Course Report Intuitive Music and More

Markus Stockhausen’s International Academy
A report by Stephanie Lepp, April 2011

It is not easy to give a short answer to the question “What is ‘Intuitive Music and More’?”. Ideally, one has to experience it oneself. In the following text, I try to describe my experiences at several courses given by Markus Stockhausen since ca. 2007, at various places in Germany and abroad.

Playing music really freely, without a fixed style, has always fascinated me, and this is exactly what happens here. Everyone’s musical ability and knowledge is immediately contributed and creatively expanded in very different ways. One travels through “sound-worlds”: tonal, atonal, abstract or melodic etc. – sometimes as a soloist, sometimes in the background in a team with very different musicians. Reacting to the new, unexpected situations which continually arise demands full concentration. Musical communication with the other musicians is both a duty and a pleasure. This way of making music is, for me, an expression of myself – each note comes from me and is part of both me and the ensemble. Apart from that, one’s listening is sensitized and the feeling for notes and atmospheres to come is intensively trained. Living intuition! A continuous challenge. While aware of my own possibilities and limits, I can’t forget what is going on visually and aurally around me. This often means suppressing one’s ego, and simply being “in the moment”, here and now, with the common aim: What is this emerging music trying to do?

Special aural training exercises at one’s instrument are an important part of the courses. With these, one gradually develops a feeling for each note, each interval and scale, and thus a conciousness of the deeper meaning of each of the notes. For example:

  • Playing, recognizing and playing back intervals, triad inversions and many different scales (e.g. Church modes, whole-tone scales, scales with eight notes) etc. in many tonalities.
  • Playing back pitches, first within a range of a fifth, then in an octave range (all twelve semitone steps) – the pitches should be played back intuitively, as soon as possible.
  • Two players improvise intervals. They take turns in changing just one pitch – a third participant names the pitches.
  • The group slowly plays back intervals, holding each note for a long time. Each note serves as a root pitch for a further musician, who improvises above it in a particular scale (e.g. doric). The root pitch is changed as soon as the improviser feels “secure”.
  • Playing back various patterns within a particular scale.
  • Tonal improvisation in a particular scale.
  • Duo: Start in a given scale, then each player in turn changes a pitch, to which the other must react. Ever new scales develop, through which one “wanders”.

Ears and perception are trained so that in tonal group improvisations one understands how the pitches are changing, which new pitches are being added, knows which scale is current, where one can or could go, etc.
According to Markus Stockhausen’s philosophy, one’s attention should ideally be directed half towards oneself and half towards the other musicians. Continuous attention is a prerequisite. Music becomes “like a sculpture on which several sculptors are working simultaneously”.
Freedom, in intuitive music making, means that each player always acts on his own responsibility, and decides what he plays or not. Questions arise, such as “Which pitch comes next?”, “Shall I keep playing, or is there a danger that something beautiful will be destroyed?”, “Shall I go in another direction, and give a new impulse?”, “Should I stop playing?”, “Has a new scale just appeared?”, “Should I support this direction, or shall I change the flow, and if so, how?” etc.
So there is a lot to take account of, including especially my own concience: I should really only play when I have something to say. Gradually I notice that certain notes I play are stereotypes, and some things are just pre-programmed. Consciously breaking such ingrained habits requires creativity – a chance to try out something new, and to widen one’s own limits.

Improvisation takes place using very different combinations of instruments – often completely free or in connection with particular assignments such as the following:

  • Motivic: around a particular motive. Change it, expand it, reverse it etc. Ii is important to build up communication, and take account of how the others are thinking.
  • Free group improvisation with a limitation: For example, no more than three players should play at the same time (consciously begin, consciously stop playing)
  • Rhythmic variations: build in e.g. syncopations, triplets, quintuplets etc. – create an arch-form using rhythmic means.
  • Improvisation in serial style: all twelve pitches are equally valid and should, if possible, happen equally often.
  • Several free, contrasting improvisations in sequence.
  • Solo: modulate – mixture of tonal and atonal fields, “walk” through different tonalities, “change colours, like a chameleon”, be hard to pin down.
  • Duo: How does the energy flow? Support the others, give impulses – give the partner space – keep to a predefined form.
  • “Minimal Music”: nesting / overlapping of short motives which gradually enter the musical flow.
    Silence in the right place = music.
  • Improvisation with timbres: “like an abstract painting” – effects, wind noises, percussive performance etc. Always remain sensitive, maintain the beauty.
  • “Fly” and “land” within a chord-scheme: – free oneself of it, and on an emphasized beat “land” on a chord-pitch again.

This list could be much longer.
It is fascinating to observe how musicians of different standards can develop something consistent of their own. Each of the participants experiences a progressive and collective development during the course. And this is the means by which the necessary group dynamic arises – the prerequisite for intuitive improvisation.

The positive way in which Markus Stockhausen approaches each and every participant is inspiring. He even teaches musicians who have no experience with improvisation, who may come with fear and inhibitions, and succeeds in “picking them up” where they currently happen to be.
Every time, it is also extremely enriching to be able to participate in additional yoga, concentration and meditation exercises. The term “… and More” takes on a new quality. Together with “Intuitive Music…”, this produces an innovative, holistic experience.
It is also exciting when “Intuitive Music, Dance and More” is on the program. Movement adds a further component and source of inspiration: Musicians react to dancers, and vice versa — an interactive “performance” or “Gesamtkunstwerk” is created.
And to round off each course, there is usually a public concert.
As I travelled to my first course, in Bogliasco, I didn’t know how much it would influence and change the way I play and think about music… Intuitive music has become the liberating way in which I live music. I have, since then, found a much closer and deeper relationship to my instrument, and developed a fundamentally relaxed attitude to playing.?At last I sense the space for creativity and the unexpected… I’m often surprised by the other musicians’ ideas — and sometimes by myself too. Moments even happen in which I forget myself, and simply become part of the whole. The indescribable feeling of simply “being music” is a common experience here. That means an expression of life. Life in and through music. Each participant contributes not only notes, but his character, his fantasy and his whole being.
Stephanie Lepp, April 2011; Translation by James Ingram

still – empty
a white page
sound is created out of nothing
fades again
new every time – surprising
every moment unique – never comes back the same
beauty in transience