Helicopter Quartet – Stockhausen
This work gets a lot of stick for its seeming excess and pointlessness but hold on. It is only a logical development of some the the spatialisation ideas that He has been writing about for several decade. The very first Gesang der Jungerlinge (critical listing for an understanding of contemporary electronic music) and Gruppen (critical listing for an understanding of space in music) both looked to greater and more expansive spatial expression. The Helicopter is an extension of that idea.
The Quartet each fly in their own helicopter. Their sound is miked and relayed to the ground and the sound of the rotors and the engines remains mixed with it. Pitches of instruments rise with the whine of the machines and as each transits into air space. And they play from locations around the airfield and the listeners listen on in wonder.
All pretty good – except for one small detail – the fact of the helicopters whizzing round is only a visual spatialisation. As far as the listener is concerned, the sound being relayed to static loudspeakers, the helicopter is not moving. The movement is all visual. Now many philosophers of sound can say many things about the links between the senses – and much about what you see is what you hear illusions. – but this seems to be a missed opportunity. The better route would be for the players to have their sound relayed through large loudspeakers slung under the helicopters – and thence to spatialise by flying around. (Consider the opening of Apocalypse Now)
But I’m game for it – anybody got a helicopter?
Here is a terrible sound quality version ….