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HELMUT LACHENMANN: SOUND TYPES OF NEW MUSIC

Translator's Introduction

 

Helmut Lachenmann has sustained a leading role in contemporary music in Europe for more than 2 generations. His radical approach in the 1960s and 70s has since come to shape key figures of younger generations. Lachenmann's influence is heard - both in large and small ways - in much contemporary European music. However, it was only in the last 15 years that he gained recognition in the United States, and still his music seems on the fringe of much American musical thinking.

 

There are many reasons for this, but it may be partly due to a lack of available translations of Lachenmann's writings. What exists in English is exclusively due to the efforts of the Contemporary Music Review, which in different volumes published translations of his essays. The first - On Structuralism - appeared in 1995 and stood alone for nearly a decade until a volume from 2004 dedicated to Lachenmann's work added his Four Questions Regarding New Music and On My Second String Quartet ('Reigen seliger Geister'), along with a number of essays on his music by other authors. These essays lend important understanding to Lachenmann's aesthetic, for instance, his notion of Schönheit als die Verweigerung der Gewohnheit (the beautiful as the refutation of the habitual).

 

Still, one of the most crucial essays of Lachenmann's remained untranslated, Klangtypen der neuen Musik (Sound Types of New Music). In this essay, Lachenmann posits a provisional classification system for sound. Originally written in 1966 with revisions in 1993, it is now a historical document, a source reading for musicological investigation of a pertinent era of radical shifts and reconsiderations. Sound Types of New Music is very much of its time. Although not explicitly done so, it builds off of Pierre Schaeffer's work on sound objects. Explicitly, Lachenmann connects his theory to Stockhausen's notion of Klanggeräusch, articulated in the latter's seminal essay ...how time passes... from 1956. Lachenmann brings two things together in Klangtypen: sound and time. Sound here receives a broadened definition that would be unimaginable without the work of Schaeffer and Stockhausen. A sound can be built from multiple sounds; it has an exterior and an interior, both of which can have different trajectories. Ultimately, these trajectories (or lack thereof) influence the sound's Eigenzeit, which could be summarized as the minimum duration a sound must sustain in order for a listener to perceive all of its information. Some Eigenzeit are incredibly small, while others are exactly the length of the sound itself. Lachenmann does not hide his preference for the latter. Although Lachenmann has only one electronic work in his catalogue, some of his terminology in Klangtypen - attack sound, impulse sound, and decay sound, for instance - show indebtedness to the era in which new tools first allowed composers to rethink sound and its role to composition.

 

Hence, a translation of this article seems pertinent for scholarship on and understanding of Lachenmann's work in English-speaking countries, where there is little research that includes an awareness of these sound types. The only article that attempts to explain Lachenmann's sound types is the recent Lachenmann's Sound Types by Ming Tsao. This article begins with a summary of Klangtypen and then demonstrates usage within Lachenmann's own work. With this translation I hope to present Lachenmann's original ideas in full.

 

I would also like to acknowledge the help of Max Riefer and Martin Jaggi in reviewing this translation and proposing revisions.

 

Sound Types of New Music

The emancipation of sound in the domain of acoustic music from its comparatively subordinate function in traditional European music belongs to the achievements of musical development in our century. In place of the old, tonally-related, consonant and dissonant conception of sounds, the immediate, empirically acoustic sound experience, while not quite in a prominent position, has a key role in musical experience.

 

Freeing the acoustic perspective has meanwhile led to a lot of misunderstandings, both favorable as well as harmful, on the part of both listeners and composers. It has, for example, led to a “timbre fetishism” – doubtlessly founded on emotion - whose hidden Impressionisms in essence have nothing to do with its originally innovate beginnings that stem from the avant-garde.

 

Here it shall be attempted to reduce the apparently endless abundance of empirical sound experiences to a few categories and to create a general overview of them. It cannot be the purpose of such a categorization to create something like a conclusive terminology of a new musical syntax that has general applicability. Since the departure from tonality, such general applicability no longer exists. The following attempt merely makes use of the deductibility of certain characteristic sound models, and it would like to offer those interested, both compositionally and theoretically, tools for the search to gain as fitting as possible an entry to the construction of new works.

 

Pitch, timbre, dynamic, and duration are certainly indispensable to the definition of sound, and among those the timbre as sum and result of the various pitches and volumes of natural or artificial partials. But just as important as these four determinants is the differentiation between, on the one hand, sound as a state and, on the other hand, sound as a process. In other words, sound as a simultaneity of an arbitrary length whose duration is externally determined by its termination; and sound as a process that is temporally bounded by its distinctive qualities.

