Gottfried Michael Koenig
Gottfried Michael Koenig is a composer and educator who was born in Madeburg, Germany in 1926. At a young age, Gottfried dabbled with playing the flute in elementary school and later on, he had received private piano and violin lessons. As a young man, Gottfried studied church music, piano, composition, and music analysis. He also learned computer technology and acoustics. His studies were interrupted by the terrible events of World War II, but he did return to complete his studies. Gottfried took a job at a radio station in Cologne, and learned the latest electronic and broadcast technology from 1954 to 1964. This was a good creative period for him as he composed various electronic, chamber, and orchestral music works. During this point, Gottfried also began his teaching career at Cologne Academy of Music. He had a chance to work with fellow composers at the academy with the likes of: Stockhausen, Kagel, Evangel, Ligeti, Brun and others. Gottfried eventually accepted a management position in the electronic studios at the University of Utrecht, which was eventually named Institute of Sonology. It was here where Gottfried created computer programs: Project 1, Project 2 and SSP that organized music structure variants. He was always experimenting with the latest technology and producing groundbreaking compositions in the process. He has received numerous awards for his life achievements as an educator and performer. I recently corresponded with Gottfried.
R.V.B. - What kind of music were you exposed to around the house as a child? What town did you grow up in and what did you do for fun as a child?
G.M.K. - I lived in Braunschweig in an evangelical rectory. My early school years I spent in Jerichow, a town on the Elbe between Magdeburg and Hamburg, where my father was active at the local monastery church. My mother could play the piano, but I do not remember having heard them play often. Later, when I went to high school, my parents had two box seats at the State Theatre for the symphonic concerts, to which I was often taken. There was the usual classical repertoire with a climax when as a guest conductor, the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Hermann Abendroth, a Beethoven symphony conducted.
R.V.B. - What instrument did you play first and did you take lessons? Were you in band in school?
G.M.K. - My first instrument was the flute, which I learned to play in elementary school. A little later the piano as well. I suppose my mother was my first teacher, before I got a professional piano teacher. With my mother we played four - handed. Much later, when I got violin lessons, she accompanied me. The grammar school had in my time no longer an orchestra; earlier it had entertained one that also made concert tours to England .
R.V.B. - My wife's family is from Braunschweig - what have you learned there as far as it concerns church music?
G.M.K. - My youth was overshadowed by events of war. I was only Luftwaffenhelfer, then only to the labor service, then called up for military service. In autumn 1944, the front line in Hungary took place. When I was released in May 1945 from American captivity, I took my music studies up again in Braunschweig on a private basis with Rudolf Hartung, a rehearsal pianist and conductor at the State Theatre. After the reopening of the state music school on Wall Theater, which he was the director, he took me with him and advised me to the department of church music, because there was a counterpoint course there. Church music in the narrow sense I have not studied at that time, apart from private organ lessons with the organist Wolfgang Auler.
R.V.B. - How did you like your learning years in Detmold? I see that you studied piano and composition. Was the acoustic and analysis courses a spark for you in the introduction into more avant-garde compositions?
G.M.K. - After Detmold, where after the war, a new College of Music was founded, I went to study composition, which was not possible in Braunschweig. Piano was compulsory for composition students; I did not become a pianist. My teacher was Günter Bialas, the director was William Painter. Our choir director was Kurt Thomas, former director of the Arts high school in Frankfurt, later Thomas cantor in Leipzig. With him, I sang in the choir and a semester studying choral conducting (was not successful). Very interesting to me was studying with Erich Thien - the house specialist in acoustics. Music history was Lina Jung, Wilhelm Maler was analysis. - I was not a good student (Maler once told me that I was "the terror of the faculty"). Apart from the main subject lessons with Bialas, I felt most at home among fellow students, whom I developed a very warm freindship with. As for new music, Bartók was important, Schoenberg was known by name, his twelve-tone technique was only touched upon in the classroom. Even during my studies I wrote my first twelve-tone composition.
R.V.B. -You moved around from city to city to study? Why did you choose to study in Bonn for computer technology?
G.M.K. - Regarding moving: In 1950 I had stopped my studies in Detmold and came back to my parents in Braunschweig. In 1951, I went for the first time to the Darmstadt Summer Courses, where Dr. Meyer-Eppler held a lecture at the University of Bonn on electric musical instruments with sound samples. Two years later, I wrote a former fellow student at the Musikhochschule in Cologne and said I would like the opportunity to study at the new institute for "musical and technical design". I applied with success to university and went to Cologne early 1954. There I took the opportunity with Dr. Herbert Eimert , the head of the now-established electronic music studio imagine, after I had already corresponded with him. I got to know Karlheinz Stockhausen and was given permission to look around in the studio and make myself useful. That was more attractive than studying at the university, and I left it. Bonn was a fluke, no well-considered intention. Meanwhile, I had met my wife and moved into a small apartment in Cologne with her. In the supermarket she met an American while shopping who lived on the other side of the road and was married to an American geologist. He came from Washington, had been a short time in Belgium and now had a place at the University of Bonn. When he heard of my work in the studio, he asked me if I had been working with computers and was interested. He knew namely a colleague in Bonn, who was about to organize a course in computer technology. So it came to be my Computer Studies at the University of Bonn in 1963/64. - In the summer of 1964, I went to Holland to take over the management of the electronic studios of the University of Utrecht. Three years later it was renamed the Institute of Sonology and taken over by the Royal Conservatory in The Hague in 1984. I remained in Utrecht, and found a house in 1992 in Buren, a small town 30 km southeast of Utrecht. Now for 2 years I live in Culemborg, a neighboring town on the northern arm of the Rhine, the Lek.
