Born in the town of Mödrath, located near Cologne, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s early life was marred by the violence brought about by the Nazi uprising and the extensive bombing of Germany during World War II. By the end of the war he had lost both his parents — his father a casualty of the fighting, and his mother executed by Nazi authorities during their purges of mental institutions — and had himself been forced to endure the horrors of modern warfare as a stretcher–bearer for a field military hospital. As he embarked on a serious study of music, these experiences motivated his rejection of what he and his peers considered the obsolete criteria of Romanticism in favor of finding a new approach that more accurately reflected the world around him.

Perspectives of New Music

The following interview with Karlheinz Stockhausen occurred following the world premiere of Sirius [July 15, 1976], which was written for the opening of the Spacearium in the newly dedicated Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., and “commissioned by the Government of the Federal Republic of West Germany on the occasion of the American Bicentennial and dedicated to the American pioneers on Earth and in Space.”


In approaching the music of Stockhausen, one must be cognizant of your concept of the passing of time with respect to form. Might you elaborate upon this?

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Well, I have answered this area of questioning in great detail in the interviews with Jonathan Cott in his book. The answer that I can give concerns the expansion of duration in the micro–time, the individual duration within the rhythm, and the macro–time, the duration of sections in a musical composition. As early as 1952–53 I realized that the concept of the duration of a piece seemed to be generally fixed, a piece had to last between ten and twenty minutes — Le Sacre du Printemps was considered to be a long piece–look at all the works of the Viennese school. Webern was considered to be an outsider because he composed such short works, they didn’t fit into this category of an average duration. It seems that our tradition has created suprapersonal standards for musical time adapted to the performance conditions, rehearsal conditions [and] to traditions of musical listening in concerts. You come, you go, and in between, several pieces are presented, when you start from the origin of music, which happens very rarely in history, then all of these conventions become relative. We do not accept them so easily as many generations had before. I found out in particular that in participating in musical events which were rituals, as in Japan and India, that as soon as you step out of the concert convention, the concept of duration becomes totally different. In Bali I have assisted at rituals which include dance, orchestras playing, and the like, which last much longer than ours. In Japan I assisted in a ceremony which lasted three days and three nights — almost every action of the priests produced sound in a conscious way, which means they made music. Now these are the aspects of the macro–time, the duration of the pieces. The micro–time is the same. You become aware that the slowness of the production of sound, of the movement of the body, of the polyphony of the different movements of parts of the body are conceptions completely unusual to a European. And what is considered to be good timing changes from country to country. In particular the media like radio and television have sped up the timing to such an extent that a composer is most appreciated if he can do something within a very short time span. That’s why the pop music, for example, is imprinting musical timing into the people to a great extent by the short duration of the musical “numbers”, or hits. Whenever a pop composer tries to expand these durations from the customary two to three minutes, he is very unsuccessful, because he has no experience whatsover in building large art forms. They add sequences of short events of different characteristics, and they cannot build a process because that requires a totally different skill and point of departure. In general it shows that history has, at different points in its course, expanded the micro–time and the micro–rhythm. More and more in the history of European music, we think of Wagner and Mahlerpeople thought [their music] was even decadent because sometimes they needed a lot of time. Schoenberg praised Webern to the heavens when he made these very short pieces, saying, “He can express in a few lines what others must write in thick novels.” And then also we have increased the density of events passing in the micro–time via the Impressionists, who tried to catch as many small timbre changes in a minimum of time [on] the pages, the pages [that] aggregated or agglomerated thousands of tiny little spots of color in order to give the impression of watching in nature, outside where the lights reflect from all the particles of an object. And musicians tried to do the same — Ravel, Debussy, early Webern, Schoenberg, even Bart6k. Afterwards there was an even greater change which has not yet been completely digested. Maybe I have been able to contribute a lot to this movement, what I call statistical composition — to transcend completely the traditional notion that you have to compose detail so clearly that you can hear everything. And I said in 1954 in a radio program in which I analyzed the Jeux of Debussy from the perspective of statistical composition, that if we voluntarily transcend this concept of hearing everything, and we say we should not hear everything as particles in a context but create a dense texture which sometimes has thousands of little sounds in an agglomeration of sound, which appears then as a unified vibrating sound complex, then we have reached a completely new concept of music, a sound which lasts a half–an–hour, an hour, or whatever you want, if the inner life of the sound, the inner changes of the sound are based on this micro–acoustical composition. It had a lot to do naturally with the expansion of consciousness toward atomic physics, nuclear physics and also the expansion of the consciousness through the new astronomical discoveries. We become more fully aware of aspects of the density of the universe, and it’s still only known and felt by very few people that statistical composition has been one of the most important expansions of musical composition during its whole course, because it also has led us to the use of totally new means which allow us the condensation of sound and the micro–structuring of sound, through electronic means, because these surpass the physical means of the player and we can reach speeds of production of sounds, a height to make vibrating complexes. For instance, the composition you heard last night, Sirius, is based entirely on a new concept of spatial movement. The sound moves so fast in rotations and slopes and all sorts of spatial movements that it seems to stand still, but it vibrates. It is [an] entirely different kind of sound experience, because you are no longer aware of speakers, of sources of sound — the sound is everywhere, it is within you. When you move your head even the slightest bit, it changes color, because different distances occur between the sound sources. So musical time is something completely different than it was even thirty years ago. I am trying with every new work to expand the limits of what is composed in micro–durations and in macro–durations.


