Performance Practice
of Electroacoustic Music

Karlheinz Stockhausen



The genesis of Kontakte for piano, percussion and 4-track tape lasted for more than two years: from February 1958 to Automn 1959 took place diverse sonic experiments and from September 1959 to May 1960 the propre realisation of the tape as well as the composition of the two instrumental parts. It is dedicated to Otto Tomek, at that time director of the New Music Department of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). The version for instruments and tape was first performed on June 11th 1960, in the great auditorium (großer Sendesaal) of WDR as part of a Musik der Zeit concert integrated into the 34th ISCM-Festival held in Cologne. The performers of this premiere were: David Tudor (piano), Christoph Caskel (percussion) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (sound projection).

Even if in most of Stockhausen’s writings, the version with instruments is called the “second” version while the version for tape alone is presented as the first one, Kontakte was undertaken to combine instruments and electronics with the aim of creating “contacts” between both these sonic worlds. A first, partly mobile version for tape, three percussionists and one pianist was abandoned after unsuccessful rehearsals and Stockhausen thus wrote a fixed score for continuous tape and two performers. The 4 loudspeakers formerly located with the musicians became independent and allowed Stockhausen to explore new conceptions to spatialize the sound: opposing isolated points, rotating continuously in one direction, looping between the speakers (for instance: 1-3-2-4) or the “Flutklang”, a kind of variable sonic immersion of the audience. For the different kinds of rotations, Stockhausen developed a new device, the Rotationstisch: a single directional loudspeaker on a rotating table surrounded by four microphones.

The central point of departure was the definition of distinct timber domains: the frame is given by the percussion instruments with their three main materials (skin, wood and metal) and their separation into pitched and unpitched (or complex) sounds. Among the sketches are a list with qualitative descriptions of percussion sounds recorded on tape as well as numerous sound analyses of diverse percussion sounds, undertaken to collect data for their synthetic simulation by electronic means or to create sounds with mixed qualities. The sketches concerning the purely electronic sounds (produced namely by accelerating loops with irregular pulse structures) contain numerous evocative qualifications relative either to the sonic quality (wooden, lion’s roar etc.) or to the spatial effect (tennis ball within a large space etc.). This step is essential in Stockhausen’s working method, since it prepares the way to chose the sounds for the different sections of the piece, the criterium being one of heard sound qualities and not of technical realisation procedure: the effect is primordial and not the way to generate a specific sound (even if in most of his writings Stockhausen primarily concentrated on this latter aspect).

The serial planification projected a composition in 18 (3×6) sections, but because of lack of time, this plan was interrupted after section 12. Due to the addition of two sections at the beginning and to reconfigurations towards the actual end of the piece, the score counts sixteen sections. The two initial sections have a clearly expositional character, presenting two extremes within both the sonic situations (from high activity to expanded static sounds) and the temporal continuum (rhythmic vs timbral perception). Sections III-VIII remain close to the sketched types of interaction between the sound sources: instruments alone, tape alone, combination of both. Because of the now continuous tape, there appear electronic sounds also within the sections for instruments alone (III, V, VIII and XI), but the role of the tape there is not a structural one with regard to the timbral structuring. The first two electronic sections (VI and X) are famous for the electronic simulation of tomtoms (changing their pitch-scale for the last group) or for the Schnorrer, a electronic sound with metalic qualities progressively slowed down until it desintegrates into its rhythmic components. Form section IX onwards (the beginning of the second serially structural part), the spatial treatment becomes more and more an autonomous parameter taking a prominent place in the shaping of the composition.

The performance score – “Aufführungspartitur” (UE 14246 / Stockhausen-Verlag Work N°121/2) – consists of the two instrumental parts drawn under a schematic representation of the sounds on the tape. This schematic representation is for performance purposes only and does not give detail concerning the proper electronic sounds.


Performance score

-Universal Edition (UE 14246 LW, 1966).

Includes a preface and instructions in German, English and French about different room configurations and loudspeaker setups using both 4- and 2-channel tapes. (In the new edition 1995 only the 4-channel tape is mentioned for performance, the stereo down mix is defined as expressly intended for radio broadcast or cd publication, see below). It also contains recommendations about specifications of loudspeakers, indications about the score and the percussion instruments to be used, including photographs. The score itself presents a visualization of the electronic part, the instrumental parts and a time line for synchronization. Is no longer available.


-Stockhausen-Verlag (1995, new edition).

Except for dynamic indications for the tape performance added by Stockhausen for this edition, the score itself is identical to that published in the UE edition. The introduction includes extended historical and performance practice information and schemata concerning sound projection, loudspeaker set-up, amplification, configuration of mixing console, lighting, information on available digital transfers and photographs of different performances (1964 and 1991). The technical standards are up to date, older descriptions of loudspeakers were eliminated. An explanation and an English translation of the German instructions in the score was added as well.


Realization score

-Universal Edition (UE 13678 LW; 14246 LW, 1968).

Contains information on the production of the 4-track tape, information on the equipment used in the production process and establishes a nomenclature for apparatuses and sound material, information on the production of sound material, description of sound processing for each part of the piece, information on synchronization processes, all including graphics, diagrams and production dates (p. 11-20), and and a description of the montage process (p. 21). Is no longer available.

Stockhausen Verlag (2008, new edition, English and German versions available).

Contains extensive information on the production of the 4-track tape including photographs and descriptions of equipment used. It includes the score of the tape and a translation of the German instructions (English edition). Concerning the time indications in the score see “Performance tape” below.


Performance tape

-Stockhausen Verlag, purchase material.

