other environmental sounds, radio sounds and electronic music to make a work which can take the mind on one of the most amazing trips that I've ever experienced. In this music Stockhausen created a reflection of the integration amongst all people between man and his technology, and between man and the cosmos which is essential in reality for our future survival.
Stockhausen then began an extensive exploration of his own mind-world, and began to develop an empirical mysticism completely relevant to the present. In 68 he began to write music which was completely improvized by the performers by processes of transformation and integration. These compositions are concerned with the very centre of the Revolution. The performers had to work with electronic sounds to create a perfectly symbiotic relationship with the medium, reacting in real-time to the sounds made by the other performers, but with great individual freedom. Just as we must learn to relate to the technology of the world to make a symbiotic, lifecreating whole; and learn to relate to each other and our environment in real-time. The essence of Stockhausen's work is Revolution, because its sociological implications are in direct antithesis to the static-dead structuring of the present ruling hierarchies who make technology into obscene tools for self-gratification rather than using it as a pure extension of ourselves for life-creativity and respecting their responsibility within total universe.
Stimmung is Stockhausen's ultimate internal trip. It was written in 1968 after the completion of Hymnen The texts were written in 1967 while he was in and around San Fransisco (!). Stimmung is for 6 vocalists, three male and three female. It lasts for about an hour, but the whole composition is generated out of one 'chord' a flat fundamental and its harmonics. The score consists of the notes to be sung around and a complex system of improvization. In performance the vocalists sit cross-legged in a circle with their voices being picked up by microphones and distributed around the auditorium. The vocal technique is quite different from 'traditional' singing. A note is sung and by changing their mouth positions the vocalists generate resonant harmonics sing out above the fundamental tone.
Apart from the sung notes the singers have a group of Magic Names: names of deities from around the world: Vishnu. Tangaroa, Javeh, Maui, Amun-Ra, etc etc. The singers call out these names when they feel the time is appropriate and then integrate the sound characteristics of the name into their texture. (An integration of all the worlds religions into a transcendant and universal mantra). There are also two love poems written by Stockhausen to his wife, Mary Bauermeister, which may be read out at an appropriate time.
The performance on this record is amazing. An hour of one B flat chord with a continuously changing texture. The tone of the whole performance is one of meditation, and that is the only way to listen to it. The quietness, and the sounds continually changing within themselves create a feeling of real calm, and the B flat tone enters your whole mind and soul to become like a mantra which continues long after listening to it. When its finished I can't think of any other music to put on.
Stimmung is explained by Stockhausen as meaning the tuning of the voices and the tuning of the soul. It has the same potential for purification as meditation.
The performance on this record is by six students from the Collegium Vocale in Koln, with Stockhausen doing the sound-regulation. (This is the same set-up as was in the first performance.)
The record is Deutsche Grammophon, but is apparently selling for only $4.
If you are prepared to get into a mind-world journey you should try to hear this record.