Performance Practice
of Electroacoustic Music

Mauricio Kagel

Transición II


Transición II, for piano, percussion and two tapes, was composed between November 1958 and June 1959. It is dedicated to Ernst and Majella Brücher and was first performed by Christoph Caskel at the percussions and Mauricio Kagel himself at the piano at the “Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik” in Darmstadt on September 4th 1959.

The piece stems from a reflection on the nature and role of noise in musical composition. Kagel had publicly spoken in favor of eliminating the separation between sound and noise. In Transición II scales in between are defined, “each degree [of which] is not a number but rather a restriction within a stated limit. The value zero in the noise scale corresponds to sound.” The material of the piano corresponds to sound, that of the percussionist to noise and the interaction between players create sonic transitions – the instrumentalists have to react to one another in order to make timbre changes possible. The percussionist plays on the strings, the sound board or the rim of the piano using only mallets, while the pianist’s activity is limited to the keys and pedaling.

Another important conceptual question treated in this composition is the coexistence of past, present and future in single musical gestures (in this sense Transición II is a continuation and complement of the preceding Transición I). In musical terms, the problem was to create a recapitulation without having a plain reprise. The players should in fact avoid any form of repetition throughout the piece. Two additional sonic levels are added by the use of two tapes, one prerecorded and one recorded and played back on stage during performance. The interaction between past, present and future is achieved by playing over the speakers recorded pieces of earlier performance stages. The result is thus “a formal and temporal continuum, determined by three superimposed interpretative strata.” Tape I contains the first stratum, the recording of which must be prepared before the performance and can be processed; the second are the players in action, who play those structures that were not previously recorded. While the interpreters are confined to the present, recording fragments for Tape II (the third stratum) they prepare the future, which in turn becomes past when the recorded material reappears later as a quasi-repetition, which recalls the musical memory of the listener.

The score is divided into 21 sections that belong to three types of structures (A, B and C). The instrumentalists have to make a selection of their own and define a sequence according to a set of rules defined by the composer. Some parts are precisely notated, while others leave a certain degree of freedom to the players. Moreover, mobile elements (disks and slides) contained in extra pages can be combined with fixed notations. Although this has no impact on the total duration of the structure involved, these elements contain musical gestures that can generate ever-new constellations of sounds in relation to the fixed parts of the score. It can be assumed that the rules for the combination of structures were defined in view of the generation of transitions between sound and noise and the superposition of time layers.



The score, which has to be prepared by the performers, was edited by Universal Edition, London, in 1963 (UE 13809). There is a performance score of 43 pages including 39 pages of “virtual” score pages (i.e. possible to perform) and 14 pages of “Introduction”. The latter provides instructions on performers’ decisions, i.e.:

  • Four pages of “Directions”, with a representation of the three structure types (A, B, C) together with their combinatory possibilities; it also includes instructions for the live playing by the performers, for the realization of the recording and the playback on tape and for the manipulation of the tapes; indications about the size (!), power and position of the loudspeakers are also provided;
  • Four pages of “Performance notes for the individual pages” with indications about different parameters (tempi, durations, articulation, dynamics), playing techniques and an explanation of the graphic parts (rotatable discs and moveable slides);
  • Six pages of “Explanation of symbols (for piano and percussion and for percussion alone)”;
  • One page “Nomenclature (used in the pages of the score)”.


Neither performance material nor recordings are provided by the publisher.


Archival material

Paul Sacher Stiftung


  • Drafts and fair copy (with corrections on transparent paper)
  • Synchronization plans for recording and documents about the WDR radio production
  • Concert program notes and commentary by Kagel
  • “Conferencia Paris” (Paris, 1959-60)


  • Mono tapes (Tape I) from recordings played by David Tudor, piano, Christoph Caskel, percussion (WDR-production, November 1959), Kontarsky-Caskel (Paris, February 1960), Tudor-Caskel (Venedig, September 1960);
  • Studio production for the Time Records release
  • Radio broadcasts

Authorial / Editorial instruction:

Tape I, which contains structures B or C, can be subjected to a number of processes altering timbre until the original sounds are no more recognizable; Tape II (structures A or C) should have a duration equal to one half, one third or one quarter of the originally recorded structures, but pitch and duration of the original sounds should not be altered. Methods to achieve these lengths are described.

Kagel suggests the number and the spatial disposition of the loudspeakers. If the sound of Tape I has not been processed, it should blend with the instrumental sound as much as possible, making it difficult for the audience to perceive if the sound comes from the instrument or from the loudspeaker. In order to achieve that, three loudspeakers are recommended: one under the instrument and two left and right behind and as close as possible to it. In order to blur the differences between tape and instrumental sound further, performers should silently mimic the playing of the tape sounds on the keyboard and in the interior of the piano during pauses.

According to the score, two cross directed loudspeakers can be sufficient depending on the acoustic conditions, especially if Tape I contains transformed sounds. The information regarding size and power of the loudspeakers can of course not be taken literally today. The recording system as a whole must allow for a most plausible reproduction of the instrumental sound.

The score contains signs for live recording of structures A1 and A6 (pp. 1-2, 22-24) onto tape II and for recording and playback in all five C structures (pp. 3, 20, 31-34), without specifying which tape should be used for playback. This notation suggests that only those structures should be recorded live and that during all C structures sequences recorded onto I or II must be played back.


