Last winter, upon learning of the death of composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, I expressed my burning desire to mount a production of his Helikopter Streichquartett. The challenge is getting one's hands on the four military helicopters required, one for each member of the string quartet.
Well, the young geniuses at the Michigan's Digital Music Ensemble figured out a solution. And produced a very well-made film of the event, available on YouTube. Check it out:
Helikopter-Streichquartett has been performed only three times in its original form. A full-scale production requires four large helicopters, each with a pilot, a live musician, and a sound technician inside, as well as an elaborate communications and audio-visual transmission apparatus.
Faced with the daunting task of mounting a performance of even one scene of this huge work, the Digital Music Ensemble decided to stage its own interpretation of the piece. Thus we are using model helicopters instead of full-scale ones, a quartet of electric guitarists in place of a string quartet, and we're adding a live video processing dimension. Sonically, we have taken considerable liberties at variance with the printed score, as did Stockhausen himself on his recording with the Arditti Quartet (1995). We believe we have been true to the spirit of the piece.
Also newly available, clips from a new DVD of the piece from Naxos, including this amazing subtitled interview with the composer talking about his personal dreams of flight:
VÖ in Deutschland: 13. Juni 2008
DVD Video des Labels Medici Arts
Im Vertrieb der NAXOS Deutschland GmbH
Helicopter String Quartet
Performed by the Arditti Quartet
A film by Frank Scheffer
Picture Format: NTSC • 4:3 fullscreen
Sound Formats: Dolby Digital 2.0
Region Code: 0
Languages: German, English, French,
Spanish, Japanese, Dutch
Booklet Notes: English
Running Time: 77 mins
Das Helikopter-Streichquartett von Karlheinz Stockhausen ist eines der kontroversesten Kunstwerke der letzten Jahre. Wie vom Komponisten vorgesehen, saßen und spielten die vier Mitglieder des Arditti Quartetts bei der Uraufführung auf dem Holland Festival 1995 in vier separat fliegenden Hubschraubern.
For the full experience of the piece with actual helicopters, here is two minutes of video that will crack open your weekend:
Perhaps we can stage a special black helicopter version for the McCain inaugural festivities next January...maybe throw in a few predator drones for improvisational oomph.