You’ve mentioned timbre and space as primary compositional parameters. Boulez alludes to what he terms “musical specialists”, those composers who concentrate on certain parameters, and he states flatly that theirs is the wrong path. Do you consider yourself a specialist composer?


By no means! He’s quoting, actually, what I’ve said a million times — I know what he means, that we now have in music as many specialists as [we] do medical doctors specializing in one limb of the body, because of this extremely necessary research in detail. And in music we have the same. It’s clear who are specialists — people who have chosen a very small field of possibilities and who concentrate on that and repeat it over and over again, like many painters. Many famous painters have painted time and time again similar things, and in music we have those composers who do that. It is always the question: broad or deep? I think all these aspects should be discussed without polemics. If someone tries to go very deep, and this is all he wants to do and can see [people are very different in their universality, not everybody is universally built], we need these people who concentrate on one thing for a long time, otherwise we would never get very deep. They contribute a great deal. However, it’s true that the greatest masters in all fields, as rare as they are, have been universalists. They have seen the entire world and have tried to pull it together. But most of the time, these geniuses have only been possible after long developments where many specialists have prepared their conclusions, their universalities. Goethe, as a poet, was a universalist, but he has used a lot of details in technique and content which were prepared by other poets who were specialists involved in a more narrow or concentrated field, and Beethoven is the same. Even Bach is the same. He could pull together styles, techniques, from Italian, French, and German traditions and universalize them in a certain way. It seems that my role is the role of a very universal composer, insofar as I must have been — according to my own inner revelations — I must have lived, in Japan and India, also in Egypt, before. And my formation as a spirit has prepared me for a long time for synthesis, but synthesis in a way in which differences are retained, and I mediate between them, and not a synthesis which leads to a new style. I rather try to unify, harmonize a lot of aspects of music. What Boulez says is significant because what you attack is what is most dangerous within yourself. His real danger, obviously, is to be a specialist, so he must attack specialists — this is how we all function. Nevertheless it is true, if he sees it in himself, he tries to overcome it, and he sees that Xenakis and Ligeti have problems in overcoming it, the way they are built as mind and spirits shows that they will have extreme difficulty in changing their personal style, which in the case of Xenakis, for example, is determined by his education. He’s a complete latecomer as a musician, and in a true sense he is no musician at all — I really doubt what he can hear, not only with the inner ear. Nevertheless, he is able to contribute something we find in all the sciences and arts, by transposition from one field to another, you transpose something from architecture to music, you learn the respective parameters, the limits of the instruments, and translate points on the paper to sound. Certainly something interesting comes out of it. If the method is quite unusual in the field of music you can be sure that something new, something that hasn’t been done the same way before, will occur. The same is true when you use computers for combinatoric work, you can produce, with the machine, combinations that you have not used before and you use them as the technique employed in environmental industry — to produce new patterns which you can paste on the wall — and you have a kind of new tapestry. We work with these chance operations employing machines in all fields to find new textures, new aspects of combinatoric work. But it has nothing to do with the expansion of intuition. It is the production of new interesting materials.