 

We can observe a series of different sounds:

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As different as the characteristics of these sounds, their complexity, and originality may be, they are each about the repetition of a single sound type illustrated by a buildup or reduction through the course of natural or artificial means, and develop their character through such a process. This most simple – yet by no means most primitive – category might be named Kadenzklang (Cadence Sound), because it has a distinguishing slope analogous to the tonal cadence. One can just as well call it a Klang-Kadenz (sound cadence).

 

A schematic representation of this sound type has to be based on its dynamic course and so appears:

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Provisionally, just like all of the selected terminology here, a subordinate type of the Kadenzklang could be named Impulsklang. Its attack process is summed up by the typical impulse. Its decay exists of a natural resonance:

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Or it has artificially added resonance: 

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A further subordinate type of Kadenzklang might be called Einschwingklang (attack sound):

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Here finally are two examples of an Ausschwingklang (decay sound), which consists of a typical reduction process. The sound, convicted to dying off just as quickly as it began, nonetheless battles the certain agony that characterizes it. While fading away, it continues to transform itself, even creating a crescendo as parts of the sound spectrum subsequently come to light:

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Or even with distortion, like what happens with incomplete damping:

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And finally two examples of Kadenzklänge, formed both by attack and decay processes characteristic of this sound type:

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We can conclude that the Kadenzklang is essentially a process and that the time required to convey the characteristics of such a sound, which we name Eigenzeit (own time), is identical with the time that this sound can altogether last.

It is a completely different situation with our next sound type. If the simplest form of a sound process was the Kadenzklang, then the simplest form of a sound state in respect to its more or less stationary spectrum may be named Farbklang (color sound) or even Klangfarbe.

 

One has always contributed to confusion by mixing up Klang-Komposition (sound composition) and Klangfarben-Komposition (timbral composition). The second word is longer, but the process itself meaningfully simpler. The stationary timbre has an extremely limited Eigenzeit: the ear registers instantly the constant vertical result of simultaneous tones and partials. The total length of such timbres, quite in contrary to the Kadenzklang type, has nothing to do with the Eigenzeit. The Farbklang can be as long or short as one wishes. It has only to be cut to its externally designated length. The ear is informed and saturated (often long) before the respective Farbklang ends.

 

Thus, a schematic representation of the Farbklang could not appear any other way than as follows:

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With a common, regulated hatching or a timbral pattern that is chosen at one’s discretion and put into a rectangular, encompassing slot. With this, the vertical, which optically defines the bandwidth, could just as well be related to the intensity as the sound width. In the following examples, which concern themselves with the internal articulation of such sonic states, its intensity is more or less assumed to be constant, the pitch continuum vertically assigned to the horizontally-depicted duration in the following.

 

Here is an example of the simplest compositional use of Farbklang:

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Regardless of the radical oversimplification required by the graphic representation in this example, a portrait of the score could be reproduced here in a manner that left it as good as unchanged.

 

The well-known example from Ligeti also belongs here – an initially stationary Farbklang, which undergoes an internal modulation via an extensive development process: it can be said of Atmosphères that it is about a single sound that is continually transformed over the course of time, while its external contour barely moves.

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In the case of timbral characteristics resulting not only from a rigid spectrum of simultaneously held tones, but instead from small, more or less periodically repeated movements – in the simplest case from trills or tremolos – the Eigenzeit of the Farbklang gradually increases to the time required for the periodic oscillation without the ear perceiving it as anything other than a single timbre:

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Such internal movements can extend until the Eigenzeit of the timbre becomes clearly felt as internally periodic, repeated changes, the sound type thereby transforming itself. From the sustained Farbklang comes the Fluktuationsklang with an interior that repeats a more or less periodic process that is quite short. However, the effect still remains that of a state; its distinguishing Eigenzeit is perceived, but it has nothing more to do with the effective length of the sound.

 

Such cases can be found in traditional music, often already consciously conceived as such:

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A schematic representation of Fluktuationsklang could be comprised of any kind of regular pattern for the respective shape that returns in a periodic fashion.

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We are familiar with Fluktuationklänge with internal fluctuation - the outer contour remains static, while the motion occurs internally:

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And we are familiar with external fluctuation: here the entire contour of the sonic event is set in periodic circling; it can no longer be experienced as a simultaneity, but instead only through a successive aural scanning of the entire figure.

