Karlheinz Stockhausen On The Four Criteria of Electronic Music

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928 – 2007) is recognized as one of the most important classical composers of the 20th century, for his works and for his influence on both classical and popular musicians.

in this lecture, Stockhausen explains his Four Criteria of Electronic Music, and why new music matters:

“New means change the method; new methods change the experience, and new experiences change man. Whenever we hear the sounds we are changed: we are no longer the same after hearing certain sounds, and this is the more the case when we hear organized sounds, sounds organized by another human being: music.”

The Four Criteria of Electronic Music

Stockhausen four Criteria, and how they relate to human perception:

  • Unified Time Structuring – pitch, rhythm and form are the same things, but at different levels of time.
  • Splitting of the Sound – the idea that a timbre can transform over time over time, splitting into multiple sounds, and this can be a structural element of a composition – composition and sound design are facets of the same thing.
  • Multi-Layered Spatial Composition – in an electronic music, sounds can come from anywhere, so space becomes a a compositional element.
  • Equality of Sound and Noise – tones and noise are on a continuum of periodicity to aperiodicity, so the electronic composer has the entire palette between aleatoric and periodic sounds to work with. The choices a composer makes about their palette of sounds directly impact their composition, because periodic tones allow for more discrete scales & melodies that would be impossible to discern with aperiodic sounds.

Stockhausen is brilliantly eloquent, lecturing in a non-native tongue, and it’s easy to understand why his ideas and music have been influential.

Share your thoughts on The Four Criteria of Electronic Music in the comments!

via Electronic Music Philosophy, Stockhausenspace

38 thoughts on “Karlheinz Stockhausen On The Four Criteria of Electronic Music

  1. “Whenever we hear the sounds we are changed: we are no longer the same after hearing certain sounds, and this is the more the case when we hear organized sounds, sounds organized by another human being: music.”

    Said the man who took to much LSD.

    1. What a bizarre response. Many, probably most, people can remember their experience of first hearing a favorite song or a piece of music that changed their life by making them get interested in a genre, join a scene, become a musician or the like. I wonder why you are on a blog about electronic music if you think the idea of being strongly impacted by music is just a drug-fueled delusion.

      1. Whenever I hear the music of Mr. Stockhausen I have the strong desire to turn it off.

        I must be a changed man. ^^

        That man used to talk a lot of rubbish, like he is from another planet and stuff 😉
        Delusional hippie.

        1. that’s a very ignorant response based on no research whatsoever

          the kind of thing you might expect from a pot smoking chav teenager

      1. No better way to advance an art by making technique and education accessible to a greater number of people. Which is exactly what YouTube can be used for.

  2. This is the same ‘artist’ who called the events of 9/11 “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos.” No need to comment other than that.

    1. Haha I’d not seen that before. What an unhinged thing to say. His clarification, that he meant it was lucifer’s greatest achievement, doesn’t really make it less unhinged, tho it does clarify that he didn’t think it was a good thing.

      1. Stockhausen essentially said that the power of Lucifer’s work makes what artists can do achieve seem insignificant – something many,Americans would agree with.

        But he also was being the provocateur artist, in having his response to a terrorist attack be a tone-deaf intellectual response – a bit like when John Lennon said that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

        To pillory either of them over their remarks would be ignorant of what they were really saying. That doesn’t mean that their comments weren’t insensitive and douchie, though.

  3. No, now you should leverage the novel idea of two different aspects of an entity are actually two different aspects of that entity. And grasping the notion of “different levels of time” also helps.

    Ps: Where’s Rabbidbat?

    1. PS: This was supposed to be a humorous reply to the “Because trading youtube how-to videos is definitely the way to advance the art?” comment above, but somehow appeared at this irrelevant location. Hence the tiny joke is ruined I guess : P

  4. In this case, new means a new sound ontology, which should require a new method-approach to its structuring. Unfortunately he reverted to the old sound acoustic ontology after this experience.

    1. What a strange comment. It’s not a competition right? Or at you arguing that the music must be pleasantly enjoyable and easily understood in order to achieve recognition as influential? Maybe you should stick to Nils Frahm….

        1. Maybe… the comment confuses me though.. You might not like the music by him but outside of any form of restriction of the criteria e.g., pleasantness of the music, he is easily as influential and important as Ravel et al…. Although if that is the requirement then Schoenberg needs to get off that list….

          1. I assume that you know Ravel’s other works well enough beyond his Bolero, which kind of unfortunatelly sticked with his name : )

            He (Ravel) also have (maybe remotely, and maybe in terms of compelxity) Schoenbergish pieces. Though, I’m no expert in western classical music history.

            1. Indeed! And that’s why the comparison seems so non-applicable. Many of the comments also seem to miss or disregard Stockhausens links to Babbitt, Varese (and others) and in the extension Matthew’s and the conception of computer music. To focus on his stupid comments or whether his music is “worthy”is just really missing the point if you consider electronic music (music!) an important aspect of yourself. Anyway HNY!

  5. I like his take on the organs and their use – it is something people forget too often, that you can list everything from the 303 to autotune to fm synthesis that were created as emulation and replacements for classical acoustic instruments and grew into something different

    1. That would have been marvelous….simply marvelous!!! When I was living in Germany I did see him discussing some of his work on TV. He was very animate in his expressions and in his hand gestures.

  6. If one of your criteria for electronic music is that it has to have a unified time structure, I guess my mom’s old folk record collection, and my anthology of byzantine choral works now should be classed as electronic music. All music has a unified time structure. If anything, abstract sound collage and electronic noise may be the first music genres that obscure the time structure to a point where it’s verging on becoming non-existent. All earlier music conforms to the basic tenure that some form of structure in time is a part of the composition.

    Splitting of the sound. Meaning that multiple tones can be played at the same time by multiple timbres. Polyphony is apparently reserved for electronic music as well, anyone using more than one note or more than one instrument is making electronic music. Apparently.

    Multilayered spatial composition. I’ll keep in mind for my acoustic purist friends to seat the entire ensemble on top of each other in one chair, and aim their instruments at one single point, so that no claim can be made the music was accidentally electronic.

    Equality of Sound and Noise. Some sounds are tonal, others are not. So remember kids, if you want to play non-electronic music, make sure never to use a shaker, a drum kit, clap your hands or stamp your feet. All of this is a criterium for electronic music, distinguishing it from all other music.

    I’m sorry, I like listening to Stockhausen’s music sometimes, but he does talk a lot of drivel. None of these criteria are unique to electronic music. What he’s describing here is the definition of music, in a very roundabout purposefully vague way to obscure the fact that he’s not adding anything new here. The key to being respected as an artist is self-mystification, and this is just another good example of that.

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