You’ve mentioned the terms universality, expansion of consciousness. Are you pursuing a contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk, a true world–music?


The Gesamtkunstwerk is a German term, obviously, associated primarily with Wagner. It was the result of the splitting process in a very short time of European development of music, ballet, and theater. I say a very short time because still in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the church plays, the Passions, originating from the churches in the courtyards, or inside the church, did not have this splitting between theater, ballet, and music. Even within the realm of oratorio, opera, and concert music the specialization of the late Renaissance and the increasing of the splitting of all the different aspects of music is a sign of atomization, actually, which has affected all aspects of European culture, because it represents the splitting of the human mind itself. There is no longer a unified world. People don’t believe the same things anymore, they are not unified through religion anymore, we have the most extreme atheists and extreme theists living next to each other, trying not to kill each other and this is true for all other aspects. The arts reflect this. So what Wagner was doing, and others, say, in the Bauhaus atmosphere, was nothing but the revitalization of something that has remained unsplit in the other important cultures, like the Japanese culture, Indian culture, Indonesian culture — I mean, in particular, the Balinese theater — and he did it by going back to the visits of the gods, or the period on this planet when gods were living among us. It was a kind of deification of an art work, the art ritualwhich means the theme was lofty enough to use dance, lighting, music, design, sculpture, painting, etc. for a unifying cause which was metaphysical, which was transcendental. In that sense my whole work is trying to very clearly aim at events in which the splitting of the different aspects of the sensual perception, and also of the intellectual perception, is overcome, and in which I will reach events which are totally integrated and serve a cause to reveal and clarify man’s necessity to make contact again with the center of the universe, with the divine creator and the many different hierarchical levels of spiritual life within the universe. Music, as I see it, must constantly try in different ways to recreate, to vitalize this contact, to make contact again through the sound and, through the events occurring in producing the sound, make contact with the central force in the universe.


You have worked, of course, a great deal with electronic music, attempting, it seems, to integrate musique concrete with electronically generated sounds. Berio feels that those works in the electronic idiom which make a connection, via natural sound sources, with musical tradition are those which are most successful. How would you respond to that premise?