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Further examples:

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Time increases considerably in significance as a factor for sounds with external fluctuation. Slice them and the general contour as well as the timbral characteristics that result from their figuration would disappear. These absolutely call for a certain distinguishing duration in order to be experienced through a gradual process of aural scanning. When this has occurred once, engagement in such clearly predictable – even when not permanently repeated – internal articulations evaporates, and one is again informed, saturated, and passive to the inner life of the Fluktuationsklang like he is with the no-frills, sustained Farbklang. Essential for the Fluktuationsklang is a condition in which there is always something different to hear in each moment of an event, but never something new or unexpected.

 

It is different though with our next type, the so-called Texturklang. To illustrate this, I have included the following example, which – like examples 22 and 26 – is a score excerpt.

 

Here we have an excerpt from a 48-voice mesh constructed via canonic principles; each voice has the same series of pitches but a different durational series. The Eigenzeit in this sound type has extended itself in an indefinite way. It is characteristic for the Texturklang that it can constantly change itself through its acoustical particularities without repeating itself like the Fluktuationsklang. In the example above, this can be seen in respect to harmony. Hence, one could consider the Eigenzeit of this type to be endless, as long as attention to the continuously new details does not veer at some point into a static experience of the sound's statistical properties.

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Thus befalls the same destiny for this sound type as its forerunners, the Farbklang and the Fluktuationsklang: After a certain Eigenzeit, undefinable because each is distinct, it is experienced no longer as process, but instead as a state that can be lengthen as one likes. For example, I consider part of Fin II/Invitation au Jeu, Voix from Mauricio Kagel’s Sonant (1960) for guitar, contrabass, and skinned instrument as such a Texturklang, which one could just as well call Klang-Texture. An extraction from the performance instructions: “The speed, with which the performer will read (lowercase letters) and recite (uppercase letters), determines the duration of the musical events and the manual actions of this section. Each player must recite in his mothertongue…”

 

It’s clear that this sound type can only be expressed inadequately by a schematic representation because its prototype depends on the distinct arrangement as well as disorderliness of the elements present, which is determined on a case-by-case basis. (This is also the case for the last sound type that is still to be described.) A schematic representation of the Texturklang must manage to illustrate unpredictability and the structurally irrelevance of its details while simultaneously showing its general statistical nature.

 

A proposal for such a schematic representation:

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Stockhausen’s Gruppen offers an example for a gradually growing, "onsetting" texture, so to speak.

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It should be emphasized once more that the overall character of a texture is no longer necessarily identical with the characteristics of the detail that one hears from moment to moment. Indeed, in a particular sense that the degree of complexity of the resulting overall character - often more a statistically assessed outcome of accumulation - is usually smaller than that of the shapes that team up more incidentally inside the texture, similar to the masses seeming largely more primitive than their individual components.

 

Farbklang – Fluktuationsklang – Texturklang form a family together, contrasting our first type, the Kadenzklang. They embody static or statistical sound experiences, whose Eigenzeit is independent from the time that they actually last. To the extent that they have developed from a primitive event of simultaneity found with the fixed Farbklänge to a rich and surprising inner process of the Texturklänge, time has fashioned more and more inherent space for itself. It gradually approaches a place where the sound experience has an inner time structure so rich that it gains not only sonic but also formal meaning.

 

This place is reached in our last sound type, the Strukturklang. In this type, sonic and formal aspects rise up in each other. Externally, it forms the continuation of the Texturklang, which manages to conveys only a general impression through its highly differentiated details. In the Strukturklang we also experience a lot of different details, separate sounds that are in no way identical with the overall character of the sound, instead they synergize with this character. As far as this overall character is concerned, it is not once again a more primitive general quality, but rather something virtually new, and through its originality those details only then justify themselves as its functions. That means: the Strukturklang – and what is it if not a sound structure! – has an Eigenzeit, that is identical with its effective duration. One cannot continue a Strukturklang for as long as one desires as one can with Farbklang or Texturklang. Its character conveys itself so precisely that it cannot be leisurely experienced as a state, but instead only as process, and in fact – and this differentiates Strukturklang from Kadenzklang – in a many-layered, many-meaning process of aural scanning.

