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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2016


Gottfried Michael Koenig (b. 1926) is a seminal figure in the history of electronic music. He contributed important technical and musical ideas at WDR studio in Cologne from 1954 to 1964. He was then the director of the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht, Netherlands until 1986. Since 1986, Koenig has continued to compose, to develop complex computer systems, and to edit, translate, and publish his extensive corpus of theoretical writings.1 This conversation, which aims to foster further English-language scholarship on Koenig and his music,2 took place in English in May 2015 at the Institute of Sonology, now located in The Hague, Netherlands.

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1 Koenig's personal website is extensive: (in English and German; accessed 14 July 2015). Throughout this article, I cite Koenig's English-language translations of his own writings where available on his website. German-language writings are collected in the multi-volume Gottfried Michael Koenig, Aesthetische Praxis: Texte zur Musik (Saarbrücken: PFAU, 1991–2007).

2 See Björn Gottstein, ‘Gottfried Michael Koenig. Die Logik der Maschine’, Musik als Ars Scientia: Die Edgard-Varèse-Gastprofessoren des DAAD an der TU Berlin 2000–2006. Bilingual edition (Saarbrücken: PFAU, 2006), 56–67; Stefan Fricke, Gottfried Michael Koenig: Parameter und Protokolle seiner Musik (Saarbrücken: PFAU, 2004); Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn, eds, Musik-Konzepte, No. 66: Gottfried Michael Koenig (Munich: Edition Text + Kritik, 1989).

3 See Roads, Curtis, ‘Interview with Gottfried Michael Koenig’, Computer Music Journal 2/3 (1978), pp. 1115Google Scholar, 29. See also Koenig, ‘Programmed Music: Personal Experiences and Work [1975]’ and ‘My Experiences with Programmed Music [1975]’. (accessed 15 July 2015).

4 Institut für musisch-technische Gestaltung. See Kees Tazelaar, On the Threshold of Beauty: Philips and the Origins of Electronic Music in the Netherlands 1925–1965 (Rotterdam: V2_Publishing, 2013), p. 251.

5 Hebert Eimert (1897–1972) was a musicologist, theorist, critic and composer. He was the first director of the WDR electronic music studio (from 1953–1962), and producer of the cult-favourite WDR Musikalisches Nachtprogramm, a weekly radio program that played and contextualized new music in the post-war years.

6 Werner Meyer-Eppler (1913–1955) was a scientist with a special expertise in phonetics, communication and information theory at the University of Bonn. He wrote Elektronische Klangerzeugung (1949), and contributed much to the intellectual, technical and aesthetic development of the WDR studio in Cologne. See Elena Ungeheuer, Wie die Elektronische Musik “erfunden” wurde … Quellenstudie zu Werner Meyer-Epplers Entwurf zwischen 1949 und 1953 (Mainz: Schott, 1992). Meyer-Eppler's Darmstadt 1951 lecture is reprinted in Gianmario Borio and Hermann Danuser, Im Zenit der Moderne: Die Internationalen Fereinkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt 1946–1966, vol. 3 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach, 1997), pp. 102–4.

7 Friedreich Trautwein (1888–1956) was a scientist and inventor of the Trautonium, one of the first electronic keyboard instruments. See Peter Manning, Electronic and Computer Music, 4th edition (New York: Oxford, 2013), Thom Holmes, Electronic and Experimental Music, 4th edition (New York: Routledge, 2012) and Joel Chadabe, Electric Sound: The Past and Present of Electronic Music (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997).

8 Meyer-Eppler's materials, held at the Akadamie der Künste in Berlin, show his yearly participation in the the Tonmeister Tagung [Sound Engineer Study Days] at the Nordwestdeutsche Musikakadamie in Detmold, Germany beginning in 1949. This is, of course, the same city and college that Koenig attended.

9 Goeyvaerts's Sonata for Two Pianos (1951). Stockhausen and Goeyvaerts performed section two of the integral serial, pointillist piece in Adorno's seminar at Darmstadt in 1951. Adorno responded with disdain, and Stockhausen rushed to Goeyvaerts's defense, reportedly chastising Adorno for looking for a chicken in an abstract painting. See Goeyvaerts, Karel, ‘Paris-Darmstadt 1947–56’, Revue Belge de Musicologie 48 (1994), pp. 3554CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Robin Maconie, Other Planets: The Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005), pp. 40–42; Toop, Richard, ‘Messiaen/Goeyvaerts, Fano/Stockhausen, Boulez’, Perspectives of New Music 13/1 (1974), pp. 141–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 The Musik der Zeit concert at the WDR in Cologne on 19 October 1954. See Frank Hilberg and Harry Vogt, eds, Musik der Zeit 1951–2001: 50 Jahre Neue Musik im WDR (Hofheim: Wolke, 2002).

11 See Marietta Morwaska-Büngeler, Schwingende Elektronen: Eine Dokumentation über das Studio für Elektronische Musik des Westdeutschen Rundfunks in Köln 1951–1986 (Cologne: P.J. Tonger, 1987).

12 Koenig served as the technician for Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56); Bengt Hambraeus's Doppelrohr II (1956); Giselher Klebe's Interferenzen (1955); and Franco Evangelisti's Incontri di fasce sonore (1957), among many others. See Hilberg and Vogt, Musik der Zeit, pp. 138–41 or Morwaska-Büngeler, Schwingende Elektronen, pp. 109–11.

