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1
Stephen Lucas
MUCP 5460

Relationships of Isomorphic Elements in Stockhausens Kontakte

Since the time when technology allowed for music to be made using electronic
instruments, composers have worked to refine their concepts of sound and musical form
in order to encompass an ever growing vocabulary. Karlheinz Stockhausens musical
aesthetic welcomed this increase in vocabulary, and when combined with his background
in serial composition, his work became innovative and experimental in the field of
electro-acoustic music. Stockhausens work Kontakte(1960) incorporates isomorphic
elements and serial techniques in order to create a cohesive aesthetic and a structured
formal design.
I. Introduction to Kontakte
Kontakte, or Contacts, is a piece for piano, percussion, and electronic sounds,
realized in 1958 to 1960 at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk electronic-music studio in
Cologne, Germany. It employs experimental notation and extended techniques in order to
expand the sound vocabulary of the instruments. The piece lasts 34 minutes, 31.8 seconds
and because of the nature of a fixed media electronic part, the duration is absolute. The
piece exists in two forms: electronic sounds alone, and electronic sounds, piano, and
percussion (implying Stockhausen feels a fixed media recording of the performance is an
adequate experience of the piece). In Stockhausens words the Contacts of the title
refer both to contacts between instrumental and electronic sound groups and to contacts
between self-sufficient, strongly characterized moments. In the case of the loudspeaker
reproduction, it also refers to contacts between various forms of spatial movement.
1
In

1
Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Texte vol. 2. 1964. Cologne: Verlag M. Dumont Schauberg.
2
order to break down the construction of the piece, one must clarify Stockhausens
compositional goals, his electro-acoustic aesthetic, his use of formal implementations,
and his techniques of serialization.
II. Stockhausens Aesthetic
Stockhausens goals in sound composition (especially in terms of Kontakte) fall
into four categories of conceptualization: 1)the correlation of color, harmony, and meter;
2) the construction and de-construction of timbres; 3) the differentiation among degrees
of intensity; 4) the relationships between sound and noise.
2
He believes that in the music
created before the use of electronic instruments, it was customary to think of these
properties of music as mutually independent, but in his mind, they are all aspects of a
conceptual temporal continuum. When he began to use electronic instruments to
construct sound material, he realized that all acoustic material is made up of changes that
happen on a spectrum of time. For example, when a material vibrates at a frequency that
is faster than 20Hz, it becomes audible as pitch, but if there is a similar vibration that is
happening much slower, it would be perceived as a rhythm or meter. (see Fig. 1) In
Stockhausens eyes, the revelation that pitch and rhythm are actually part of the same
physical spectrum of time meant that there was a window into linking all of the elements
of a musical composition into a cohesive whole. Kontakte is his first application of
exploring the possibilities of these relationships and creating a piece with this aesthetic.
III. Moment Form
The primary means of constructing musical forms in Kontakte is based on
Stockhausens concept of moment form. The practical explanation of this application is

2
Stockhausen, Karlheinz. The Concept of Unity in Electronic Music. Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 1,
No. 1. (Autumn, 1962), pp. 39-48
3
that the musical elements are combined into short sections, not unlike a measure or a
phrase in traditional notation. The conceptual emphasis on this type of form is that it
creates an emphasis in the listeners ear on the now, or the current state of the musical
elements; there is a higher importance on the current combination of elements than on the
context of said combination within what has happened in the piece previously and what
will happen after.
3
In order for this emphasis to be created, each compositional moment
needs to be self sufficient in its construction, in that each of its musical elements depend
on one anothers immediate temporal context. Each moment must be an indivisible
gestalt, therefore supplying its own context, and allowing a distinct independence within
the rest of the pieces structural forms.
IV. Total Serialism
In order to combine these two concepts into Kontakte, Stockhausen relies on his
background in serial composition in order to create isomorphic groupings and a cohesive
formal design.
4
This becomes most important in the application of Stockhausens idea of
the temporal spectrum of musical elements because the attributes and characteristics of
something as fast as a pitch can be remapped onto something as long as a gesture or
phrase. For example Stockhausen describes the technique of creating the electronic
material of pages 19-20;

the same processes and treatments of pitch were then mapped
onto duration, rhythm, and gesture in order to create an entire sequence of sounds that are
fundamentally related in their construction
2
(see figure 1 in appendix). This allows for a
combination of sounds that fulfill his aesthetic of showing the innate relation of musical