I respond to it by my works, such as Gesang der Jiinglinge, which is a composition with the voice of a human child singing with itself in chorus, duos, trios, what have you, then in Kontakte, which is a purely electronic work but which has three categories [metal, wooden, and skin–instrument sounds] which refer to natural instruments, and each category further subdivided into three subcategories of noise [like the consonants in language], noise–pitched sounds [like the halfconsonants], and pitch–determined sounds. This occurs in all three categories in metal, wood, and skin including what I call the purely consonantal sounds — s,f,p,t,g,k — in percussion instruments which can produce these plosives and their continuous consonant sounds. In the version with instruments I relate the “natural” sounds of percussion and piano to the electronically–produced categories. The same is true in Telemusik which includes, I think, about twenty five more or less short segments from different traditions of folklore music of this planet, [which] tries to integrate them into a sound world where all the stylistic aspects are mediated and intermodulated. I found a new process of intermodulation through certain technical means, so that the idea of the collage, which was an early twentieth–century concept, could be transcended. They didn’t know how to mediate between things, they threw things together trying to see what happened in a kind of melting pot. Now we can go one step further and can make mutations, like the biologist, and transformations, from one species into another. Then Hymnen was all the anthems which were considered as being found–objects of melody, which many people can hum. They can, therefore, realize what is done with these melodies, [and their attention] more and more is [concentrated on] the skill of composition and the resulting treatment of these melodies, because people can acknowledge them. And then all the works since Mantra, Inori in particular, where I have created my own found–objects. This has nothing to do with tradition anymore, and I find Berio’s remarks rather limiting insofar as he thinks it’s a question of traditional and modern. What it really is, as I have always said, is the question of utilizing something that is known, that people are familiar with, and something that is unknown, something new. Which means that if I could make within a given composition a melody of such a sharpness of its contours, of such clarity, and in a way also built of simplicity so that it can be whistled after hearing it but a few times or almost memorized, then we have the same phenomenon as if we would use a traditional thing like a percussion instrument, which would be only the material aspect, or a tune for variations as all the romantic and classical composers have tried — they employ variations on a theme of somebody else, or a folk tune. As early as the medieval Gregorian chant compositions, the tradition to use something you find that the people know has always been appreciated by composers, because that allows them to make variation forms. In order to transcend the variation forms, and make mutations, one needs to go even one step further and to compose in a given composition more than one formula, as I call it, the formula, a musical object which is recognizable and can be precisely memorized. It must be not too long, not too wide in intervals, not too complicated in rhythm, but it must not be too primitive, as practically all the popular hits are because then they are emptied too easily and they are just cliches of the triad–music which has been used so much that we cannot work with it anymore. [That is a pity, because it would be wonderful if we could stand now in a moment in history where the triad could be something interesting, as Mozart made whole melodies with just two triads going up and down and very simple rhythmic variations, two intermediary notes between the two triads and that was the whole melody, the theme. And you could build a quarter of an hour of music with it and everybody was happy and still most of the people are.] So we are, unfortunately, not in a situation to start at such a simple and early historical moment, but we have had all these styles. It’s extremely challenging and interesting now to build melodies which are not built on these simple relations of triads and are not built on simple periodicity, repetition of the same durations, and yet are clear enough and sharp enough and have such a strong self–identity that they can function as found–objects which are treated in many different new ways of transmutation, transformation, etc. So once you discuss all these things on a higher level, rather than think it is the question of old music or new music, instrumental and electronic, or vocal and electronic, that is only interesting for a short while — for ten or fifteen years and then this problem is no longer an essential problem. What is essential is that now in the next step we build again. We must go beyond even the Beethovenian formula of only two themes, where the second theme was never really treated in the development form, but only the first one — the second theme, serving as an intermediary calming down, was a side theme. But what is really interesting [came] after the time of serial composition which ended up with compositions which were built entirely on one series and still Schoenberg used these series as a theme in the traditional sense. I tried to transform Schoenberg’s method into what I call structural composition, where the intervals being used were constantly permutated in a way in which you couldn’t recognize a “theme”, the series as such, as a determined sequence. The next step was that I started to work with formulas and built entire compositions on the perceivable transformations of one formula into another, or the expansion or condensations of a formula, as in Inori or Mantra and Trans for orchestra, and now in Sirius. This work is built with four basic melodies, which are four melodies of The Zodiac, which is a cycle of twelve melodies, each melody with its own central sound, its own ambitus, order of intervals, its own duration, its own tempo, etc... The four main melodies of Sirius are Aries, spring, Cancer, summer, Libra, autumn, Capricorn, winter. Everything is built from these four melodies, which are, in transitions, transformed one into another, or one appearing at certain moments with the rhythm of another and vice versa, one melody triggering the timbre of formants of another, etc. — all the very subtle interrelationships among four melodic lines are used in a way that is completely new to me.


So, then, these permutations of a melodic formula are to be perceptible on a conscious level?


