||It begins with a slowly emerging hum - like a disturbance in the wiring of your sound equipment -; then evolves into a murmur of great timbral depths, finally releasing itself into a spinning, swooshing, disturbing sound of higher frequencies in the foreground, panning between the speakers in an ominous descent, cutting through your skull, slowing down rapidly and coming to a halt, while the deep humming sound continues, until a second spinning occurrence appears, and a third, and a fourth, after which the murmur ceases and the last spinning sound slows down in slow-motion revolutions and stops.
That is the beginning of Stockhausen’s “Sirius”, utilizing a special rotation loudspeaker and electronic tape to visualize the descent and landing of spaceships from Sirius. A bass voice then commences in deep registers, calling out: “I am North! – and thus begins the presentation of the four soloists and their characters.
In this part some concrete tape sounds appear, like the chopping of ice and crunching steps in cold snow (the Bass representing North, Earth, the Man, Night, Seed, Winter) and fire crackling (the Trumpeter representing Fire, Youth, Morning, Bud, Spring), streaming water in a brook (the Soprano representing Water, the Woman, Midday, Blossom, Summer), a forceful wind (the Bass Clarinet representing West, Air, Friend, Beloved, Evening, Fruit, Autumn).
The work is subdivided into three main parts;
1. Presentation of the soloists.
2. The Wheel of the Year.
3. The Annunciation. Stockhausen’s composition “Sirius” can be characterized – on one level – as a visual and musical representation of the year, of the annual cycle, (but it is of course much more than that!) and the characters or occurrences we might ascribe its different parts. Michael Kurtz writes in his “Stockhausen – A Biography”: “The four soloists represent the four seasons, times of day and points of the compass, the four elements, the four stages in the growth of plants (seed, bud, blossom and fruit), as well as man, youth, woman and beloved.”
Kurtz goes on to say that “Sirius” can be considered Stockhausen’s attempt at “a modern mystery play clothed as a science fiction story”.
The musical basis for “Sirius” rests with the 12 formula-melodies from “Tierkreis”, whereas the tape part’s melodies originate in the four seasons, represented exclusively by the four “Tierkreis”-melodies “Aries”, “Cancer”, “Libra” and “Capricorn”.
Depending on when the performance takes place, it starts with the appropriate section after the “Presentation”; i.e. “Capricorn” in the winter, “Aries” in the spring, “Cancer” in the summer and “Libra” in fall. The Summer version is recorded on these CDs, so it starts with “Cancer” and continues with “Libra” “Capricorn” and “Aries”.
The tape part – excellently realized in exciting displays - differs, too, depending on which version is performed.
The tape part was realized by Stockhausen at the WDR studio in Cologne during a two-year period of great strain. Such was his workload at the outset, that he at one time fainted, and had to spend a week in hospital, where he fasted. During that fast he absorbed a vision about how the work should evolve, and took it from there. (We might also recall that Stockhausen fasted in connection with conceiving “Aus den sieben Tagen”, even ordaining a four day fast in the performance instruction for one of the pieces of the work; “Goldstaub”)
Stockhausen says about the electronic part: “By listening to this music, in particular to the Wheel, one perceives how the newly discovered means and structural possibilities of electronic music can awaken in us a completely new consciousness for revelations, transformations and fusions of forms, which would never have been possible with the old musical means, and become increasingly similar to art of metamorphosis in nature.”
The tape part melodies are evolved in numerous ways by way of a voltage-controlled synthesizer, enabling Stockhausen to transform the melodies, combine them with one another, sometimes fusing many melodies together in a simultaneous display of Zodiac excellence.
For the especially interested it might be of value to read this quote from the preface of the printed score, giving some idea of the complexity of the realization process of the electronic part – actually sending thrills of pleasure through my nervous system by its sheer ingenuity of applied imagination:
“The synthesizer which was used (EMS Synthi 100) is equipped with a 3-track sequencer. If the name ‘Aries’ or ‘Cancer’ or ‘Libra’ or ‘Capricorn’ stands in the upper system of the score (where the electronic music is notated), this indicates that these formulas from my composition ‘Tierkreis’ were stored as voltage sequences in the sequencer (maximum of 3 simultaneously). Each of the 3 sequencer tracks has two channels: one channel for the pitches and one for the rhythm. Thus a total of 6 voltage sequences are stored.
The speed at which these formulas were played could be changed by the triggering from the sequencer clock over a very large range, discontinuously (with a 5-octave keyboard) and/or continuously (with joysticks, small control levers).
Groups of generators and groups of filters as well as the clock were driven with variable volume by these formulas (voltage sequences) via faders. It was thus possible to continuously add 2 or 3 of these voltage sequences or blend them into one another, using the faders (fading the melodies and rhythms in and out). Hence, by means of faders, the time intervals (rhythms) – defined by the stored voltages – could also be added, expanded, and compressed to the point of complete periodicity (time compression is not meant here!). If then, in the case of maximal compression (complete periodicity) the trigger-pulses of the clock were turned off, transition from rhythmicized music to a constant pitch resulted (for example in the ‘Aries’ section).
