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Karlheinz STOCKHAUSEN (1928-2007)
From: Aus den sieben Tagen (1968)
Unbegrenzt [51:50]
Catherine Christer Hennix (recitation, percussion, and electronics)
Hans Isgren (bowed gong)
rec. February 1974, location not given.
Reviewed as MP3 download.

Catherine Christer Hennix’s Wikipedia page states that she “is a Swedish sound artist, poet, composer, philosopher, mathematician and visual artist associated with drone music.” This release of her version of Stockhausen’s Unbegrenzt is the third in an ongoing series of archival records of her work, following Selected Early Keyboard Works and Selections from 100 Models of Hegikan Roku. Hennix has a background in jazz, but later collaborated with American avant-garde composers such as La Monte Young, also studying with Hindustani raga master Pandit Pran Nath and performing alongside the likes of Arthur Russell, Marc Johnson, Henry
Flynt, and Arthur Rhames.

The text insert for this release contains a very candid interview with Hennix, in which she describes with openness and honesty about the music situation in Sweden in the 1960s and 70s, and her idea to perform Stockhausen in order to be able to perform in public. “The Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Swedish radio: all of them just said, ‘don’t come back here’. I concluded that it would be a miracle of ethics were we ever to be given a chance to present my new compositions. So we thought, okay, we will widen the repertoire... We’ll play Stockhausen, because [the Swedes] not only knew Stockhausen, but lionized his work, repeatedly inviting him to perform there.” This turned out to be a mistake however: “The idea was that, if you play Stockhausen, big-name Stockhausen, you will definitely get a gig. I didn’t realize that, by then, all the Swedish institutions, all the composers, all thought Stockhausen was as worthless as myself.” Those decades were intriguingly political and fashion-conscious when it came to what or whom was ‘in’ or ‘out’ with regard to the avant-garde, but interesting points are made, reminding us of Stockhausen’s own boundary-breaking creativity, which by any standard was a defining element in contemporary music from the 1950s onwards.

You can find a number of versions of Unbegrenzt online, and each has its own character, depending on the instruments used and the choices of emphasis and balance taken by the musicians involved. Stockhausen’s score for Aus den Sieben Tagen, “denies its performers notated direction and instead provides poetic cues that hinge upon Stockhausen’s conception of ‘intuitive music’... Eschewing the busy, conservatory-addled lapses into idiomatic citation of Stockhausen’s 1969 recording, Hennix’s alternative realization of the Unbegrenzt score’s instructions to ‘play a sound with the certainty that you have an infinite amount of time and space’ is based on her concept of Infinitary Compositions, the trademark of her ensemble The Deontic Miracle.” The result is, as any such performance must be, a snapshot in time and a portrait of a particular period and place in musical history, and as much a portrait of the musicians and their interpretative choices than of the actual composer, Stockhausen. The recording itself has a distinctly analogue feel, with a healthy layer of hiss from the tape reassuring us that the upper registers in the sound haven’t been filtered. The bowed gong adds an atmosphere of doom with its sonic lowness, around which sine-wave generated electronic sounds sometimes dance with actions comparable with the other percussion instruments, and sometimes penetrate with sustained tones that advance and recede within the various ongoing textures. A spring-loaded echo chamber transforms some of the percussion sounds, voices are ghostly and indistinct, and composers of a certain vintage might indeed be able to identify more effects available to studios of the time.

The overall effect is one of restless, dream-like meditation - by no means relaxing, and if you allow your mind’s eye too much freedom then the imagery conjured is more likely to be discomforting than verdant and freeing. “Taking a mature, minimal iteration of Stockhausen’s compositional method of ‘moment-forming’ to heart, [Hennix’s] version’s dark, controlled feedback and amplified bowed gong subtly shift through an immanent sequence of formative moments, step by step. Its bubbling computer noise, percussion, and repeated ominous transient sounds of temple blocks over the bowed gong terminate with the integrated recitation of exotic text fragments from Hevajra Tantra which faithfully take Stockhausen’s score into deeper vistas of the unconscious and a more devastating opening to the unlimited time and space of a dreaming mind.”

Dominy Clements

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