Oh yes! Much easier than before. You see, now we work with energies: more or less energy at a given time, energy in registers, energy in certain degrees of brilliance and darkness, a coming or going energy, or having a certain curve of energetic presentation and withdrawal. Now we come again to figures. It is as if we had gone, compared to the evolution of life, again in a very short time, historically speaking, through the entire process of building form from the one–cellular beings, from the chemical substance where the pure chemicals are working, bouncing against each other, and one by one building life in little formulas until developed forms come out of the process — this is happening now and increasingly in my work. Much later on, this will be recognized as the greatest change in twentieth–century music history, I think. There is a new kind of formula composition which is built on several formulas which the composer has built for a given composition, so that these are his concrete objects, so to speak. Then we compose literally whole processes of evolution of forms from sheer matter [which is vibrating masses of vibrations] through processes from simple figures to the most complex, most developed, most personal musical Gestalten, which then meet each other, and we have a new counterpoint in a new way.


Webern believed that eventually the seeming differences between the arts [music] and science would eventually be swept away by evolution of thought processes. Do you agree with his conception?


My whole process of self–education is proving this. I have studied from my beginning as a musician, acoustics, and [have always tried] to draw a lot of musical consequences from the knowledge of the nature of sound. I have studied phonetics, where I probably learned most about the statistical, microtonal nature of sound, and transposed this knowledge into the macrotonal composition, also phonology, the study of the systems of language. This was a very important time in my life. Constantly, I have learned from technology, from science, by my work in the electronic music studio, designing circuits myself for equipment and working with scientists and technicians in the field of acoustics and electronics. Yes, we are fortunately beginning, in an early stage of development [as in early medieval times], where the musician is studying his material constantly and learning from the inherent laws in the nature of material, and where he is abstractly developing new concepts of musical formation and trying to produce new material which fits these concepts. Yes, the medieval synthesis of the highest sciencesof music, astronomy, mathematics — is again in sight.


Your compositional style has undergone considerable change, almost circular, in that you began writing completely deterministic music, then gradually transformed this into virtually indeterminate music. Now with works such as Mantra you seem to be swinging back toward increasingly determinate music. Is this circular sequence of events a general life–concept concerning a composer’s life?


