From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Kontakte ("Contacts") is a celebrated work of electronic music by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed and recorded in 1958-60 at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) electronic music studio in Cologne, and first released in 1960 on WERGO Records.
The title of the work “refers both to contacts between instrumental and electronic sound groups and to contacts between self-sufficient, strongly characterized moments. In the case of four-channel loudspeaker reproduction, it also refers to contacts between various forms of spatial movement” (Stockhausen 1964, 105). The composition exists in two forms: (1) for electronic sounds alone, and (2) for electronic sounds, piano, and percussion.
According to the composer, “In the preparatory work for my composition Kontakte, I found, for the first time, ways to bring all properties [i.e., timbre, pitch, intensity, and duration] under a single control” (Stockhausen 1962, 40), thereby realizing a longstanding goal of total serialism. The most famous moment, at the very center of the work, is a potent illustration of these connections: a high, bright, slowly wavering pitch descends in several waves, becoming louder as it gradually acquires a snarling timbre, and finally passes below the point where it can be heard any longer as a pitch. As it crosses this threshold, it becomes evident that the sound is comprised of a succession of pulses, which continue to slow until they become a steady beat. With increasing reverberation, the individual pulses become transformed into tones once again.
Stockhausen also made advances over his previous electronic composition, Gesang der Jünglinge, in the realm of spatial composition, adding the parameters of spatial location, group type, register, and speed (Toop 2005, 170). Kontakte is composed in four channels, with loudspeakers placed at the corners of a square surrounding the audience. With the aid of a "rotation table", consisting of a rotatable loudspeaker surrounded by four microphones, he was able to send sounds through and around the auditorium with unprecedented variety.