In the mid-Seventies, vocalist Paul Hillier was a member of the group Singcircle, and one of the projects they scored a measure of success with was a resurrection of the minimalist classic Stimmung by Karlheinz Stockhausen, which they recorded on the Hyperion label in 1983. Stockhausen was one of the seminal figures of modern twentieth century music, and along with the works of Berio, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, Stimmung holds a place of reverence among the faithful. According to the accompanying liner notes the word “Stimmung” means “tuning,” but the tuning implies not only the tuning of voices or instruments, but also perhaps the tuning of the soul. Much of the vocalization presented here might seem not much more than vocal exercises to the uninitiated, but this new recording from Harmonia Mundi, in its multichannel surround presentation, immerses you in the world of Stockhausen like never before. Paul Hillier had wanted to make a more modern recording of the work for years, and this disc fulfills that dream.
The performance consists of six singers, three males and three females, sitting in a circle, chanting, singing, humming, speaking and harmonizing through fifty-one iterations of a meditation in B-flat. The end result is often reminiscent at times of Tibetan chants, with healthy doses of just flat-out weirdness. And while this music is definitely not for everyone (especially not the faint-of-heart), the surround presentation really offers a whole new appreciation for Stockhausen’s art – and while certain family members of mine would offer less flattering observations, I found the music strangely compelling. If you’re familiar with this work, or are just a Stockhausen fan in general, this disc is a no-brainer – you’ll never experience a more mind-blowing rendition of this classic modernist work from the Sixties. Highly recommended.
– Tom Gibbs