It’s a spiral, I think, which means [that] even if Mantra seems to be written down to the smallest detail, it represents a result, in its organic forming, of all the experiences I have had in performing, with a group, what I call the intuitive music. I could have never built Mantra and the other later works without these experiences, every now and then I performed intuitive music with my group while composing Mantra and in the same two months wrote a series of seventeen compositions called For Times to Come, which have similar qualities, but developed further, as the text compositions Aus den sieben Tagen. If you know the work Inori, you could see that now I am beginning to combine the two aspects more and more, to create interreferences between the two concepts. In Inori, for example, there are passages in which the musicians float in areas of sounds with much larger limits than in the deterministic structures, where certain formulas can be treated individually by each member of the orchestral group as concerns timing and fractioning of elements. Even in the piece of last night [Sirius], there are several sections where the musicians get little fragments, and the timing and the subdivision of these fragments is left to the discretion of the moment. So I think words like deterministic and indeterministic become just what they are. They become very narrow points of view of a complete continuity. I have always said that these are an aid for discussion, but this means not that these are two opposed extremes, but that a deterministic element can be, as it is in a given composition, seen as an indeterminate element, if you look at it from a larger perspective, let’s say, in the macro–form. The completely determinate element that is written down and played exactly as is prescribed can function as an extremely indeterminate element, and vice versa. We have produced [forms] in intuitive playing. If you listen to the recordings of Aus den sieben Tagen, you can hear clear forms — for example if you listen to It or Upwards, you can hear a musical form of thirty forty minutes [in] length, which gives the impression of an incredibly severe deterministic structuring, because the musicians went through the experience of deterministic music as well as indeterministic, like Kontarsky and Boje, Kontarsky’s inclination is toward the deterministic. They brought this experience into the intuitive playing, and therefore the strong structuring of form is also functioning, then, in the intuitive music. And vice versa. Now when pieces are played which seem to be completely determinate in their notations and also their way of rationalizing their timing and spacing of sounds, nevertheless, they have this fabulous flow of organic movement and, well, of open form, of open forming. So these words are useful only in a discussion to clarify certain elements of notation, interpretation, of working in a studio, where different processes have different methods to determine how to express something you want in numbers or measures. Or, on the other hand, texts like Aus den sieben Tagen, which are formulated with general indications, give a direction but do not specify too much, which frees a musician to listen more rather than read. There are many methods, and I think that I will be able, during my lifetime, to compose a few examples of a perfect synthesis of the two aspects, where strata in a given composition are left completely open for the intuition of several musicians, and the other musicians react to them — like transformers and modulators in a studio do — to the material that’s brought them, and swallowing it, so to speak, transform it into a process. Or vice versa: then the intuitive players take something out of this transformed material again, as specified material, and through repetition and clarification build new formulas during that particular piece, which are then fed back into the ensemble as material to transform. This happened already in the orchestral version of Hymnen, where the tape is constantly feeding precise material into the orchestra and the musicians are given symbols which indicate degrees and directions of transformations, they have to pick out certain tones or intervals, transpose them upwards or downwards with increasing or decreasing speed, etc. So I think the time is almost right in which these aspects become unified, like in the universe, actually. I have always said if you look very closely at an atom, there seems to be a lot of random activity going on, but again, if you look at one of the smaller planets very precisely, then you see that it moves itself in a very regular way. The universe is, in all its macro– and micro–aspects, determinate and indeterminate. In general, it seems that the macromovements are more determinate — give our human minds the impression that they are more determinate — the sun goes up every morning, the whole clock of the universe seems to be very precise — whereas the individual life of human beings, the cells in the body, seem to have more space of randomness, more possibility of change from day to day, from moment to moment. It’s only a question of perspective, how close up you go to view. If you go too close it becomes random, indeterminate, at a certain distance it becomes very precisely determinate, and if you go too far away it becomes random again.


In several of your works, notably Hymnen which you call a music for the post–apocalypse, and Sirius, you have written a music for the future, not just music that is simply forward–looking. How is it possible for a composer living in one time to write for another time?