When in the electronic music one of the 4 Zodiac formulas can be heard in its original melodic and rhythmic form, this means that all parameters are being driven by the two voltage-sequences (channels) of only 1 of the 3 sequencer tracks. There was therefore no problem in combining the melodic shape of one formula with the rhythmic shape of another formula (for example in the ‘Aries’ section p. 1, the ‘Aries’ melody appears with the ‘Capricorn’ rhythm, on p. 2 the ‘Capricorn’ rhythm is continuously exchanged with the ‘Aries’ rhythm, then near the end of p. 2 the ‘Capricorn’ rhythm and ‘Cancer’ rhythm are gradually added to the ‘Aries’ rhythm).
The same holds true for the addition of melodies – this is not a mixing (!) -, for progressive subtraction and compression of melodies, or for expansion of melodies, independently of rhythmic and timbral processes!
The control of the timbres (filters) by the Zodiac formulas followed the same principle. Thus, it can be understood how, for instance in the ‘Aries’ section, the ‘Libra’ formula appears as a timbre melody of the constant fundamental pitch A (i.e. the melody is faded out completely) and that a second timbre melody (‘formant melody’) joins it in counterpoint above the constant fundamental pitch.
In all fast groups notated as grace notes, the rhythm is exactly as differentiated as in the slower fragments, but is too fast to be heard as such. The notation, particularly of fast rhythms, is therefore only approximate.
When melodic fragments become undecipherable because of discontinuos switching to high speed, or are heard as glissandi contours, they are represented approximately, graphically with lines. […] Where such graphic simplification was not possible, general indications such as ‘indistinguishably fast’, or, as in the ‘Cancer’ section, p.1, bar 1, ‘jump to the 26th note’ (of ‘Aries’ melody) was used.
All melodic occurrences are obtained from the described principle of forming.
Thus, the melodic shape of the formula can be recognized even in extremely slow tempi, when one precisely reads the score and listens through all the layers. For example, see the very slow ‘Aries’ melody, which is graphically represented using lines, beginning in bar 3 of the ‘Cancer’ section which extremely slowly accelerates and gradually transforms into the ‘Cancer’ melody, finally – still very slow – becoming notatable after more than 3 minutes in normal rhythmic values.
Many verbal indications have been written as reminders. In the ‘Cancer’ section p. 9, uppermost of the 3 layers (= staves), for example, ‘Aries/Cancer-rhythms ‘ is written, meaning that the ‘Aries’ melody (with glissandi, as indicated already since p. 7) is driven by the combined rhythms of both ‘Aries’ and ‘Cancer’ (on p. 7 are also the words ‘Cancer rhythm added’), and that the transformation process indicated by the words ‘Cancer rhythm added’ is completed at this point. At the beginning of the lower system the word ‘Aries’ means the ‘Aries’ melody.
The word ‘formants’ means: partials made predominant by means of resonance filtering. These are voltage controlled as a timbre melody.
The indication in the ‘Cancer’ section, p. 15, ‘1 period now has a duration of 6 seconds’ means that the complete rhythm of ‘Aries/Cancer’ runs through every 6 seconds on the constant pitch G. The indication ‘but tempo no longer varied’ indicates that the 6-second duration of the period is regular from here on.”
Naturally, complete enjoyment of the above text is only possible with the score at hand, but it gives an idea of the Stockhausenesque methods of working. “The Wheel” – the passage of the year – lasts in excess of an hour, which lets each of the four main melodies “Aries”, “Cancer”, “Libra” and “Capricorn” dominate for about a fourth of an hour each, and the exact durations on this recording are 24:29 for “Cancer”, 18:44 for “Libra” 13:40 for “Capricorn” and 14:41 for “Aries”. The 12 melodies divide the hour in a manner similar to a clock.
“The Wheel” is a complex, continuously evolving, swelling and contracting sonic space, in a delicate flux of transformations and never-ceasing change, wherein the melodies, timbres, rhythms of “Cancer”, “Libra”, “Capricorn” and “Aries” transform into one another, independently or together. Stockhausen points out that one melody out of the four main ones always is approaching, another always departing. The 8 remaining melodies of the Zodiac emerge only by themselves, and are expressively not partaking in any transforming processes.
All the texts of “Sirius” except the concluding “Annunciation” were written by Stockhausen. They include 12 short texts describing the characters of the human types according to the Zodiac. Stockhausen explains that all other words are “reciprocal appeals, explanations, corrections, gibes, defenses, compliments and encouragements of the soloists appropriate to these texts of the Zodiac”.
Three languages are used in all versions of “Sirius”. In this version English is the dominant language, and German comes next. Italian is used in one verse of “Aries”.
The main language may change according to where in the world a performance is conducted.
“Sirius” should – says Stockhausen - preferably be performed in a planetarium or under a nocturnal sky (compare “Sternklang”). The work began as a commission from the West German government to celebrate the bicentenary of The United States of America, and Stockhausen dedicated it “To the Pioneers of Earth and Space”. Accessed 11.12.06 from http://www.home.swipnet.se/sonoloco7/stockhausen/26.html