Arts & Culture

U. hosts performance of ‘Audiovision: Stockhausen’s Hymnen’

Electronic piece by German composer Stockhausen weaves European anthems

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Granoff Center’s Martinos Auditorium filled with sound Monday. Pieces of national anthems woven with radio static and voices spiraled around the room, as “Hymnen,” an electronic piece by German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, was played through loudspeakers positioned in each corner of the auditorium.

“Audiovision: Stockhausen’s Hymnen,” was presented by the Brown Arts Initiative in collaboration with the Cogut Institute’s collaborative humanities program.

Butch Rovan, director of the Brown Arts Initiative, said this performance is different than anything else presented at the University previously. “(You are) listening to music presented in this very immersive, multichannel format, but you’re not looking at anybody performing,” Rovan said.

The performance was presented in accordance with a graduate-level course co-taught by Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin and Professor of Humanities and Comparative Literature Peter Szendy titled “What Was Europe?” This course comes as part of a new initiative focused on collaborative humanities funded through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The program aims to pilot “PhD-level seminars that highlight collaboration between two faculty members and … graduate students from different departments,” McLaughlin said.

Students in the course have been discussing the symbolic representations of Europe, Szendy said. “Without some sort of symbolic representation a political entity doesn’t really even exist because people can’t identify with it,” Szendy added.

“Hymnen” acted as the reading for this week’s class. “We’ve looked at literature, we’ve looked at visual art … this week we’re looking at music,” McLaughlin said.

Stockhausen’s piece acts as a “utopian attempt to gather in one musical work many anthems from the whole world,” Szendy said. At the end of the piece, Stockhausen imagines an anthem called “Hymunion,” for a utopian political entity called “Harmondie,” Szendy explained.

Stockhausen’s “Hymnen” is divided into four “regions,” which were each presented on Monday night. Each region contains anthems from numerous countries, shortwave radio sounds and voices that speak in different languages, which have been “totally metamorphosed,” Szendy said. At times, sounds combine and clash, creating tension, before falling quiet and calm again. At one point, voices projected through speakers at different corners of the room, announcing varying shades of red in different tones and languages. At the end of the piece, Stockhausen’s own breathing is projected.

Before the concert began, Szendy quoted Stockhausen’s introduction at a concert in 2001: “Don’t forget to close your eyes,” he said. While the piece contains no visual elements, Szendy told The Herald that this comment was “precisely a way of generating audio vision instead of preventing it,” as “you have all kinds of images that come to your mind.”

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