I bought this El CD for Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths). I've had the DG LP for decades (it is a "new stereo version made by the composer in July 1968" and it comes with Kontakte; the original LP release was a 10" and had the two electronic Studies for companions): in fact, it belonged to my father, who played it once to the family at lunch-time: everybody else hated it and begged him to turn it off. I was fascinated, so much so that I appropriated the LP. It had been reissued by Stockhausen on his own label, volume III of his Stockhausen complete edition (paired with the two Studies, the Etude de musique concrète and Kontakte), but these are expensive (although they come with huge explanatory booklets) and I balked. So this El CD gives me the cheap way back to my childhood memories. For Stockhausen aficionados interested in the complete collection, just Google "Stockhausen website". The collection totals 100 volumes (and that's still more CDs, since some volumes include multiples), and you need to have made great bonuses this year in your trading room to be able to afford it (but I doubt that traders would be interested in Stockhausen, especially 100 volumes of it).
The fascination of Gesang der Jünglinge derives from its use of children's voices reciting and singing shards of texts (according to the liner notes, one voice in fact, a boy soprano, dubbed over so to produce, at times, the impression of a chorus) and its combination with enigmatic and jagged, but ever-surprising and fascinating electronic sounds - "sonic events" would be an even better term. The liner notes contend that it was conceived by Stockhausen - a devout Catholic, like Schaeffer, although he soon came in aesthetic conflict with the French pioneer - as an electronic mass, and there is indeed something ritualistic about it. Britten's famous line about "The Ceremony of Innocence is drowned" comes to mind.
What I had not heard back then was how prehistoric Stockhausen's use of stereo separation was. It is really a case of right channel, left channel, with the impression, when you listen over headphones, that one ear has suddenly gone deaf. But then, I'll grant that Stock. Didn't intend it for headphones, but for loudspeaker broadcasting and spatialization.
The CD offers then the opportunity to hear or hear again some seminal compositions by some of the major European pioneers of electronic music: Pierre Schaeffer's Cinq Etudes de Bruits (Five Studies of Noises) which, in 1948, launched the whole "musique concrete" movement; Stockhausen's two Studien (not his first tape music: that was Konkrete Etude, realized at Schaeffer's studio in Paris in 1952, but his second and third, made in 1953 and 1954 at the NWDR Studio in Cologne, and the first truly "electronic" composition, in which the sounds are generated by the electronic machines rather than culled from nature); Xenakis' Diamorphoses from 1957 and Concret PH, the latter written as transition music between performances of Varèse's Poème électronique in the famous and historical Philips-Le Corbusier Pavillion at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels; and Pierry Henry's 1953 Voile D'Orphée (Veil of Orpheus), written as the finale of Schaeffer's opera "Orphée".
All are interesting, not all are convincing. There is something in the essays and errors of the early pioneering that makes them antediluvian. Schaeffer's Etude aux Chemins de Fer (Railway Study) sounds indeed like a catalog of noise, the soundtrack for a documentary on SNCF, the French railway company. Some of the noises in Etude aux Tourniquets (Turnstile Etude) evoke the African Kora, but again it all sounds like an arbitrary catalog of noises, rather than an organization of sounds conveying an untold narrative. Again I can very well imagine it used as the soundtrack for a documentary on Calder and his mobiles, but heard on its own it isn't very appealing. There is also an entire lack of continuity: each number seems to be made of shards of sounds pieced together, with little sense of architecture or unfolding. The same holds true with Stockhausen's Etudes, shards of electronic sounds popping out here and there, and disappearing as suddently, music for a nightmare. The machine-generated sounds may have been unheard when he invented them, but they now seem common fare and passé. The studies are atmospheric in their own way, but in a way that can easily grate on your nerves. The 1956 "Gesang der Jünglinge" shows the immense progress made by Stockhausen both in his mastery of the electronic sounds, his ability to combine electronic and "real" sounds (the taped voice of the child), and even more to combine these in a coherently unfolding and gripping narrative.
Not surprisingly, the most poetic and accomplished is, I find, Varèse's Poème électronique. It is not necessarily something I would have said hearing it alone, but in comparison to the rest there is a genuine poetry and sonic imagination at play (with some haunting, ghostly voices whiffing through), and also a sense of continuity - well, sort of. There are some outbursts, but never the impression that the music is gratuitously aggressive. Of course, what we get here, on two channels, is but the dim luminescence of the super-nova it must have been those zillion light-years ago, when it was projected in the space of Le Corbusier's pavilion over 400 speakers. Xenakis Concret PH is also a beautiful and fascinating piece of musique concrete, built from the sound of burning charcoal, and sounding like thousands of small glass beads knocking against each other. Henry's Voile d'Orphée also has numerous exciting moments. At 15:36 it is also the longest composition here featured and it rambles at times.
I have another release of Varèse's Poème electronique, on Neuma, Electro Acoustic Music: Classics and the sonic perspective is startlingly different. They've subjected the original tapes to computerizing which has removed the background noise to the point of making it sound de-incarnated and, indeed, direct out of the computer, and they have reinforced the spatialization effects and the stridency, to the point of discomfort when heard over headphones. I prefer El's more "rustic" transfer. No wonder Poème electronique failed to impress me the first time around. I also have Pierre Henry's Voile D'Orphée on volume 4 of his mammoth Philips Re-Mix series, Mix 04 [Box set, Import]. I can hear no significant difference between the two.
The CD represents excellent value for a person to obtain key works of electronic music.
The highlight is of course "Gesang der Junglinge". The power of this subconscience electronic dreamscape was highlighted when I played it at home. My 12 year old daughter found it so disturbing I had to turn it off after only a few minutes. For a piece of 55 year old music to directly connect/communicate (albeit it in a negative sense) with some-one who is totally unfamilar with the genre is very impressive. Maybe this perhaps points to Stockhausen tapping into fundamental emotional triggers present in people. I also suspect it might be due to the distortion of a voice of someone of the same age as her.
Anyway the CD is a great way to get pieces that are next-to impossible to obtain. The only possible omission is "Revolution 9" by John Lennon from The Beatles' so called "White Album". I'll try that on my daughter and see what happens.
Indeed these are rare and wonderful works of musique concrete and electronic composition that are all classics. Get it while you can! The sound sources are not given but they sound as if they have been "cleaned" perhaps by no-noise technology. None- the -less, the sound is very remarkable and the compositions/ music exciting.
Never before have I experienced this level of art in sound. Heavy coating in such a marvelously disturbing landscape, calls of the universe piercing to the other side. As any of the artists presented here in this fine collection take you into an isolated wonder of wonders.
Those looking for bits of artful sound, either served as a coping mechanism or simply for pleasure or attempts to progress thought or emotion, this should do ya good. Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer, and other pioneers of experimental electronic sound have some of there finer works on display, all thanks to the lovely folks at Cherry Red/El Records for compiling and releasing this.
Take time to observe the varying levels of life, you won't be disappointed.
This is a classic in the genre. Very experimental, harkening back to the days of tape manipulation and sound collage. May sound primitive to those only familiar with modern synthesizers, but an important record that shows the origins of a style. Recommended.