1

Stephen Lucas
MUCP 5460
Relationships of Isomorphic Elements in Stockhausen’s Kontakte
Since the time when technology allowed for music to be made using electronic
instruments, composers have worked to refine their concepts of sound and musical form
in order to encompass an ever growing vocabulary. Karlheinz Stockhausen’s musical
aesthetic welcomed this increase in vocabulary, and when combined with his background
in serial composition, his work became innovative and experimental in the field of
electro-acoustic music. Stockhausen’s work Kontakte(1960) incorporates isomorphic
elements and serial techniques in order to create a cohesive aesthetic and a structured
formal design.
I. Introduction to Kontakte
Kontakte, or Contacts, is a piece for piano, percussion, and electronic sounds,
realized in 1958 to 1960 at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk electronic-music studio in
Cologne, Germany. It employs experimental notation and extended techniques in order to
expand the sound vocabulary of the instruments. The piece lasts 34 minutes, 31.8 seconds
and because of the nature of a fixed media electronic part, the duration is absolute. The
piece exists in two forms: electronic sounds alone, and electronic sounds, piano, and
percussion (implying Stockhausen feels a fixed media recording of the performance is an
adequate experience of the piece). In Stockhausen’s words the “Contacts” of the title
“refer both to contacts between instrumental and electronic sound groups and to contacts
between self-sufficient, strongly characterized moments. In the case of the loudspeaker
reproduction, it also refers to contacts between various forms of spatial movement.”1 In
1

Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Texte vol. 2. 1964. Cologne: Verlag M. Dumont Schauberg.

1) In Stockhausen’s eyes. it becomes audible as pitch. 1. Perspectives of New Music. For example. he realized that all acoustic material is made up of changes that happen on a spectrum of time. the revelation that pitch and rhythm are actually part of the same physical spectrum of time meant that there was a window into linking all of the elements of a musical composition into a cohesive whole. 1962). and his techniques of serialization. but in his mind. (Autumn. but if there is a similar vibration that is happening much slower.2 He believes that in the music created before the use of electronic instruments. it was customary to think of these properties of music as mutually independent. When he began to use electronic instruments to construct sound material. one must clarify Stockhausen’s compositional goals. III. 1. harmony. 39-48 . Moment Form The primary means of constructing musical forms in Kontakte is based on Stockhausen’s concept of moment form. No. when a material vibrates at a frequency that is faster than 20Hz. 4) the relationships between sound and noise. The Concept of Unity in Electronic Music. (see Fig. Vol.2 order to break down the construction of the piece. Karlheinz. The practical explanation of this application is 2 Stockhausen. Stockhausen’s Aesthetic Stockhausen’s goals in sound composition (especially in terms of Kontakte) fall into four categories of conceptualization: 1)the correlation of color. 3) the differentiation among degrees of intensity. pp. II. Kontakte is his first application of exploring the possibilities of these relationships and creating a piece with this aesthetic. it would be perceived as a rhythm or meter. and meter. his electro-acoustic aesthetic. they are all aspects of a conceptual temporal continuum. 2) the construction and de-construction of timbres. his use of formal implementations.

The conceptual emphasis on this type of form is that it creates an emphasis in the listener’s ear on the “now. Total Serialism In order to combine these two concepts into Kontakte. This allows for a combination of sounds that fulfill his aesthetic of showing the innate relation of musical 3 Toop. not unlike a measure or a phrase in traditional notation. 2005. . each compositional moment needs to be self sufficient in its construction. Kurten: Stockhausen-Verlag. and gesture in order to create an entire sequence of sounds that are fundamentally related in their construction2 (see figure 1 in appendix).3 In order for this emphasis to be created.4 This becomes most important in the application of Stockhausen’s idea of the temporal spectrum of musical elements because the attributes and characteristics of something as fast as a pitch can be remapped onto something as long as a gesture or phrase.” or the current state of the musical elements. Richard.3 that the musical elements are combined into short sections. IV. Each moment must be an indivisible gestalt. and allowing a distinct independence within the rest of the pieces structural forms. the same processes and treatments of pitch were then mapped onto duration. Six Lectures from the Stockhausen Courses Kurten 2002. therefore supplying its own context. there is a higher importance on the current combination of elements than on the context of said combination within what has happened in the piece previously and what will happen after. rhythm. Stockhausen relies on his background in serial composition in order to create isomorphic groupings and a cohesive formal design. in that each of its musical elements depend on one another’s immediate temporal context. For example Stockhausen describes the technique of creating the electronic material of pages 19-20.

