Text by CLOT Magazine
Next Monday, 20th November, for the tenth anniversary of Stockhausen‘s death, the Barbican is bringing us the opportunity to enjoy rare performances of two of his masterpieces: the meditative Stimmung and the earth-shattering Cosmic Pulses. But we’ll be able to enjoy the music of the praised composer and Robert Henke’s mastery of lasers, as a new creation of the German audio-visual artist will be accompanying Cosmic Pulses.
Henke presented his most recent and jaw-dropping version of his laser show Lumiére (Lumiére III), at the Barbican early this year. After experiencing the show, it was then that the classical music programmer of the Barbican, Paul Keene, got in touch with Henke about a potential collaboration for the Stockhausen event. As Henke told us: We both made an excursion to the Stockhausen foundation in Kürten, Germany and discussed the idea with Kathinka Pasveer, who will perform the piece and has the artistic direction. She was very open to our suggestion, and thus we made it happen.
Stockhausen, a widely acknowledged German composer, is considered by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Claimed to be “one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music”, he is known for his groundbreaking work in electronic music, for introducing aleatoric musical techniques into serial composition, and for musical spatialization. Stimmung and Cosmic Pulses come from opposite ends of his 60-year expanding career, but both create musical spaces of enticing beauty and intensity.
Cosmic Pulses is a piece that finds inspiration in complex mathematical and composition models and the orbits of the solar system planets. We asked Robert Henke what had been his inspiration for crafting the laser show: ‘Cosmic Pulses does not really ‘need’ any visual extension, and adding anything to it could potentially weaken the experience by creating a distraction.
However, every location where it is presented adds something visually, and the Barbican hall has a strong personality. My laser work is a visualisation of the underlying structure of Cosmic Pulses; it does not add a new layer but rather transforms the work’s essential properties into a visual element. Cosmic Pulses is a composition of eight loudspeakers, consisting of 24 layers, each appearing at a specific time in the piece. Each layer itself consists of repeating loops of musical material.
The layering of these loops creates a densely packed spatial sonic experience. I use eight lasers located very close to the positions of the loudspeakers to create a total of 24 sharp beams of light representing the layers, and these beams oscillate in size and colour with the same rhythm as the musical loops. If everything works as intended, my visual addition will make it easier to follow the Cosmic Pulses structure and sharpen the focus on the construction of the work itself. Which is a very subtle and minimalist approach, deliberately different from what people might expect when they think of ‘laser show’.