Well, I think you must try to reveal within you the eternal nucleus of the person. People can on the surface live like pigs and still be angels, they’re spiritual. Let’s say this, I don’t mean on a moral level at all, but I mean on the physical level, they can be incredible transmitters or receivers, certain people have that gift. I know a clairvoyant who is certainly not a good example of humanitarian quality, or physical quality, but he has that gift. This is also said about Edgar Casey, the great American medium, smoking all the time, he really ruined his body, terribly nervous, etc., but when he was in the state of deep meditation, of deep trance, then he was the most incredible source of knowledge about the future and the past, and he was able to say the most extraordinary things that have been proved countless times, about people’s past lives, future lives, events that would occur, he predicted all sorts of things. So if you want to transcend the general level of entertainment in this planet [which is very legitimate, because most people need entertainment of all sorts from the simple to the most refined, from the most tasteful to the most aesthetically developed, it is a kind of tessitura of fashion], if you want to transcend all this, then you have to discover within you a particular quality of clairvoyance, a quality of the artist, an ability to receive something that is relevant a hundred years later or that was so fabulously rich in its content and so mysterious for the majority that people were nurturing themselves for a long time afterwards on this music or poetry. I don’t say that you either have it or you don’t. You can try until the end of your life to try to discover this eternal quality within yourself, and it’s within all of us, in particular those artists who already are willing to sacrifice their personal lives to this hard work, which is incredibly hard work, to have practically no personal entertainment and to give yourself away every day and every hour and every minute only for this cause–to be used by humanity as a transistor, a radio, if you like. Others have compared it to an early warning system, but I would like to go beyond this, as also an announcement system, sometimes serious, sometimes joyous. Then the artist can add more and more to the quality of what he’s doing, as well as the clarity and universality, by concentrating on that inner center of his person which is often secretly in contact with the center of the universe. The artist becomes aware, himself [very often it is called madness], of that critical moment when he has contact with this other world, because then he feels completely lost and he doesn’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing. All he is trying is to be as precise as possible in order to realize what’s coming into him, as in daydreams or night. So insofar [as] you can be conscious of it without becoming pompous or arrogant, you can be conscious of this specific quality basically through the state of emotion you go through yourself when you hear for the first time, at a certain distance, your own work, or when you see in people that you admire, when you feel in people that you admire, this particular reaction where they are elevated or transfixed. This sometimes happens at the moment of reception when you have the very first moment of intuitive insight, you hear the musical composition — usually it happens unexpectedly during the hard work of a musical composition, this moment of reception, much too early, and you have no time to realize it, but when it happens you feel by the degree of internal agitation almost a high degree of danger. Then you can trust that it’s something important, and that it’s coming into you. Then you have to stick to it and think about it, to make it become clear. You have to think about it no matter where you are and all the time no matter if you’re on a bus or... you must always be close to it. Then it clarifies itself more and more and more, and when you start physically working it out, then it is almost already right, and all the work you can do is to adapt it to the means of this planet — to the orchestras, to instruments, to rehearsal conditions, and this and that. But you must keep close to what you have felt as a totally unified entity and realize it as precisely as possible, taking care not to listen to others’ reactions because they disturb it. Everybody wants to suggest something — you should change this or that — and then you are pulled away from it. So the only one who can know what is to be, is yourself. So the best thing to do is shut yourself off from reactions and from people who cannot listen and constantly know better than the artist. Even other friends who are artists shouldn’t be involved, because everybody has a different kind of thinking and if you are abstractly thinking about a composition, you may make the most stupid kind of suggestions, which are either dictated by tradition or convention, or by commercialistic aspects, or by intellectual processes — nothing of this should happen. The best is to simply stick to that original sound vision that you have had, and realize it. So, the more you have experienced moments of this incredible elevation of yourself and the people you admire [you can be fortunate if there are one or two, who are even able to express it, after having heard something], then you reach that point which makes contact between a particular moment of this life on this planet and the most important spiritual vibrations of the center of the universe, which is the future and past and everything at once. It’s no longer even the future, it’s “It”, beyond time. It’s very interesting where this spiral ends. I think it’s connected to its beginning, like the wire in an electric bulb.


Might you discuss some of the circumstances responsible for the creation of your latest work, Sirius?


Well, Sirius is now, [after] about two years, a concrete concept of a composition in my own mind. It’s built on the twelve melodies of the zodiac which I composed about two years ago, and its center is called The Wheel. It has four seasons, Sirius always begins with the season corresponding to that particular time of the year. The first part is The Presentation, the last part is The Annunciation. If you read the text, which I have written myself, of the twelve melodies of the zodiac, you would discover that I have tried to crystallize as sharply as possible the characteristics of the twelve particular types of man, from the respective astrological signs of the human characters of the zodiac. It says in the additional text, which is spoken and sung by the soprano and bass, what each of the four soloists represents: the four elements, the four seasons, the four sexes, the four stages of development of any kind of life. The spirit of it is that it is music from Sirius, which is transposed on this planet and [reveals] the possibilities of this planet, because I think that the culture of this planet has been mainly formed by visitors from Sirius, especially in the time between 9000 and 6000 B.C., [as have] most of our modern concepts of cultural achievements, as far as these are still available, because, as you know, an enormous amount has been burned in the library of Alexandria, where all the secret knowledge of architecture, of mathematics, of astronomy and of the arts, and of the magnetism of the earth, of ecology, etc., has been destroyed voluntarily by the Christian orthodox administration. But I think that our main sources of present–day culture, as decadent as it may be in most parts of the planet, stem from visitors from Sirius whose main representatives [leaders] were Isis and Osiris. Through a series of revelations which were at first quite nebulous, but have become more clear during the past few years, I know [as little as I know about details] that I have come from Sirius, myself. And I know that the highest kind of language that can exist for this highly developed culture is music. As long as we’re inclinated toward the bodies and possibilities of the body of this planet Earth, then everything from Sirius appears as music. It is structured in a direct harmony with the forming principles of the universe, of the rotations, of the seasons, of different aspects of youth, man, woman, the friend, of the elements earth, fire, water, air, of states of growth, etc. All of these characteristics stem basically, and have been made conscious, from this culture, and there are many other planets which have been influenced by these universal principles, which are communicated best through sound in music that is the best and most universal way.