Acta Musicologica Fennica 6. Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. V. Directional sections are characterized by the use of homogenous timbres. 107 126. prevailing dynamics and possible spatial rotation. crescendos. Translated by Brad Absetz. 7 These formal implementations are described briefly in the Cipriani article. 1972. but are created through the process of serialization. within the rest of the section’s context. and “instrumental cadenzas. . 2: pp. By serializing all elements in a similar way. 5 Cipriani. peaks. Sppo. or moment. 2) These sections often precede 4 Heikinheimo. Cambridge University Press. static fragmentary. Organised Sound. skin-noise. directional fragmentary. wood-sound. Atti del X Colloquio di Informatica Musicale. metal-sound. or a combination of several sections. extinction of directionality. but also creates an indivisible sound gesture. morphology of sound objects.(see Fig. using six distinct formal implementations: directional.7 These elements are based off of Stockhausen’s goals of sound conceptualization. 41-44 6 Smalley. The serialized elements that are used to describe these formal implementations are: prevailing of gestural or textural models (as described by Denis Smalley)6 or intermediate levels.”5 These are generally made up of several “moments. A. tendency to variability or homogeneity of timbre. wood-noise. and reducing their characteristics to the same properties.” but they are generally marked by section numbers in the piece. Stockhausen combines his two primary goals into one formal design. Formal Implementations Stockhausen composes the structure of Kontakte. 1977. prevailing timbral typology based on the six groups mentioned by Stockhausen2 (metalnoise. but the relationship to serialization is not a concern. 1995. The Electronic Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen: Studies on the Esthetical and Formal Problems of Its First Phase. skin-sound). spatial rotation and gestural models. Helsinki: Suomen Musiikkiteteellinen Seura.4 elements. Denis. Problems of methodology: the analysis of Kontakte. pp.

loud dynamics. a use of pauses. Extinction of directionality sections are characterized by clear diminuendo dynamics. 4) This formal implementation always acts as a marker for the end of a larger macrosection. but only when preceded by an extinction of directionality section. a lack of pauses. a tendency to inharmonicity. 3) These sections often precede extinction of directionality sections and their purpose within the form is often for a transition a transition out of directional sections. a non-overlapping of sounds. homogenous timbre. but always acts as a marker for the beginning of a larger macrosection. the use of dynamics that are close to said instrumental models. and textural models. (see Fig. (see Fig. (see Fig. Peak sections are characterized by a co-presence of low and high frequencies. Directional fragmentary sections are characterized by contrasting dynamics. (see Fig. moderate dynamics. sounds with a long decay. (see Fig. Static fragmentary sections are characterized by timbral variability. and gestural models. and is always preceded by a peak section. and textural setting models. . an apparent inconsistency of sound objects. 6) This formal implementation is similar in its placement to the static fragmentary section. a tendency to organize sounds into phrases or clusters. Instrumental cadenza sections are characterized by timbres that tend to imitate percussion instruments. 5) This formal implementation sometimes acts as a marker for the beginning of a larger macrosection. overlapping of sounds. and textural models. and gestural models.5 peak sections and their purpose within the form is often a transition out of a fragmentary section.

