The man who excites hardly can judge upon what he is doing…
(Karlheinz Stockhausen)


It is late Saturday night, and we have spent many hours over the last few days in a white room making noises on a very, very large tam-tam. We will spend many more hours doing the same over the days to come. I had initially approached Stockhausen’s landmark work Mikrophonie I with an image of myself as a micronaut, an explorer tunneling deep into the inner resonances of the work’s single instrument, the tam-tam. But the division of labor is such that I now realize that in my role as the player who excites the tam-tam I am something more like a test subject in this particular experiment. The player next to me, the microphonist, “probes the surface of the tam-tam with the microphone, as a doctor probes a body with a stethoscope.” Further afield, and therefore operating from a position of objective observation, two additional players utilize filters and potentiometers to analyze, comment upon, and correct our actions. Meanwhile, my counterpart and I are busy carrying out a set of actions which are precisely notated, but the actual material of which is only described by the composer in all too human terms: groaning, baying, barking, bellowing, growling, hissing, spitting, cackling, yelling, grunting, howling, wailing, cracking, grating, chattering, scratching, screeching, murmuring, croaking, and so on, mostly in alphabetical order. We have been joking amongst ourselves in rehearsal that perhaps we should all wear white lab coats for the performance, but I am pretty certain that this would really only be appropriate for the engineers at the filters, and maybe the player next to me who will be probing both the tam-tam’s and my behavior for the duration of the work.


-Matthew Gold, Talea percussionist