3
Toop, Richard. Six Lectures from the Stockhausen Courses Kurten 2002. Kurten: Stockhausen-Verlag.
2005.
4
elements, but also creates an indivisible sound gesture, or moment, within the rest of the
sections context. By serializing all elements in a similar way, and reducing their
characteristics to the same properties, Stockhausen combines his two primary goals into
one formal design.
V. Formal Implementations
Stockhausen composes the structure of Kontakte, using six distinct formal
implementations: directional, peaks, extinction of directionality, static fragmentary,
directional fragmentary, and instrumental cadenzas.
5
These are generally made up of
several moments, but they are generally marked by section numbers in the piece, or a
combination of several sections. The serialized elements that are used to describe these
formal implementations are: prevailing of gestural or textural models (as described by
Denis Smalley)
6
or intermediate levels; prevailing dynamics and possible spatial rotation;
morphology of sound objects; tendency to variability or homogeneity of timbre;
prevailing timbral typology based on the six groups mentioned by Stockhausen
2
(metal-
noise, metal-sound, wood-noise, wood-sound, skin-noise, skin-sound).
7
These elements
are based off of Stockhausens goals of sound conceptualization, but are created through
the process of serialization.
Directional sections are characterized by the use of homogenous timbres,
crescendos, spatial rotation and gestural models.(see Fig. 2) These sections often precede

