A film by Frank Scheffer
With music by Karlheinz Stockhausen


The Nightingale Cinema, 1084 N. Milwaukee
March 16-17th, 2012

The late and influential German composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, re-envisioned contemporary music performance by means of electronics, aleatory composition and spatial sound. His most spectacular work, a quartet that stretches both the human player and audio technology almost to the brink, came to him in a dream:

“I heard and saw the four string players in four helicopters flying in the air and playing. At the same time I saw people on the ground seated in an audio-visual hall, others were standing outdoors on a large public plaza. In front of them, four towers of television screens and loudspeakers had been set up: at the left, half-left, half-right, right. At each of the four positions one of the four string players could be heard and seen in close-up.”

The fascinating process of building this complex performance and the charming eccentricity of its creator are captured in Scheffer’s heady and straight forward doc. Scheffer, who has collaborated with John Cage, Brian Eno, and Frank Zappa, among others understands his subject well and investigates the piece from the view of all participants.

“The technological complexities of making such a thing work almost flawlessly are immense, and in the context of Stockhausen’s achievement as a composer the Helicopter Quartet may not be hugely significant, but as a reminder of the sheer force of his creative personality and organizational ability it is a remarkable if impossibly bizarre achievement. And what it all has to do with the opera only time will reveal.” (Andrew Clements, The Guardian)

“Helicopter String Quartet says things about quartet psychology the placing of oneself at risk, the trust that others will come in on time (isolated visually and aurally, the players could get directions only from a click-track heard on headphones) and the devotion to duty…this is a work that can be just as well imagined as experienced. Indeed, the Helicopter String Quartet of the imagination is probably to be preferred, since the one big disappointment of the Amsterdam performance was that one had so little sense of the musicians the Arditti Quartet being up aloft: the monitors just showed us four guys in cramped conditions, bowing away.” (Paul Griffiths, The Times)

Frank Scheffer is a Dutch cinematographer and producer of documentary film, mostly known for his work Conducting Mahler (1996) on the 1995 Mahler Festival in Amsterdam. He has made over 25 films, many about experimental musicians and artists. Scheffer was honored with a complete retrospective of his films at the 2001 Holland Festival and with a retrospective at the Mumbai International Film Festival (2008).
Program presented courtesy of the artist. Many thanks to Frank Scheffer.

Program Details:
A film by Frank Scheffer
With music by Karlheinz Stockhausen
Performed by the Arditti String Quartet
(1996, 81 minutes, Netherlands, 35mm on video)
In German and English with English subtitles

More on Frank Scheffer

Filed under: Uncategorized