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Listening Guide: Stockhausen


Trans is as much a visual experience as an aural one with all musicians (and conductor) obscured by a vividly lit gauze. The only musicians you see are the immobile string players, who hold a series of sustained notes throughout, and are instructed to move ‘like puppets’. So nearly all the musical action we hear is unseen.

The piece is heard in three distinct layers that co-exist through the entire piece:
1)    Four groups of wind and brass 
2)    On stage string section holding a drone 
3)    Tape part of a loom shuttle panning from left to right/right to left

Stockhausen uses the sound of the loom shuttle structurally to divide the piece into sections and often as a trigger, activating or stopping certain musical figures. The piece comes across as episodic, yet sounds like it’s very loosely put together, playful and irreverent. He’s trying to make the audience imagine what theatrical misdemeanours are being played out by the musicians who are hidden away whilst teasing us with the monotony of the statically visible string section.

Trans - world premiere, recorded in 1971

Audio Guide 

You can use this guide to listen along to Trans, and discover the many musical structures at play in the piece. 

00.36, 00.54, 01.15, 01.34 You can hear the loom shuttle on the tape part happening in the opening minutes about every 20 seconds

01.36–02.08 The music of the four wind and brass groups often sounds improvised, giving the music a ritualistic quality that juxtaposes the unchanging strings and mechanical tape part.

The contrast of the expansive, never-ending string chord and regular ‘all change’ signal in the tape part create a musical background for the wind and brass that is easily discernible. Here are some examples of clear sections within the piece:

06.08 Busy flute solo heard around very active brass that continues for over a minute but is activated again by the loom shuttle at 07.49

08.07–09.00 The tape starts off a section of brass music, which is characteristic of a march 

09.01 Cello cadenza

12.36 Repeating string harmonic that slows down towards 12.52 when tape-part triggers new music

15.27 Chorale-like ow brass chords repeating until 15.53 followed by unison trills and rapid figures.

17.00 Virtuosic, almost-jazzy, trumpet solo and brief muted brass chord accompaniment returning to marching music at 18.06

© Philip Cashian, Head of Composition at Royal Academy of Music


Further Listening

The multiple musical layers of Trans remind me of Charles Ives, pieces like Three Places in New England or The Unanswered Question. Also, Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind, with its block chords and abrupt juxtapositions. Philip Cashian

I can hear the influence of Trans in other works such as Jonathan Harvey’s Bhakti, Frank Zappa’s ridiculous 200 Motels, and Beat Furrer’s Fama. Philip Cashian

Published: 7 Nov 2017