In this paper, we discuss Karlheinz Stockhausen's article "...how time passes..." [Stockhausen1957], in which he proposes a "new morphology of musical time". This new morphology was made necessary by the failure of his serial system to strictly control all the parameters of interesting musical sound, and grew out of his pioneering studio work in pure electronic music. It marked Stockhausen's embarking on a new direction of investigation and composition, in which he adapted his serial system to control statistical and qualitative musical parameters, rather than deterministic and quantitative parameters which had proved self-defeating. It also opened up the world of the micro-structure of sound, in which he began to think about the smallest atoms of acoustical phenomena.
His new morphology of musical time is reflected, in the article, in excerpts from his Zietmasse (Time-measures for Winds), Gruppen (Groups for three orchestras), and Klavierstuck XI (Piano piece #11), and, soon after the article, in works including Zyklus (Cycles for Percussionist) and Carre (Square for Four Orchestras). His effort to open up the micro-structure of sound is reflected in Gesang der Junglinge (Song of the Youths), and finally, in the monumental Kontakte (Contacts for Piano, Percussion, and Electronic Tape), after which he abandoned the composition of pure electronic music ([Heikinheimo1972]).
As a turning point in the history of 20th-century compositional theory, his article is an important historical reference. It was also controversial, and we will discuss some of the criticism it engendered in the literature. Although much of Stockhausen's technical details are subject to criticism, we will mention some of the modern acoustical and signal processing theories which could form the basis for a new investigation into this material.
In our first section we explain the concept of serial composition, especially the German and French experiments in total, or integral, serialism leading up to the article. We mention serialism's development from concepts in the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton von Webern, and Oliver Messiaen. We present some early criticisms of total serialism, by Iannis Xenakis, Roger Sessions, and others.
In our second section, we present our exigesis of Stockhausen's article. In the third section, we discuss the criticism published in response to the article, and briefly mention psychoacoustical "stream" formation, signal processing in the time and frequency domains, the power of mixed time-frequency representations, the recently developed wavelet transform, and the theory of granular synthesis. These are technical tools, unknown to Stockhausen, which show promise today as tools for further exploration of the morphology of musical time.
In the fourth section, we delve into detailed examples, deriving a durational and metronomical time series from a chromatic pitch series. We also discuss the breakdown of Stockhausen's total serial control, in the success of his attempt to connect the macrotime and microtime domains structurally.
Finally in the last section we compare Stockhausen's "new morphology of musical time" with the book written in 1919 by Henry Cowell. Cowell's insight, in his application of the harmonic overtone series to musical rhythm, predated Stockhausen's by 35 years. But Stockhausen was more interested in the applicability of this "serial" composition method to duration.We compare and contrast proposals made by Cowell and Stockhausen for the construction of new musical instruments capable of performing according to their rhythmical ideas.
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