Performance Practice
of Electroacoustic Music

Karlheinz Stockhausen



Karlheinz Stockhausen’s OKTOPHONIE – Elektronische Musik vom DIENSTAG aus LICHT was realized between August 23 and November 30,1990 and August 5 and 30, 1991 at the electronic studio of the WDR in Köln. The music appears in the second act of Stockhausen’s opera DIENSTAG aus LICHT “INVASION – EXPLOSION mit ABSCHIED”, but the eight-channel electronic part can also be performed separately, having been conceived from the beginning as an independent work (s. score to OKTOPHONIE, Introduction, p. 0/IX). While Stockhausen had used eight channels in several earlier works (e.g. SIRIUS (1975/77)), OKTOPHONIE adds vertical movement of sound, calling for two planes of speakers to be set up in the form of a cube. The work was premiered on June 12, 1994 at the Kölner Triennale.

OKTOPHONIE has a programmatic content, the fight between Michael’s and Lucifer’s armies being the main subject. The tape is structurally divided in two parts of 36’18 and 31’55 minutes each due to practical reasons: 8-track tapes allowing the full duration were not available at that time (s. Stockhausen, Oktophonie, Stockhausen Verlag, CD 41, Booklet, p. 13). The first part corresponds to Invasion, the second to Pietà, Explosion and Jenseits according to DIENSTAG aus LICHT. The main elements in Invasion and Explosion (“sound-bombs”, “shots” and “crashes”) have a strong illustrative character. They are layered to high, slowly gliding chords, bass drones and a sustained pivot tone in the middle register (mostly eb1 or d1), all of them moving in space following different loop patterns (s. below). Stockhausen further mentions, non-electronically generated sound sources such as male spoken voice (numbers), female singing voice and pre-recorded sounds. In Pietà, which is preceded by a short bridge between the two parts, one of Michael’s trumpeters, lethally wounded, lies in the arms of Eve. Both action and music come to a contemplative state before the piece, after the final showdown (Explosion, third Invasion) leads to Jenseits (Hereafter), the last section. Jenseits is divided in three subsections: Jenseits (17’14”), Synti-Fou (5’22”) and Abschied (Farewell, 9’19”). Here the character of the music changes and narrative sounds give way to a musical texture dominated by a synthesizer solo.

Each of the 8 mono tapes containing the musical material was spatialized by the composer onto the cube using a wide variety of fixed, alternating and shifting loop patterns (“Schleifen”) at different speeds, a loop pattern being defined by 4 loudspeakers in all possible orientations (horizontal, vertical and diagonal both frontal and sidewise), as well as on ascending and descending movements (e.g. “shots” / “crashes”) with specific spatial-temporal profiles. The eight resulting 8-track layers were then superimposed. Stockhausen refers to the density of movement patterns in Invasion as an ‘extreme’ situation (s. K.H. Stockhausen, Texte zur Musik, Bd. 11, p. 383). A detailed description of the spatial patterns is included in the score. To render this spatial polyphony perceivable as clearly as possible is one of the main challenges of the performance of OKTOPHONIE.



The score for OKTOPHONIE was edited by Stockhausen Verlag in 1994. In addition to the actual score showing the musical structure of the piece, it includes excerpts from sketches by Stockhausen, detailed information on the realization of sound spatialization in the production process, photographs from the studio, an introduction and a thorough description of the spatialization of the eight sound layers by the composer. The score is structured in eight systems according to the eight musical layers, using one or two staves for each. They are not meant to be read as tracks or positions in space. The spatial movements for each layer are indicated by sequences of roman numbers representing the eight points in space or refering to single numbered moving patterns described in the introduction. While the time structure of Invasion, Pietà and Explosion is notated using time stamps and durations referring to the tape, Jenseits introduces a traditional metric structure for layers 4 and 5. The pitch structure is accurately notated throughout the score, and the composer makes use of freely drawn lines to describe complex pitch sequences. The score includes several technical and content related annotations. The introduction is written in German and English and includes an English translation of the “comments in the score”.


Performance material

The performance material is rented from Stockhausen Verlag. It consists of eight individual wave files on DVD at 44, 1 kHz/32 Bit containing both tapes as one single sequence. Since the original material was split in two tapes (36’18 and 31’55) to be performed with two eight-track machines, the time stamps in the score restart from 0 in the second part. An additional document “aiming loudspeakers” accompanying the performance audio material gives detailed instructions with respect to the performance setup. In addition, the score provides a visual setup instruction.