notes from the program [reprinted and translated from Internationes] by the composer.

The Composer on His Work

[An introduction by the composer, Professor Karlheinz Stockhausen, as translated from an article in Internationes, a Bicentennial publication in West Germany.]


the alpha star of Canis Major–8.7 light–years distant — is the sun of our local universe. Two hundred million suns with their planets and moons circle_blue around it and live from its light.

For the inhabitants of Sirius, music is the highest form of vibration. For this reason, music has attained its highest development on Sirius. Every musical composition is linked to the rhythms of the stars, the time of year and day, the elements, and the existential differences of the living beings.

The music, which I have composed and named SIRIUS transfers some of these principles of musical form and creation onto our planet. There are three phases in this work: The Presentation, The Wheel, and The Annunciation.


NORTH — Basso Profundo

SOUTH — Soprano


EAST — Trumpet

WEST — Bass Clarinet


The Earth

The Man

The Night

The Winter

The Seed


The Air

The Friend, Beloved

The Evening

The Autumn

The Fruit


The Water

The Woman

The Midday

The Summer

The Blossom


The Fire

The Youth

The Morning

The Spring

The Bud


The Wheel of the stars and seasons is the clock of SIRIUS. Twelve melodies of the zodiac are the signs of the months. According to the season of the performance, one commences The Wheel with one of the four main melodies: ARIES, CANCER, LIBRA, or CAPRICORN.

The performance of The Wheel takes approximately one hour. Each of the four main melodies rules approximately one quarter of an hour and all twelve melodies divide the hour like the twelve numbers of the clock. The Wheel revolves to the right.

Within The Wheel, all is continuous change and transformation: the rhythm, melody and timbre of ARIES, CANCER, LIBRA, and CAPRICORN transform themselves independently and, at times, jointly into one another. Also, one is always emerging as another is departing, while the third and fourth melodies appear only softly and briefly. Everything is formed from these four melodies. The other melodies appear only by themselves, they are not utilized for metamorphoses.


After The Wheel, NORTH and SOUTH [duo] and EAST and WEST [duo] say farewell, and in quartet they announce The Annunciation:

Only this period of creation has the virtue–still undiscernible for you — that in the entire eternal infinite it is the only one in which I, creator of all worlds, have completely taken on the nature of the human flesh. I have chosen for myself within the entire, immense Universe Man, this particular cosmic capsule, and within this, the local universe whose central sun is SIRIUS, and amongst the 200 million suns rotating around SIRIUS, I have chosen just your Earth, where I would incarnate as human being. Here I will raise, for all times and eternities to come, children completely similar to me, who, together with me, will someday reign over the entire infinite.

— Transmitted by Jakob Lorber

The musical realization of the electronic music for SIRIUS was made by me in the studio of the West German Radio Station in Cologne between July 1975 and June 1976. Listening to this music, in particular to The Wheel, one perceives how the newly discovered means and structural possibilities of electronic music can awaken a new consciousness of illuminations, transformations, and melding of Gestalten. Impossible with the old musical devices, they approach closer and closer the art of metamorphosis in nature.

[Interview by David Felder 1976]