PRINT March 2008


If one of the First Men could enter the world of the Last Men . . . the traveler might perhaps be surprised by . . . the pair of occipital eyes, . . . the upward-looking astronomical eye on the crown, which is peculiar to the Last Men. This organ was so cunningly designed that, when fully extended, almost a hand-breadth from its bony case, it reveals the heavens in as much detail as your smaller astronomical telescopes.
—Olaf Stapledon


The model for the Character K.S. is an entity with enhanced sensory endowments described by Olaf Stapledon in his novel Last and First Men (1930). Imagine this new entity and Stockhausen’s response to it!

I believe Stockhausen would surely be inspired by the multidimensionality of this Character’s expanded perceptual world. Following Stockhausen’s innovative direction, I want to create existence for it sonically and visually as a VR Character.

Imagine the Character K.S. appearing as a fully animated three-dimensional presence in your room in a few years, emerging from a VR display. With visual contours and movements ideally designed by the Superhero artist Matt Haley, K.S. projects the sonic shaping of his music—up, down, and all around your space. Walking out of the screen into your room, emitting his radiant energy sometimes in great strides, often flying in different trajectories while interacting with celestial images visible in his crown, or settling nearby, beside you, K.S. emanates sonic imaging in subtle, myriad dimensions due to the sensorial depth embodied in his enhanced auditory/visual perceptions.

Eventually, as interactivity for 3-D sonic imaging becomes more sophisticated, subtle, and adventurous, scenarios may be developed for K.S. Such score scenarios will augment more personal experiential modes with vivid new sensorial presence! Many of these could be based on Stockhausen’s beautiful sound-score plans—for example, Plus-Minus (1963) and his text pieces, such as Prozession (1967)—relating newly created sonic events to previously composed episodes from his works. Other remarkable Sonic Characters could be developed and scenarios with interactive interplays among them cultivated for people to discover, script, and “play” in their homes. The Characters may appear to one another as complex patterns and rhythms of tonal differences. They could move their tonal bodies in the dimensions of pitch, and sometimes in other dimensions, humanly inconceivable, interacting with the light, movement, and shapes of the astronomical objects radiating from K.S.’s crown. More details will be available at lunch!


Great news relating to the Astronomical Eye on K.S.’s crown announced just a few days ago! A project to construct the world’s most powerful ground-based telescope on a mountaintop in Chile has received major funding from Bill Gates and the Charles Simonyi Fund. “First light” for this wide-field imaging device, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), is scheduled for 2014. Truly an Internet telescope, the LSST will provide real-time digital imaging of astronomical objects across the entire sky, night after night, deeply, in multiple colors every week, opening a movielike window on objects that change or move rapidly—such as exploding supernovas and distant Kuiper Belt Objects—to everyone on the Web. It is this ultimate network peripheral device for exploring the universe that will enable K.S. to interact sonically with the celestial imaging his Astronomical Eye is receiving!


If I had not had studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen, it is very likely I would have gone on to pursue pure biochemistry—looking inside to the “life” of cells and the critical shaping of their molecular structures. My conventional academic background in music provided no approach to understanding or investigating what mattered most to me about the physical nature of sound, our responses to it perceptually, and the creation of the sonic worlds I imagined! All of this began with Stockhausen. How to communicate in a few words the unique treasure of those studies!

Imagine what it was to encounter Stockhausen’s supreme energy to discover, to explore entirely new ways of presenting music, to delve into the interacting energy of the spectrum itself, and to listen in to the inner life of sounds themselves! And perhaps even more important, his incisive attention to the experiential, to observing sensorial features, how we respond to the acoustic information. One of his first questions to me: “Do you want the tones to shimmer inside?”

All of this was in stark contrast to most musical practice, where composing usually amounts to procedures of simply rearranging and modifying preexistent musical figures—that is, other men’s tunes—and giving them a personalized framework in time (“notes without ears”). Silicon composers are now achieving this faster, and often better.

Stockhausen understood many of the problems built up over time accompanying the habitual practice of music: that it becomes difficult to “hear” new thoughts. His sonic investigations were designed consciously, to transform such automatic thought processes. He realized new, more fertile approaches were needed.

Stockhausen’s example at this critical time in my life enabled me to stretch my mind with great vigor, reinforcing my desire to hear, think, and explore the “unformulated” in order to discover the unique sonic worlds I hoped to shape.

A composer, Maryanne Amacher teaches music and sound at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.