Performance report

The version of Transición II realized within PPEAM was performed by Paulina Maslanka, Piano, Angela Koch, Percussion, Carlos Hidalgo and Florian Bogner, electronics, at Concert Hall 1 at ZHdK on June 5, 2015. It contained nine sections with an approx. duration of 10 minutes. The sections were selected together with the instrumental performers. Only sections where the piano and percussionist play together were used, no solo parts were included. The relationship between instrument and tape followed the second option given by Kagel, where the recorded material is played back without transformations, the goal being to achieve minimal differentiation between both.

Although extensive playing instructions are included in the introduction to the score, the notation of the dynamics of some events played by the percussionist on the piano strings require additional explanations, especially where the dynamics are the result of the relationship between distance and velocity. In the following example (beginning of page 1 / section A) the given “15 cm” defines the starting position of the hand (vertical distance to the strings) for all impulses of the sequence. A ff implies a higher velocity than the ppp, since the hand hast to cover the same distance for both.

Detailed information about this issue can be found in the Text “Ton-Cluster, Anschlag” by Mauricio Kagel (Die Reihe, N°5, p.23-37).


Spatial disposition of musicians and loudspeakers:

– The piano was placed with the keyboard downstage right and the lid removed. A mobile stage podium (2x1m) was set up in order to let the percussionist have full access to the corpus of the piano.

– Two loudspeakers were placed left and right in front almost under the piano, two additional speakers were standing behind the instrument at a height of about 2 m (s. figure below).

– A music stand was built according to the instructions in the score.




The piano was amplified in order achieve a good blend with the pre- and live-recorded tape parts. The same configuration of microphones consisting of two condenser microphones with cardioid polar pattern and one pickup were used for amplification, pre- and live-recording. A delay was introduced to the front speakers to align them with the speakers in the back.


Playing system

A MAX-Patch with following functionalities was used:

– Five stereo buffers containing the pre-recorded tape fragments.

– Two additional stereo buffers for live recording and playback of two sections. The score asks for shorting the length of the live recorded tape by 1/2, 1/3 or 1/4. Of the four methods suggested by Kagel the first was implemented. It involves cutting the tape in two, three or four equal pieces and playing them together overlaid. This was calculated in the patch based on the actual recording length.

– Four single output channels routed to the mixing desk for live mixing.

– No sound transformations of pre-recorded sounds (tape 1) were done.

– No technical synchronization means were needed.

Selected Bibliography

Attinello, Paul Gregory, Imploding the system: Kagel and the deconstruction of modernism, in Postmodern music/postmodern thought. Studies in contemporary music and culture, ed. Judy Lochhead and Joseph Auner, New York: Routledge, 2002, pp. 263-285

Frisius, RudolfMusik als Grenzüberschreitung: Zu Mauricio Kagel, in Von Kranichstein zur Gegenwart. 50 Jahre Darmstädter Ferienkurse, ed. Rudolph Stephan, Stuttgart: Daco, 1996, pp. 433-443

Griffiths, Paul, Modern music and after. Directions since 1945, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 135-147

Heile, Björn, The music of Mauricio Kagel, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006, pp. 25-32

Kagel, Mauricio, Ton-cluster, Anschläge, Übergänge, in Die Reihe 5 (Berichte, Analysen), ed. Herbert Eimert and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Wien: Universal Edition, 1959, pp. 23-37. English edition: Tone-clusters, Attacks, Transitions, in Die Reihe 5 (Reports, Analyses),  Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser Co., 1961, pp. 40-55

Kagel, Mauricio, Translation – Rotation, in Die Reihe 7 (Form – Raum), ed. Herbert Eimert and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Wien: Universal Edition, 1960, pp. 31-61

Schnebel, Dieter, Mauricio Kagel: Musik, Theater, Film, Köln: DuMont Schauberg, 1970, pp. 26-35

Steigerwald, Pia, An Tasten. Studien zur Klaviermusik von Mauricio Kagel, Hofheim: Wolke, 2011

Stockhausen, Karlheinz, Kommentar zu Transición II für Klavier, Schlagzeug und zwei Tonbänger (1958/59) von Mauricio Kagel, in Konzerte mit Neuer Musik, Bayerischer Rundfunk, 60, p. 59


CD releases (selection)

Time Records, New York, Series 2000, 58001, 1961, LP (Tudor-Caskel, 17’32’’)

Wergo, Mainz: Schott, WER 6929 2, 2009 – Digitized and remastered by LP Time Records (Tudor-Caskel, 17’32’’)

Mode Records, New York, mode 127, 2003 (Aldo Orvieto piano, Dimitri Fiorin percussion, Alvise Vidolin tapes and live electronics – composer supervised recordings, 21’31’’)

Schematic Overview

Piece information

Composer Mauricio Kagel
Title Transición II
Year 1958-59
Studio WDR
Type Piano, Percussion and two Tapes
Duration [variable]
Publisher Universal Edition



Archival material

Paul Sacher Stiftung Drafts, sketches and original manuscript, Textual materials, Program Notes, Audio material


Commercial releases (selection)

Time Records 1961 Time Records, New York, Series 2000, 58001, 1961, LP (Tudor-Caskel, 17’32’’)
Mode 2003 Mode Records, New York, mode 127, 2003 (Aldo Orvieto piano, Dimitri Fiorin percussion, Alvise Vidolin tapes and live electronics – composer supervised recordings, 21’31’’)
Wergo 2009 Wergo, Mainz: Schott, WER 6929 2, 2009 – Digitized and remastered by LP Time Records (Tudor-Caskel, 17’32’’)