13 See Koenig, ‘Studio Technique [1955]’, trans. Hans. G. Helms, Die Reihe, vol. 1 (Bryn Mawr, PA: Theodor Presser, 1958), 52–4; and ‘Programmed Music – From the Composer's Viewpoint [1968]’, (accessed 15 July 2015).

14 One notable exception is György Ligeti (1923–2006), who worked with Koenig at the WDR in 1957. Ligeti had little exposure to electronic music and technology, but considered it the ‘best shock of his life’. Ligeti writes about the WDR experience, giving credit to Koenig's important guidance and tutoring, in ‘Auswirkungen der elektronischen Musik auf mein kompositorisches Schaffen’, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 2, ed. Monika Lichtenfeld (Mainz: Schott, 2008), pp. 86–94; quotation from p. 86. See also Ligeti, ‘Musik und Technik’, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 1, ed. Monika Lichtenfeld (Mainz: Schott, 2008), 237–65 and Ligeti, ‘Mein Kölner Jahr’, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 2, 29–32.

15 During the composition and realization of Transición I (1958–59).

16 The pieces that Koenig produced as a composer at the WDR studio include: Klangfiguren I (1955), Klangfiguren II (1955–56), Essay (1957–58), Materialien zu einem Ballet (1961) and Terminus 1 (1962). Essay (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1960) is published as a realization score. Hear the following CDs: BVHAAST 9106 ‘Acousmatrix 6’, BVHAAST 9001/2 ‘Acousmatrix ½’, and Edition RZ 2003–04 ‘Gottfried Michael Koenig: Portrait’. Koenig's analysis is ‘Analytical Descriptions [1971]’, (accessed 15 July 2015). See also Konrad Boehmer, ‘Gottfried Michael Koenig: Essay (1957–58)’, Electroacustic Music. Analytical Perspectives, ed. Thomas Licata (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), pp. 59–71.

17 Koenig wrote Fantasie für Orchester (1951–52) after his initial encounter with elektronische Musik at the Darmstadt courses in summer 1951. It was a collaboration with a dancer, though the collaboration ended in 1952 before Koenig could realise the piece in a studio. The score was provisionally notated with conventional notes and rhythms, which he intended to transform into electronic sounds in the studio.

18 Koenig helped Ligeti realise Glissandi (1957) and Artikulation (1957–58); Ligeti helped Koenig realize Essay (1957–58). See Ligeti, ‘Musik und Technik’, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 1, pp. 237–65; and Koenig, ‘Remarks on Composition Theory [1968]’ (accessed 15 July 2015).

19 The best account of this time period in Koenig's career – inside a very thorough history of electronic music in the Netherlands – is Tazelaar's On the Threshold of Beauty, p. 253–7.

20 Koenig gave series of six lectures and directed a composers' course as part of the Gaudeamus Muziekweek in Netherlands in September 1961, and returned there in 1962 and 1963 (Tazelaar, On the Threshold of Beauty, pp. 219–26).

21 Koenig studied with Fritz Krückeberg at the Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für instrumentelle Mathematik at Bonn University; see Tazelaar, On the Threshold of Beauty, p. 253.

22 See Koenig, ‘The Second Phase of Electronic Music [1965]’, ‘Complex Sounds [1965]’, and ‘Notes on the Computer in Music [1967]’. (accessed 15 July 2015).

23 See Koenig, ‘Construction of Sound [1963]’ and ‘Working with Project 1: My Experiences with Computer Composition [1990]’. (accessed 15 July 2015).

24 See Koenig, ‘My Experiences with Programmed Music [1975]’, (accessed 15 July 2015).

25 See Koenig, ‘Music and Number [1958]’. (accessed 15 July 2015).

26 See Koenig, ‘Programmed Music – From the Composer's Viewpoint [1968]’ and ‘Use of Computer Programs in Creating Music [1970]’. (accessed 15 July 2015). See also Otto Laske, ‘Composition Theory in Koenig's Project One and Project Two’, The Music Machine: Selected Readings from Computer Music Journal, ed. Curtis Roads (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1989), pp. 119–30.

27 See Koenig, ‘Composition Processes [1978]’. (accessed 15 July 2015). See also J.D. Banks, P. Berg, R. Rowe, and D. Theriault, SSP. A Bi-Parametric Approach to Sound Synthesis (Utrecht/The Hague: Institute of Sonology, 1979).

28 This thinking recalls the preoccupations of the so-called spectral composers such as Grisey, Murail and Saariaho, who in many cases had sound synthesis experiences at IRCAM. Koenig did not have a dialogue with the composers in the spectral group, however.

29 This attitude was pervasive amongst the European avant-garde; Boulez, Eimert, Ligeti, Koenig, Cage and others wrote prolifically about their own work. Journals such as Die Reihe, Darmstädter Beitrage, Gravesaner Blätter and Incontri Musicali were founded to allow composers to control communications, instead of relying on journalists, critics and musicologists.

30 See Stockhausen, Texte, vol. 1 (Cologne: DuMont Schauberg, 1963).

31 Published first in Die Reihe, 3 (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1957; English edn, Bryn Mawr, PA: Theodor Presser, 1959), 10–40.

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