4
Heikinheimo, Sppo. The Electronic Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen: Studies on the Esthetical and
Formal Problems of Its First Phase. Translated by Brad Absetz. Acta Musicologica Fennica 6. 1972.
Helsinki: Suomen Musiikkiteteellinen Seura.
5
Cipriani, A. Problems of methodology: the analysis of Kontakte. Atti del X Colloquio di Informatica
Musicale. 1995. pp. 41-44
6
Smalley, Denis. Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. Organised Sound. 1977, 2: pp. 107 126.
Cambridge University Press.
7
These formal implementations are described briefly in the Cipriani article, but the relationship to
serialization is not a concern.
5
peak sections and their purpose within the form is often a transition out of a fragmentary
section.
Peak sections are characterized by a co-presence of low and high frequencies,
loud dynamics, a tendency to inharmonicity, and gestural models. (see Fig. 3) These
sections often precede extinction of directionality sections and their purpose within the
form is often for a transition a transition out of directional sections.
Extinction of directionality sections are characterized by clear diminuendo
dynamics, sounds with a long decay, homogenous timbre, and textural models. (see Fig.
4) This formal implementation always acts as a marker for the end of a larger
macrosection, and is always preceded by a peak section.
Static fragmentary sections are characterized by timbral variability, overlapping
of sounds, a lack of pauses, moderate dynamics, and textural models. (see Fig. 5) This
formal implementation sometimes acts as a marker for the beginning of a larger
macrosection, but only when preceded by an extinction of directionality section.
Directional fragmentary sections are characterized by contrasting dynamics, a use
of pauses, an apparent inconsistency of sound objects, a non-overlapping of sounds, and
gestural models. (see Fig. 6) This formal implementation is similar in its placement to the
static fragmentary section, but always acts as a marker for the beginning of a larger
macrosection.
Instrumental cadenza sections are characterized by timbres that tend to imitate
percussion instruments, a tendency to organize sounds into phrases or clusters, the use of
dynamics that are close to said instrumental models, and textural setting models. (see Fig.
6
7) This formal implementation is always preceded by either of the fragmentary sections,
and always explores a new grouping of Stockhausens prevailing timbral typology.
It is important to note that the combination of isomorphic elements into these
formal implementations manifests Stockhausens aesthetic goal more clearly than an
analysis of the implementation of his moment form; although individual moments display
the same characteristic serialized elements, they dont display a cohesive method for the
fundamental combinations of said elements. In a similar point, individual gestures within
moments often display serialized elements, but once again, they do not display the same
cohesive methodology. Because of the insistence on this implementation of serialization
in Stockhausens writings and interviews, it is not wrong to assume that this formal
spectrum of serialization is treated in the same way that sound material is conceptualized;
in this way, all formal structures of the piece are cohesive in their treatment, but the
emphasis on moment form requires a broader scope for analysis, in order to contextualize
said cohesion.
VI. Serialization of Formal Implementations
In order to prove the serialization of these formal implementations, one must
classify the characteristic elements into their own spectra; this shows the cohesive nature
of the pieces formal structures in relationship to Stockhausens aesthetic. (see table 1)
1.) Textural or gestural models: 0-1 = textural-gestural
2.) Prevailing dynamics 0-1 = homogenous-variable
3.) Spatial rotation 0-1 = no-yes
4.) Morphology of sound objects 0-1 = no-yes
5.) Timbral tendency 0-1 = homogeneous-variable
7
6.) Prevailing timbral typology (this element only applies to cadenza sections and is
therefore not included as serialized)
Directional Peak Extinction Static/Frag. Directional/Frag Cadenza
1 1 1 0 0 1 0
2 1 1 0 0 1 1
3 1 0 0 1 1 1
4 0 0 0 1 0 1
5 0 1 0 1 0 0
(Table 1)
When the isomorphic elements are displayed in this way, it is very clear that the
relationships that are fundamental to Stockhausens goals are evenly distributed within
the parameters of each formal implementation. Although the numbering system is
arbitrary, it is clear that each section has a polarity towards higher intensity and gesture in
three of its elements, and a polarity towards lower intensity and texture in its other two
elements. The one exception to this is the extinction of directionality implementation,
which is polarized towards low intensity and texture in all of its elements; this is why it
creates such a strong marker for the ends of macrosections- because it contrasts so much
with the other sections and creates a sense of closure.
VII. Serialization of Moment Form
The concept of serialized formal implementations would appear to disrupt the
concept of moment form, in that the placement of one formal implementation creates an
interlocking context with the others (this is contrary to the self sufficient gestalt definition
of a moment). However, because these describe many moments put together, the
8
indivisible nature of each moment could be preserved in order for it to create its own self
sufficient context. This is accomplished by creating a similar serialized polarity in each
moment that is similar to, but doesnt rely on the overall polarity of the formal
implementation. For example, if one analyses moment number one from section VB (see
Fig. 2), the same serialization model can be applied (see Table 2).
Section VB, Moment 1
1 0
2 1
3 1
4 0
5 1
Table 2
Although the formal implementation of section VB is used as an example of a directional
section, this individual moment does not display the same elemental characteristics as a
typical directional section, but it does display the same balance of elemental polarities.
8

This supports the idea that the concept of moment form is preserved despite prevailing
formal contexts, because the individual moments display similar, but not necessarily
contextually coinciding, constructions.
VIII. Serialization of Macroform
In order for the moment form to be functional, it has been shown that two formal
scales apply a similar serialized construction, but in showing a serialization of the macro
form, one can further demonstrate the moment function. (See Table 3)

8
Dack, John. Strategies in the Analysis of Karlheinz Stockhausens Kontakte fur elektronische Klange,
Klavier und Schlagzeug. Journal of New Music Research. 1998. Vol. 27, No. 1-2, pp. 84-119.
9
MACROSECTION ALPHA (duration: 7'2,8")

I directional fragmentary
II (transitional)
III directional-peak-extinction

MACROSECTION BETA (dur.: 4'16,8")

IV static fragmentary
V directional-
VI/VII-A (1) -peak (in three phases)-extinction

MACROSECTION GAMMA (dur.: 10'10,3")

VII-A (2) (transitional)
VII-BCDE static fragmentary
VII-F pseudo-instrumental cadenza (skin)
VIII (transitional)
IX-A pseudo-instrumental cadenza (wood)
IX-BCDE static fragmentary
IX-F directional-
X -peak-extinction (transitional)

MACROSECTION DELTA (6'15,6")

XI directional-
XII double interrupted peak
XIII-ABC prolongation of the peak-extinction

FINAL MACROSECTION (6'46,3")

