Hear Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Pioneering Compositions for Music Boxes

We now remem­ber Karl­heinz Stock­hausen as a pio­neer of elec­tron­ic music, labor­ing away in stu­dios dom­i­nat­ed by hulk­ing ear­ly syn­the­siz­ers and tape machines toward a new son­ic expe­ri­ence, but he wrote his most pop­u­lar work for much hum­bler devices: music box­es. Com­posed in 1974 and 1975, Tierkreis, the Ger­man word for zodi­ac, con­sists of twelve melodies, each rep­re­sent­ing a sign on that astro­log­i­cal cal­en­dar, each cen­tered on a dif­fer­ent pitch, each played on its own ded­i­cat­ed music box. You can hear (and see) all of the Tierkreis box­es in action in these videos:

Despite their sim­plic­i­ty, Stock­hausen’s twelve- and some­times four­teen-tone ser­i­al com­po­si­tions may sound like noth­ing you ever heard come out of a music box in child­hood. But chil­dren must have made up a sig­nif­i­cant part of their ear­ly audi­ence: these melodies made their debut as part of the fairy-tale music the­ater piece called Musik im Bauch, or “Music in the Bel­ly,” a phrase Stock­hausen used to describe the nois­es that would issue from the insides of his young daugh­ter Juli­ka, to her great delight. After com­ing up with the twelve melodies, quite pos­si­bly the first music ever orig­i­nal­ly com­posed for the music box, he had to order the box­es them­selves cus­tom-made from the Swiss man­u­fac­tur­er Reuge. You can see an orig­i­nal Tierkreis box, play­ing the Aries melody, in the video below.

Reuge, accord­ing to Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Oliv­er Hall, “con­tin­ued to man­u­fac­ture the zodi­ac box­es into the eight­ies. In ‘98, Stock­hausen-Ver­lag pro­duced a lim­it­ed run for the composer’s 70th birth­day, fol­lowed by anoth­er series in 2005. The Pisces, Aries and Sagit­tar­ius box­es are sold out, but the shop still has a few of the oth­ers left at €310 a piece.” Pricey, cer­tain­ly, but what a gift they would make for musi­cal­ly inclined friends born under the oth­er zodi­ac signs, giv­en that Stock­hausen, writes All Music Guide’s Robert Kirzinger, “care­ful­ly con­sid­ered the char­ac­ter­is­tics of each sign and each month of the year, as well as the per­son­al­i­ties of peo­ple he knew were born under a par­tic­u­lar sign, in com­pos­ing this work.” Such a com­po­si­tion­al scheme may strike astro­log­i­cal non-believ­ers as odd, but remem­ber: this was back in the age of Aquar­ius.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pio­neer­ing Elec­tron­ic Com­pos­er Karl­heinz Stock­hausen Presents “Four Cri­te­ria of Elec­tron­ic Music” & Oth­er Lec­tures in Eng­lish (1972)

Watch Karl­heinz Stockhausen’s Great Heli­copter String Quar­tet, Star­ring 4 Musi­cians, 4 Cam­eras & 4 Copters

A Karl­heinz Stock­hausen Brand­ed Car: A Play­ful Trib­ute to the Ground­break­ing Elec­tron­ic Com­pos­er

Pachelbel’s Music Box Canon

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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