German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s work explores the constantly shifting nature of both music composition and performance in the 21st century, utilizing recording consoles, synthesizers and mixing boards as devices to explore the human relationship with technology and composition while creating imersive, powerful works.
Stockhausen’s Oktophonie is one such work. Taken from the composer’s massively ambitious Licht cycle of operas, the piece calls for the manipulation of an 8-channel sound system and series of pre-recorded synthesizer figures to move sound in all directions, including swoops of vertical and horizontal arrangement. Composition embraces space and positioning as much as it does duration and arrangement. Fitting then, that the Park Avenue Armory would choose the work to launch its 2013 season of events. The massive space of the Armory’s drill hall allows for a pure experience of spatial sound that perfectly complements the violent cacophonies and rumbling drones of Stockhausen’s depiction of the battle between St. Michael and Lucifer.
Notoriously minimalist in presentation, Stockhausen often asked that his electronic works (Oktophonie included) be performed in pure darkness, with perhaps a small moon of light projected on the ceiling. Welcoming a new exploration of Stockhausen’s work, the Armory asked Rikrit Tiravanija to redesign this experience, and the artist responded with a striking, circular seating arrangement that puts the viewer on the moon itself.
There is no escaping Stockhausen’s 70 minute soundscape in Tiravanija’s seating arrangement, turning the viewer inward towards the center of the circle. Dressed before the show in white robes, the audience must face nearly complete darkness, feeling a strange sense of connectivity while being inundated with Stockhausen’s score. Thunderous roars give way to shimmering clashes of sound, complemented by a gradual shifting of light overhead. The work is hypnotic in every sense of the word, slowly chipping away almost any outside perception to create a sense of stillness, lost in the storm of sound swirling overhead.
As the piece drew to a droning conclusion, the lights gradually rose, bringing the viewer back into contact with the rest of the audience. In the shockingly bright lights, the faces around the audience seemed almost surreal, abstracted from reality by Stockhausen’s ethereal score.
The Park Ave Armory [Oktophonie]