one must classify the characteristic elements into their own spectra. individual gestures within moments often display serialized elements. this shows the cohesive nature of the piece’s formal structures in relationship to Stockhausen’s aesthetic. VI.) Spatial rotation 0-1 = no-yes 4. but the emphasis on moment form requires a broader scope for analysis. in order to contextualize said cohesion. it is not wrong to assume that this formal spectrum of serialization is treated in the same way that sound material is conceptualized.) Morphology of sound objects 0-1 = no-yes 5. In a similar point. in this way. but once again. they don’t display a cohesive method for the fundamental combinations of said elements.) Timbral tendency 0-1 = homogeneous-variable . although individual moments display the same characteristic serialized elements.) Textural or gestural models: 0-1 = textural-gestural 2. all formal structures of the piece are cohesive in their treatment. It is important to note that the combination of isomorphic elements into these formal implementations manifests Stockhausen’s aesthetic goal more clearly than an analysis of the implementation of his moment form. they do not display the same cohesive methodology. Because of the insistence on this implementation of serialization in Stockhausen’s writings and interviews. (see table 1) 1. Serialization of Formal Implementations In order to prove the serialization of these formal implementations. and always explores a new grouping of Stockhausen’s prevailing timbral typology.) Prevailing dynamics 0-1 = homogenous-variable 3.6 7) This formal implementation is always preceded by either of the fragmentary sections.

Although the numbering system is arbitrary.7 6.because it contrasts so much with the other sections and creates a sense of closure. The one exception to this is the extinction of directionality implementation. which is polarized towards low intensity and texture in all of its elements. However.) Prevailing timbral typology (this element only applies to cadenza sections and is therefore not included as “serialized”) Directional Peak Extinction Static/Frag. Directional/Frag Cadenza 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 2 1 1 0 0 1 1 3 1 0 0 1 1 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 1 5 0 1 0 1 0 0 (Table 1) When the isomorphic elements are displayed in this way. VII. it is clear that each section has a polarity towards higher intensity and gesture in three of its elements. this is why it creates such a strong marker for the ends of macrosections. Serialization of Moment Form The concept of serialized formal implementations would appear to disrupt the concept of moment form. it is very clear that the relationships that are fundamental to Stockhausen’s goals are evenly distributed within the parameters of each formal implementation. the . and a polarity towards lower intensity and texture in its other two elements. because these describe many moments put together. in that the placement of one formal implementation creates an interlocking context with the others (this is contrary to the self sufficient gestalt definition of a moment).

Section VB. VIII. John. Klavier und Schlagzeug. constructions. the same serialization model can be applied (see Table 2). it has been shown that two formal scales apply a similar serialized construction. Journal of New Music Research.8 This supports the idea that the concept of moment form is preserved despite prevailing formal contexts. No. but it does display the same balance of elemental polarities. one can further demonstrate the moment function. 2). . because the individual moments display similar.8 indivisible nature of each moment could be preserved in order for it to create its own self sufficient context. 84-119. pp. Vol. (See Table 3) 8 Dack. but doesn’t rely on the overall polarity of the formal implementation. For example. Serialization of Macroform In order for the moment form to be functional. 1998. this individual moment does not display the same elemental characteristics as a typical directional section. Moment 1 1 0 2 1 3 1 4 0 5 1 Table 2 Although the formal implementation of section VB is used as an example of a directional section. Strategies in the Analysis of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte fur elektronische Klange. but in showing a serialization of the macro form. 1-2. This is accomplished by creating a similar serialized polarity in each moment that is similar to. if one analyses moment number one from section VB (see Fig. but not necessarily contextually coinciding. 27.

8") I II III directional fragmentary (transitional) directional-peak-extinction MACROSECTION BETA (dur. .3") XIII-DE directional fragmentary XIII-F pseudo-instrumental cadenza (metal) – (transitional) XIV/XV-A coda (directional) XV-BCDEF/XVI directional ending-extinction (Table 3)9 9 This table is adapted from the analysis by A.9 MACROSECTION ALPHA (duration: 7' 2. Cipriani.: 4' 16.8") IV V VI/VII-A (1) static fragmentary directional-peak (in three phases)-extinction MACROSECTION GAMMA (dur.3") VII-A (2) VII-BCDE VII-F VIII IX-A IX-BCDE IX-F X (transitional) static fragmentary pseudo-instrumental cadenza (skin) (transitional) pseudo-instrumental cadenza (wood) static fragmentary directional-peak-extinction – (transitional) MACROSECTION DELTA (6' 15.: 10' 10.6") XI XII XIII-ABC directionaldouble interrupted peak prolongation of the peak-extinction FINAL MACROSECTION (6' 46.