R.V.B. - You spent summers at Darmstadt Music School. Did you feel you were missing out on social life or was it worth it for the musical knowledge?
G.M.K. - My participation at the Darmstadt summer courses was clearly determined by the desire to get me in the field of contemporary music. This began in 1951 when I was still living with my parents in Braunschweig. There was no lack of social life in Cologne where I hung around with Ligeti, Kagel, Brun and many others.
R.V.B. - You worked and assisted with a lot of other talented composers at this time like: Mauricio Kagel, Gyorgy - Ligeti, Herbert Brun and more. In what way did you assist? As a producer, writer, or general collaboration between mutual artists of the era?
G.M.K. - My collaboration with Ligeti, Brun, Evangelisti and others consisted firstly of me explaining the technical equipment and working techniques. Then I helped them in practical work, which means when recording and editing sounds, the band section, when using multiple tapes for storage on four-track tape. Evangelisti was very dependent on me, because he could not help because of his eye condition; others, such as Ligeti or Brün were rapidly more or less working independently. I was there as a helpful colleague, neither the author nor the producer. I have not worked with Kagel much.
R.V.B. - You have 1962 teaching. What type of electronic device was used to set the time? Oscillators and analogue things of that nature?
G.M.K. - Before I began in 1954,when I regularly visited the studio for
electronic music, I had no clear idea of the possibilities and techniques of electronic sound generation. I had only heard the lectures of Eimert and Meyer-Eppler and attended a demonstration of the mixture by Oskar Sala-Trautonium. It fascinated me that you could experiment in such a studio with structural models and sound modules, without having to remove the instances of public musical life (musicians, orchestras, conductors) to complete. Only I did not know what these sound generators look like and how they operate. After I had unfettered access to the Cologne studio, I studied the technical facilities and production methods in the first place. So I could soon assist Karlheinz Stockhausen in the realization of the "Song of the Youths", and later help him with the production of "contacts". György Ligeti, Franco Evangelisti and Herbert Brün and I had a deep friendship.
R.V.B. - in the mid 50's through 1964 you worked at an electronic studio at WDR. West German Radio in Cologne. What kind of electronic music experiments did you learn here? This was a very prolific composing time for you. You mixed traditional chamber and orchestral classical compositions with your new experimental work such as "Klangfiguren, Essay and Terminus 1 ? Did you enjoy going outside the lines in the new electronic music genres?
G.M.K. - The technical facilities of the WDR studios consisted mainly of oscillators, various filters, pulse generators, a ring modulator, a Hall plate, amplifier analysis and many return pulleys for the operation of long tape loops. For the class, I was a lecturer of the Cologne University of Music, which did not have a studio. With the approval of the WDR we have held practical lessons in the WDR studio.
R.V.B. - What prompted you to move to the Netherlands to teach at the University of Utrecht? How did you enjoy the position of Director and Chairman of the Electronic Music Studio and later became the Institute of Sonology. This must have been an exciting career for you with the changing technology in electronics and computers. Was it demanding to constantly keep up with technology?
G.M.K. - My moving to the Netherlands had two reasons. The first reason was that the WDR wanted to get rid of their "freelancers" - of which I was one - and offered me a permanent contract, but I did not want to accept. The other reason was that the management of the electronic studio was vacant at the University of Utrecht. I had held courses for electronic music since 1961, in the Gaudeamus Foundation, regularly in Bilthoven (near Utrecht) and was proposed by the director of the University Foundation as a suitable candidate. The new taskirritated me very much, especially since my computer plans I had for a studio building in Cologne were not accepted by Stockhausen. However, there was in Utrecht, as it turned out, only a tiny Mathematical Institute with a very small Philips-computer, each user had to use himself. But that soon changed, a great Mathematics Institute was in cultivation, and in 1971, after we had been previously supported by the mathematicians, we had our own computer institute, where soon a second, then a third joined added. The university administration assisted us financially , allowing us almost complete use of a three-story building where we had only three or four spaces at the beginning available. We had our own workshop temporarily where up to 5 technicians were busy with the upkeep of the studios and the construction of new equipment. The courses were visited by everyone except by the Dutch, by composers from the US, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, France, England, Italy and Germany. With the technology to keep up, was more exciting than exhausting, especially since this task was in the best hands for our engineers . One of our staff was a trained physicist (who is also a brilliant musician).