 

We would like to avoid treating the Strukturklang’s unique qualities conveniently as an enigma, something that evades rational investigation and, in doing so, even spare us of such an investigation. Its superiority is indebted to the fact that the qualities of the particular sounds in such a structure do not just cause their usual effect; moreover, these sound details are operations of an ordering as well as members of precise rules, and as such unfold an immediately effective wealth of familial and gradationally contrasting relationships, disclosing and acknowledging themselves anew through these connections. It is out of this consciously linked interplay of these sound relationships that the unique and unmistakable overall character of a Strukturklang results. Therefore, the Strukturklang’s inner construction is essential for our experience of it from beginning to end: the Eigenzeit of this sound type lasts from start to finish, so that the Strukturklang, beyond the perception of each simultaneous sound, requires formal projection in a temporal space that allows a listener to sense his way through it.

 

The following, certainly insufficient attempt to schematically represent the Strukturklang uses three elements, each of different frequency: three wedges, four dashes, five circles (or points). Just as the length of dash, the size of the circle and wedge could be modified, so could the direction, the thickness, and any internal way of dotting the dash, the colors and the color density of the points, the angularity or the directionality of the wedge, etc., etc. What results is a total formation that is different from and simultaneously dependent on the detail. A formation that is not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively more than the sum of its components. “Structure” can be defined, then, as a polyphony of orderings.

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Stockhausen’s term Zeitgeräusch (time noise), as it was formulated ten years ago, seems to extensively correspond to the sound type described here, in my opinion. A process like the beginning of Gruppen (mm. 2-6), for example, does not convey a statistical group characteristic that can be recognized before the entire process completes its course; on the contrary: each of the multifarious details forms an indispensable addition needed to deliver a sounding, structural nature, which in turn can convey this process. See example 29. For a fuller understanding of the construction of such structures in Gruppen, I suggest reading Stockhausen’s article …how time passes… in the third volume of Die Reihe.

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The entire Structure Ia for two pianos by Pierre Boulez may be viewed (and heard) in the same sense: as a serially-controlled projection of a Strukturklang, whose sound idea greatly exceeds just a presentation of simultaneous sounds, and whose projection in time - meaning its form - has an effect on both the isolated and resultant details, yielding expressive innovations as it were from the well-known impulse tones of the piano.

 

(This example cannot be reprinted here. I refer the reader to the score as well as Ligeti’s analysis in the fourth volume of Die Reihe.)

 

In addition to the excerpts and works that are either discussed or rudimentarily analyzed in my other essays, which may be called upon as further proof of this sound type that contains formal conditions, I suggest examples from Hören ist wehrlos – ohne Hören (Listening is defenseless – without listening), including Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 74, Webern’s Op. 10, and my Air, Fassade, and Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied, as well as the texts to my works Accanto and Siciliano.

Finally, the Strukturklang is the only sound type in which truly new sonic conceptions can be realized; with Strukturklang, sonic conception and formal conception melt into one. Form is experienced as a single, larger-than-life sound, whose structural makeup we aurally scan from part to part in order for us to account, in this way, for this larger-than-life sonic conception.

And so while it's daring to think that this sound type concerns every fully conceived work, regardless of its scale – it could be a Wagner opera lasting many hours, perhaps even the entire Ring, or a seven-measure Webern movement – it is in no way bizarre. Instead, it is absolutely imperative.

 

The remaining sound types are not disqualified by the eminent position of the Strukturklang: Even those components of the Strukturklang just mentioned will exist of subordinate sound types. These can be modulated with each other, as we have already seen in some examples: a texture can exist of impulses or complete Kadenzklänge; a Fluktuationsklang can be shaped overall by a cadencing evolution; etc.

As it was already indicated in the beginning, the terms used in this essay are provisional, and the entire presentation is speculatively offered. It relies on the notion that in an acoustical sense the concept and the presentation of “sound” no longer implicitly mean something homogeneous. Instead, where music sees itself as something empirical, “sound” can be experienced at least as well through the homogeneity yielded by a principle of successively intrinsic ordering. This functional notion of sound has a tonal counterpart in the cadence of traditional music; it is the result of heterogeneous, acoustic details that occur sequentially - rather than simultaneously - forming relationships between each other. Thus, the border between the concept of sound and the concept of form becomes fluid. The one can change into the other; the one can be the other.

Kadenzklang – Farbklang – Fluktuationsklang – Texturklang – Strukturklang. Or: Klang-Kadenz – Klangfarbe – Klangfluktuation – Klangtextur – Klangstruktur: provisional terms that should serve to probe the wide terrain of available sound material with the hope of making our empirical sound possibilities, above any theoretical considerations, useful for the realization of new, contemporary sonic conceptions as well as bringing them to a level, where there is no longer a dualism between sound and form.

 

1966/93

Helmut Lachenmann

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