Paul Hillier & Theatre of Voices, Stockhausen: Stimmung

Todd Burns

By Todd Burns

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
The sound of ancient temples in Mexico. As heard by a German avant-garde composer.

While Paris students were rioting, American troops were razing My Lai and the Beatles were busy crafting odes to blackbirds, piggies and raccoons, Karlheinz Stockhausen was trying to recreate a recent vacation during which he walked among the ruins of ancient temples in Mexico. With Stimmung, a piece for six voices and six microphones, he very nearly did it. The great German composer here only affords the piece's six singers a few notes, all overtones of B-flat, and simply asks them to move slowly between them. The piece is in 51 sections, each with a distinct phonetic pattern. Twenty-nine of these patterns are built from "magic names," which come from the gods of a variety of cultures (Greek, Aztec, etc.). If you can ignore the hippie-dippie nature of the piece and simply focus on the content, though, you'll soon find it's pretty much ambient music before the genre was (re)invented by Brian Eno — endlessly fascinating under close scrutiny and just as pleasing when you're doing the dishes.