Editorial instruction

The speakers are to be arranged in a cube. For each channel a subwoofer and two tweeters are to be used. The inclination of the tweeters may ensure that each channel can be clearly perceived at all points in the space. The subwoofers should be regulated independently. The lower square is to be set up on the floor and the upper square should be positioned at 12-14 meters with the speakers tilted slightly downwards. According to the instructions, this should ensure that the audience can clearly perceive the vertical sound movement. The instruction further specifies that the sound level of the upper square should be set 5db louder than the level of the lower square in order to highlight the vertical sound movement.
The score contains single instructions for the manual control of dynamics if the piece is performed within DIENSTAG aus LICHT.
Stockhausen explicitly states that the piece should not be performed using the stereo downmix (s. Octophony, Introduction, p. 0 XIX).


Performance report

The piece was performed on January 29 2015 at ZhdK by Florian Bogner, sound engineering and Germán Toro Pérez, sound projection. With regard to the instructions, it was found that the goal of the three speaker setup for each channel, 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 dispersion plus subwoofer. During previous rehearsals it was clearly confirmed that single subwoofers placed only on the floor distort the spatial localization. Also, loud drones, amplified by a subwoofer can render their spatial movement less perceivable. Therefore, single subwoofers were also placed on the ceiling for the performance, and the frequency range was adjusted accordingly. A DAW was used as playing system, and a MAX patch with an additional display window was used to reset the time to 0 at the beginning of Pietà, according to the score.

Depending on the acoustic conditions of the performance space, carefully performed control of the dynamic range might be necessary. For instance, a slight reduction of the dynamic level during “Verwundung” (approx. 17’-19’) and “Pietà” proved to be necessary in the relative small concert hall. Here, the lack of height (about 8 meters) made the perception of vertical movement less clear than expected. This confirms Stockhausen’s requirement (12-14 meters), which should be observed as far as possible.

Selected Bibliography

Clarke, Michael, and Manning, Peter, The Influence of Technology on the Composition of Stockhausen’s Oktophonie, with Particular Reference to the Issues of Spatialisation in a Three-Dimensional Listening Environment, in Organised Sound 13, no. 3 (December), 2008, p. 177–87.

Clarke, Michael, and Manning, Peter, Valuing Our Heritage: Exploring Spatialisation through Software Emulation of Stockhausen’s Oktophonie, in Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC 2009), Montreal, Canada, 2009. S. 179–82.

Kohl, Jerome, Octophony: Electronic Music from Tuesday from Light, translated by Jerome Kohl, in Perspectives of New Music 31, no. 2 (Summer 1993), p. 150–70.

Overholt, Sara Ann, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Spatial Theories: Analyses of Gruppen für drei Orchester and Oktophonie, Elektronische Musik vom Dienstag aus LICHT. Ph.D. dissertation. Santa Barbara: University of California, 2006.

Pay-Uun Hiu, and Alcedo Coenen, «Der differenziertere Mensch ist der akustische Mensch»: Karlheinz Stockhausen im Gespräch über Oktophonie, in MusikTexte: Zeitschrift für Neue Musik, no. 116 (February) 2008, p. 53–63.

Stockhausen, Karlheinz, Oktophonie im Amphitheater?, in Texte zur Musik 11, ed. by Christoph von Blumröder. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag, 1993, p. 409-410.

— Oktophonie (1990/91): Elektronische Musik vom Dienstag aus Licht, in Texte zur Musik 8, ed. by Christoph von Blumröder, 339–75. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag, 1994, p. 339-75.

— Neue Raum-Musik: OKTOPHONIE, in Texte zur Musik 11, ed. by Christoph von Blumröder. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag, 1998, p. 411-435.

— Oktophonie – Der akustische Mensch, in Texte zur Musik 11, ed. by Christoph von Blumröder. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag, 2008, p. 379–408.


CD release

OKTOPHONIE – Elektronische Musik vom DIENSTAG aus LICHT Stockhausen Verlag (Stockhausen-Gesamtausgabe, Nr. 41)
Schematic Overview

Piece information

Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen
Year 1991
Studio WDR, Studio für elektronische Musik Köln
Type Tape, 8-channel
Duration 68’30’’
Publisher Stockhausen Verlag


Performance material

Renter Stockhausen Verlag
Format 8 individual wav files
SR/bit depth 44,1 kHz / 32 Bit