4 mono audio files on DVD (48000Hz/24bit), duration: 35’19”. The audio is identical to that of the purely electronic version of Kontakte. It exhibits a high degree of speed variation; in the middle of the piece the audio is over four seconds ahead of time relative to the time indications in the score, while at the end, it again approaches the indicated time. We compared the performance audio to the first recording (Tudor, Caskel) with the result that the variations are already present in that early recording. See also remarks under “Performance report” (below).


Editorial/authorial instruction

The performance instructions differ between the two editions of the score (UE 14246 and Stockhausen-Verlag Work N°121/2). For the instruments, the informations are almost identical (descriptions as well as placement on scene), with exception of the fact that the latter edition asks for at least 10 microphones to amplify the instruments. This will allow to realize better fusions between the live instrumental sounds and the electronic ones on tape as well as to make the slightest instrumental sounds audible. The differences concern the instructions for the electronic part. First, the elder score (taking into account the performance possibilities in the nineteen sixties) contains instructions for playing the piece with a stereo version of the tape (this has completely dissapeared in the new edition). Secondly, there has been between the two scores a rotation of the loudspeakers by 45° counter-clockwise. Indeed, the prefered placing according to the UE score is “left [I], front [II], right [III] and behind [IV]”, that is to say in the center of the walls for a quadratic performance space, while in the Stockhausen-Verlag score the loudspeakers appear in the respective corners of the hall, loudspeaker I being situated in the rear left and the numerotation proceeding clockwise.

The incidence of chosing one or the other placing is that the elder one enhances the contacts between the instruments and the electronic sounds through specific localisations since on tracks I and III appear the greatest number of “instrumental like” sounds, while tracks II and IV contain the majority of the electronic sounds – II presenting them in a clearer way and IV with stronger manipulations such as reverberation. Of course, with a conventional scene and theater space, it is difficult to realise an equidistant placing of all four loudspeakers according to this instruction, but it should be seriously be taken into account when Kontakte is played in a room with freely arranged seating. The UE score contains a photograph of a performance in Stockholm on November 21st 1960 with precisely this arrangement. The placing of the loudspeakers in the corners adapts best to traditional concert spaces and guarantees easily the smooth rotation of the electronic sounds around the audience, but diminishes the dramaturgy of spatial localisation of the instrumental and instrumental like sounds.

Stockhausen’s new edition of the realisation score (“Realisationspartitur” – Stockhausen-Verlag Work N°12) contains at its end a score for the sound projection consisting basically of the graphic transcription from the performance score but augmented by indications for the dynamic modulation during the performance according to the experience Stockhausen accumulated himself during numerous years of public presentations.


Performance report

The piece was performed at the ZHdK electroacoustic hall on June 5, 2015 and on November 28, 2015 at the large hall with Johannes Herrmann, piano, Mike Sutter, percussion and Carlos Hidalgo sound projection. The sound engineering was done by Florian Bogner and Max Molling, respectively.


Time variation audio/score

From the beginning of the rehearsal process the 4-track tape was used. In order to facilityte playing with the tape, the performers were able to see the current time of the tape on a mobile display. Time indications in the score were first corrected according to the tape and two IPads with touch OSC app and a MAX patch sending the OSC messages over a Wi-Fi network were used for this purpose. While this may help performers to approach to the piece, the goal should of course be to perform the piece knowing the tape by heart without using any synchronization devices whatsoever. This was only partially achieved and the displays were therefore used in concert.


Sound projection

The quadrophonic speaker setup proposed in the score was followed. However, it was found that the goal of using two speakers for each channel as prescribed in the instruction, which is to achieve a full projection within the whole space covering the whole frequency range, can also be achieved by using single speakers with wide horizontal dispersion (s. also Oktophonie). In order to extend the low frequency range, two subwoofers (center front, center back) were subtly used. During the final rehearsals in the concert hall a considerable amount of time was dedicated to finding the appropriate dynamic balance between instruments and tape and to define the reference dynamics of the tape. The dynamic levels during concert were performed strictly following the indications in the score.


Amplification and Monitoring

Due to the size and rather dry acoustics of the hall where the first performance took place, the amplification of the percussion, as requested by Stockhausen, was not found to be necessary, only the piano had to be slightly amplified. Also, audio monitoring was not necessary due to the same reasons.

Selected Bibliography

Mowitz, Michael, Die Form der Unendlichkeit: Aspekte der Momentform und der seriellen Struktur in Karlheinz Stockhausens ‘Kontakte’, Essen: Die Blaue Eule, 2002.

Stockhausen, Karlheinz,

— 1960, ‘Kontakte’ für elektronische Klänge, Klavier und Schlagzeug (aus dem Vorwort der im Stockhausen-Verlag erschienenen Neuauflage der Score)”. In Texte zur Musik 7, edited by Christoph von Blumröder. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag, p. 51-68.

—, 1968. “Kontakte für elektronische Klänge, Klavier und Schlagzeug”. In Texte zur Musik 3, edited by Christoph von Blumröder, 28-30. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag.

—, 1978. “Vier Kriterien der elektronischen Musik”. In Texte zur Musik 4, edited by Christoph von Blumröder, 360-424. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag.

—, 1997. “Massgeblich für alle Zukunft”. In Texte zur Musik 13, edited by Christoph von Blumröder, 422-458. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag.

—, 2000. “Fragen zu KONTAKTE”. In Texte zur Musik 11, edited by Christoph von Blumröder, 60-61. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag.

Schematic Overview

Piece information

Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen
Title Kontakte
Year 1958-60
Studio Studio für Elektronische Musik, Köln
Type Piano, percussion and tape (or tape solo)
Duration Approx. 35’
Publisher Universal Edition/Stockhausen Verlag


Commercial releases (selection)

David Tudor, Christoph Caskel (rec. 1960) WER 6009-2 (reissue, 2002)
Electronic version Stockhausen Verlag, CD 3 (Complete edition, No. 3, 2001)