XIII-DE directional fragmentary
XIII-F pseudo-instrumental cadenza (metal) (transitional)
XIV/XV-A coda (directional)
XV-BCDEF/XVI directional ending-extinction
(Table 3)
9






9
This table is adapted from the analysis by A. Cipriani.
10
Because it has been demonstrated that the formal implementations are isomorphic in their
own structural context, one can apply a similar serialization model to the macroformal
constructions as well (See Table 4).
Directional Peak Extinction Static/Frag. Directional/Frag. Cadenza
Alpha 1 1 1 0 1 0
Beta 1 1 1 1 0 0
Gamma 1 1 1 1 0 1
Delta 1 1 1 0 0 0
Final 1 1 1 0 1 1
(Table 4)

Since the directional-peak-extinction sections always function for marking the endings of
macrosections, it is expected that they are present in every macrosection. However, the
other three sections have been constructed in the same serialization model, being
polarized by their presence or absence; each macrosection has a unique configuration of
these sections (and often a similar ordering).
This further supports the self sufficiency of the moment form, because each level
of the formal scale acquires the same isomorphic serialization. However, this calls into
question whether or not the aesthetic goals of the rest of the pieces construction are
different than the implementation of moment form at all. Stockhausen has already
attempted to characterize the elements of pitch, timbre, and rhythm as isomorphisms (see
Fig. 1), but it is apparent that his goal of extending this characterization across several
levels of form is also successful. In this light, the concept of moment form does not
necessarily describe the scores marked measures, but because of its cohesion with the
isomorphic serialization, any serialized unit on the temporal spectrum can be considered
a moment, as it is indivisible in its own elemental characteristics. This is only made
possible by the absolute control over sound material available in the electro-acoustic
11
medium, because of the aesthetic that the architecture relies on isomorphic similarities
across every musical element.
IX. Conclusion
Although Stockhausens music is dense and complex, Kontaktes formal and
aesthetic architecture is still apparent, even when reduced to binary polarities. This is
because it relies on isomorphic similarities between all musical elements in order to
create a cohesive thread between self sufficient individual parts. Stockhausens aesthetic
goals effectively bridge those of the serial tradition and the newer electro-acoustic
medium. With his increase in knowledge about the fundamental properties of music, he
was able to create cohesion throughout the entirety of Kontakte.
12
















-APPENDlX-
Sconc ExAmLcs
13
Fig. 1 Kontakte pp.19-20
14
Fig. 2 Kontakte p.10
15
Fig. 3 Kontakte p.27
16
Fig. 4 Kontakte p.36
17
Fig. 5 Kontakte p.9
18
Fig. 6 Kontakte p.1
19
Fig. 7 Kontakte p.14
20
Bibliography

Cipriani, A. Problems of methodology: the analysis of Kontakte. Atti del X Colloquio di Informatica
Musicale. 1995. pp. 41-44

Dack, John. Strategies in the Analysis of Karlheinz Stockhausens Kontakte fur elektronische Klange,
Klavier und Schlagzeug. Journal of New Music Research. Vol. 27, No. 1-2. 1998. pp. 84-119.

Heikinheimo, Sppo. The Electronic Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen: Studies on the Esthetical and Formal
Problems of Its First Phase. Translated by Brad Absetz. Acta Musicologica Fennica 6. 1972. Helsinki:
Suomen Musiikkiteteellinen Seura.

Kramer, Jonathan D. Moment Form in Twentieth Century Music. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 2.
1978. pp. 177-194.

Smalley, Denis. Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. Organised Sound. 1977, 2: pp. 107 126.
Cambridge University Press.

Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Kontakte fur elektronische Klange, Klavier und Schlagzeug. 1980.

Stockhausen, Karlheinz. The Concept of Unity in Electronic Music. Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 1, No.
1. (Autumn, 1962), pp. 39-48

Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Texte vol. 2. 1964. Cologne: Verlag M. Dumont Schauberg

Toop, Richard. Stockhausens Electronic Works: Sketches and Worksheets from 1952-1967. Interface 10.
1981. pp. 149-197.

Toop, Richard. Six Lectures from the Stockhausen Courses Kurten 2002. Kurten: Stockhausen-Verlag.
2005.