R.V.B. - In your work developing Project 1 and Project 2... What were the considerations? Mixing mathematics, sound, acoustics to help a composer achieve a composition? Was the SSP work an extension of this?
G.M.K. - During my computer studies in Bonn, I asked the teachers to be able to take the programming exercises suggested in the workbook (available 7090) describe the design instead of us using an IBM musical problem. I wrote programs for twelve-tone and Allintervallreihen, also for harmonic progressions. Then I wanted to create sounds with the computer, but the computer center had no DA converter. Since I remembered discussions about the serial technique of composition - Henri Pousseur represented in Darmstadt an "editorial" of structures which fit in together the series starts was not good, while Stockhausen told me in Cologne, a serial plan would fundamentally be reconsidered and realized. Rather than to correct the results of the old plan around , I moved the sound production on later and devoted myself to the first draft of a computer program for testing of serial composition rules. I gave it the working title "Project 1", which some time later a "Project 2" followed, which should serve as a program generator for other "projects". SSP was trying to make sound experiments with the syntactic resources of Project 1 and Project 2 ; it was not intended as an extension of the first-mentioned programs.
R.V.B. - Did you ever perform your music live in front of an audience? Are there any particular cultures or countries that understand it better than others?
G.M.K. - My electronic works have been widely performed not only in broadcasting but also in Hall concerts. Listed are all my instrumental works whose number far exceeds the electronic. The modern (then called"avant-garde") music has its own international audience. If my art were taken differently, that would be more like the musicians than the audience and its recording.
R.V.B. - Were you ever surprised by music that any of your students came up with?
G.M.K. - I can not remember to have been really surprised . In Cologne, I had to do with composers such as Ligeti or Evangelisti or Brun or Cardew, who were not my students - while my students were inaugurated at the music school only in the rudiments of electronic music, without having the opportunity to own compositions. In Utrecht, there was no composition lessons; we had guest composers from different countries, who could work independently, while the course participants were supervised by our assistants.
G.M.K. - I believe that I can be proud of the development of the Institute for Sonology from humble beginnings to becoming one of the best equipped studios in the world. But it is not for me to name my merits. For the development of the Institute from its beginnings in the Philips factories where Edgard Varèse composed his "Poème électronique ', there is now a very readable book by Kees Tazelaar, the current director of Sonology: "On the Threshold of Beauty. Philips and the Origins of Electronic Music in the Netherlands 1925-1965", see www.v2.nl/publishing .
R.V.B. - How long did it take you to complete your six volumes of theoretical writings?
G.M.K. - The "Aesthetic Practice" is not a book that was written and planned as such, but rather a documentary collection of texts, that I wanted to give out sooner than a book. Publishers who were interested in principle, but wanted a book that can be read from cover to cover, not a collection of essays and speeches that do not build on each other and also contain many repetitions. It was the (now deceased) musicologist Prof. Dr. Wolf Frobenius (professor in Saarbrücken), who had read texts collected from me, and when we first met during a conference in Graz, asked to inspect yet unpublished material. He wanted a documentary edition of the complete text, which at that time had three of his students (Stefan Fricke, Roger Peacock, Sigrid Konrad) published in a publishing house established for this purpose between 1991 and 2007.
R.V.B. - In your retirement, you still dabble with new technology?
G.N.K. - With advanced technology, I'm not really busy. My computer programs Project 1 and 2 (SSP is maintained at the Institute of Sonology and used for teaching purposes) exist only in so far developed by me for personal use versions that could hold great difficulty with the rapid development of hardware and software systems step. Prof. Rainer Wehinger, the management of the electronic and computer music studios at the Musikhochschule Stuttgart held (there are of him drawn Mitlesepartitur for Ligeti's articulation), is - in cooperation with me - busy with a new version of the two programs in the familiar sound program "Super Collider" are embedded, so that structured with SC sounds produced with the help of PR1 or PR2 or the score tables generated by PR1 or PR2 with SC sounds can be "orchestrated". Project 1 is almost finished and running on different operating systems. Project 2 will occupy us in the coming years.
R.V.B - Finally - What else did you like as a hobby besides music?
G.M.K. - I've never actually had any - rather my hobby (music) is my profession. Many years ago, I was for a time engaged in computer graphics, for which I had written my own programs. I did not so much create art, but rather followed certain practices that are typical for PR1 and PR2 to visualize it in a rapid and easily communicable manner. And I read a lot and like to present the extensive new Kafka biography by Reiner Stach.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Gottfried Michael Koenig visit his website http://www.koenigproject.nl/
Photographs used with permission of Gottfried Michael Keonig
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