Writings about Music
Incarnation of Stockhausen Zodiac Timbre
Ever since first hearing it on Imaginary Landscape hosted by Carl Stone on KPFK FM in Los Angeles, who subsequently interviewed me on three separate occasions, the third time on KPFA FM in Berkeley, my favorite Karlheinz Stockhausen composition has been his Zodiac in the original setting for twelve music boxes representing a conceptual semblance related to the player piano of Conlon Nancarrow and my Meruvina. For that reason I am delighted to finally recognize just now how glockenspiel and vibraphone timbres used for early compositions of mine coincidently sound very much like the charming music boxes of Stockhausen.
Some of these early works are The Abode of Joy; The Lotus Girl; The Jewel Treasure of the Ocean; The Abode of Snow; Kapalua; Evening; Cold Snows of A Dream; Spring Rains; Three Pieces; and Long Island City All these pieces are voiced by the aforementioned glockenspiel or vibraphone timbres. For the complete compositions simply click on the album title links.
When musicologist Leonard Altman asked me who I would like to have for a composition mentor, my choice was Karlheinz Stockhausen, but Altman replied that I had managed to pick the one composer who was out of his or anyone else's reach. Leonard then decided upon asking Steve Reich who agreed to mentor me. Steve asked me to make a recording of one of my compositions, allowing him to listen while following the score, so I wrote a new piece titled Long Island City, where I was living at the time. Long Island City was subsequently recorded by Juilliard students responding to a flier I posted, playing flute, clarinet and viola prior to the Meruvina realization included here.
As it turns out, I wrote about Stockhausen and Zodiac before in Mesmeric Mantra Enchants Even Ravens from 2015: "The magic of Zodiac is how it both captures and transcends the template of our time with the composer creating the performance to be played in real time by the instrument itself without any intervention from musicians or the composer, which would wake the music from its ecstatic dream."
"What’s uncanny about Zodiac is how the music boxes seem to come alive, as if Karlheinz had gifted them with what is known in Africa as numinoisity. This remains the formidable challenge I personally enjoy engaging with using technology I have named the Meruvina, which I brought into the studio for live performances on Carl’s show several times after hearing the Stockhausen music."
What's new in this essay is recognizing that the timbres used in Zodiac by Stockhausen are remarkably similar to those used to voice and color early compositions of mine realized by the Meruvina that were originally conceived for acoustic instruments.
- Michael Robinson, August 2020, Los Angeles
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Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).