Five historic electronic compositions from a quartet of important modern twentieth century composers, Stockhausen, Cage, Ligeti and Xenakis.
With the breathtaking, meticulously organised Kontakte, Stockhausen demonstrated his musical and dramatical genius and that he was an incredible inventor of new sounds. The piece has been described as 'a unique document of analogue electronic music production methods, and a valuable guide to the composer's art of creative self-provocation.'
Kontakte is perhaps Stockhausen's best known work and this version for electronic sounds was realised by the composer between September 1959 and May 1960. The alternate, Kontakte for electronic sounds, piano and percussion, utilises the same electronic tape but did not emerge until later. In the sixties, everybody was talking about Stockhausen. Paul McCartney had Abbey Road engineers dissect Kontakte (along with the composers' other major work of the period, Gesang der Jünglinge, with a view to appropriating its effects for the groundbreaking Tomorrow Never Knows. Then in June 1967 the Beatles again paid homage to the composer by including his image in Peter Blake's collage on the front cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Inspired by Edgard Varèse and the Italian Futurists, Greek composer Iannis Xenakis came from a background of engineering, mathematics and architecture (he was an assistant of Le Corbusier) These interests combined to create a vibrant body of work which embraced orchestral and chamber works, vocal and computer-generated music; what the composer described as "absolute music with a computer, free of tradition and contemporary trends."
In 1960, Xenakis was commissioned by UNESCO to write the score to Enrico Fulchignoni's Orient-Occident, a film about civilisations around the world. What transpired was an uncompromising but elegant work that is regarded to be one of the composer's most accessible. Two years later, Xenakis determined to create a concert version, editing the original, twenty-two minute long soundtrack down to less than eleven minutes.
In 1956 the Hungarian György Ligeti composed the electronic conversation piece Artikulation after moving to Cologne into the same building as sound pioneers Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig. While its reported that he was highly influenced by the crazy electronic sounds he heard coming out of this building this is one of only two electronic pieces he composed before returning back to the instrumental medium. Ligeti's music is forever linked with the films of Stanley Kubrick, and, most famously, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the director's cinematic visualisation of alien intelligence, which utilises excerpts from Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, Requiem (the Kyrie) and an electronically altered version of Aventures.
The juxtaposition of this music and images proved brilliantly effective and Kubrick turned again to Ligeti when making the The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, using, respectively, Lontano for orchestra and the second movement of Musica ricercata. Through Kubrick's films therefore, Ligeti succeeded in reaching a far wider audience than most contemporary composers dare dream of.
We also celebrate the work of John Cage, one of America's most influential - and controversial - composers with the inclusion of two major works.
Cartridge Music (1960), derives from its use of "cartridges," phonograph pick-ups into which needles are inserted for playing recordings. Various suitable objects (toothpicks, matches, slinkies, piano wires, feathers, etc) are inserted in the cartridges. The sounds which result are noises, some complex, others extremely simple such as amplifier feed-back, loud-speaker hum, etc
Described by Cage as "a camera from which anyone can take a photograph," Fontana Mix (1958) was assembled at the Studio di Fonologia in Milan and finds the composer dividing his sound sources into six classes; city sounds, country sounds, electronic sounds, manually produced (meaning "instrumental") sounds, wind-produced sounds (such as singing), and small sounds that require amplification, such as crickets chirping. The work subsequently appeared in a number of contexts, here the soprano Cathy Berberian combines it with Aria, another Cage piece of similar vintage.