each macrosection has a unique configuration of these sections (and often a similar ordering). Cadenza 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 (Table 4) Since the directional-peak-extinction sections always function for marking the endings of macrosections.10 Because it has been demonstrated that the formal implementations are isomorphic in their own structural context. any serialized unit on the temporal spectrum can be considered a moment. 1). In this light. because each level of the formal scale acquires the same isomorphic serialization. This is only made possible by the absolute control over sound material available in the electro-acoustic . this calls into question whether or not the aesthetic goals of the rest of the piece’s construction are different than the implementation of moment form at all. the concept of moment form does not necessarily describe the score’s marked measures. Alpha Beta Gamma Delta Final Directional Peak Extinction Static/Frag. Directional/Frag. However. as it is indivisible in its own elemental characteristics. However. one can apply a similar serialization model to the macroformal constructions as well (See Table 4). but it is apparent that his goal of extending this characterization across several levels of form is also successful. being polarized by their presence or absence. it is expected that they are present in every macrosection. and rhythm as isomorphisms (see Fig. timbre. the other three sections have been constructed in the same serialization model. but because of its cohesion with the isomorphic serialization. Stockhausen has already attempted to characterize the elements of pitch. This further supports the self sufficiency of the moment form.

IX. Stockhausen’s aesthetic goals effectively bridge those of the serial tradition and the newer electro-acoustic medium. Conclusion Although Stockhausen’s music is dense and complex. This is because it relies on isomorphic similarities between all musical elements in order to create a cohesive thread between self sufficient individual parts. even when reduced to binary polarities. he was able to create cohesion throughout the entirety of Kontakte. . Kontakte’s formal and aesthetic architecture is still apparent. With his increase in knowledge about the fundamental properties of music.11 medium. because of the aesthetic that the architecture relies on isomorphic similarities across every musical element.

12 .

1 Kontakte pp.19-20 .13 Fig.

2 Kontakte p.14 Fig.10 .

27 .15 Fig. 3 Kontakte p.

4 Kontakte p.16 Fig.36 .

17 Fig.9 . 5 Kontakte p.

18 Fig.1 . 6 Kontakte p.

7 Kontakte p.14 .19 Fig.

20 Bibliography Cipriani. 1. Richard. Stockhausen. Toop. No. Texte vol. Interface 10. A. pp. Stockhausen. Klavier und Schlagzeug. Cologne: Verlag M. 2: pp. pp. 39-48 Stockhausen. 1977. 149-197. pp. Karlheinz. 1980. The Musical Quarterly. Helsinki: Suomen Musiikkiteteellinen Seura. Jonathan D. Problems of methodology: the analysis of Kontakte. 41-44 Dack. pp. Journal of New Music Research. Dumont Schauberg Toop. 1981. Vol. Atti del X Colloquio di Informatica Musicale. 1998. 1978. Moment Form in Twentieth Century Music. Organised Sound. Heikinheimo. Kurten: Stockhausen-Verlag. 1972. 1995. Karlheinz. Sppo. Kontakte fur elektronische Klange. John. Denis. 84-119. Acta Musicologica Fennica 6. Smalley. Vol. 1-2. 2. 27. 177-194. Translated by Brad Absetz. 1962). 107 126. 2005. The Electronic Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen: Studies on the Esthetical and Formal Problems of Its First Phase. Karlheinz. Klavier und Schlagzeug. (Autumn. No. Cambridge University Press. 2. Strategies in the Analysis of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte fur elektronische Klange. Kramer. Stockhausen’s Electronic Works: Sketches and Worksheets from 1952-1967. No. 1964. Six Lectures from the Stockhausen Courses Kurten 2002. . 64. The Concept of Unity in Electronic Music. Perspectives of New Music. Vol. Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. Richard. pp. 1.

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