The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Next Friday night, Madison percussionist and marimba player Nathaniel Bartlett will explore the electronic music of Karlheinz Stockhausen in a concert at the Overture Center. Plus, this afternoon (Saturday, May 11) WYSO chamber musicians perform two FREE and PUBLIC concerts on the UW campus. | May 11, 2013

ALERT: This afternoon (Saturday, May 10), members of the Chamber Music Program (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform two FREE and PUBLIC  concerts at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall in the UW-Madison Humanities Building.  Sorry, no word about programs and pieces.

WYSO Chamber music

By Jacob Stockinger

Next Friday, May 17, at 6 p.m. in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center, the Multi-Channel (Surround) Electronic Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (below) will be performed by the Madison percussionist Nathaniel Bartlett.

Tickets are $16, $9 for students and seniors. Call the Overture Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or visit

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Nathaniel Bartlett – who studied and worked with Stockhausen — and the Sound-Space Audio Lab will present a performance featuring the multi-channel (surround) electronic compositions GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE (Song of the Youths, 1955-1956) and KONTAKTE (1958-1960) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007).

This concert will also include a performance of “Autumn Island” (1986) for solo marimba, by Roger Reynolds (b. 1934), performed by Nathaniel Bartlett.

For more on Nathaniel Bartlett:

For more on Roger Reynolds:

For more on Karlheinz Stockhausen:

In advance of the event, Nathaniel Bartlett (below) agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Nathaniel Bartlett BW portrait

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career?

I perform, compose, improvise, engineer, and record music with a special focus on the nuances and inner details of sound and its expression in a physically immersive listening space. My main creative avenue is my music for marimba plus three-dimensional, high-definition, computer-generated sound. I have recorded four albums (all on multi-channel, high-resolution media), and will be releasing my fifth album at my May 17 event.

I was born, in 1978, and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to studying privately with marimbist Leigh Howard Stevens, I studied at the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York), the Royal Academy of Music (London). I hold a doctoral degree in music composition from the University of Wisconsin­Madison School of Music. I currently live with my wife Lisa in Madison, where I m a postdoctoral associate at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

For more information, I invite you to visit my website:

Nathaniel Bartlett 2

What is the appeal of percussion in general and especially the marimba (below) for you?

The appeal of percussion is its huge palate of sounds, which importantly include all varieties of non-pitched sounds.

The appeal of the marimba specifically for me is harder to capture in a few words. One aspect to the marimba is its immediately impressive sonic beauty, especially when played in a nicely reverberant acoustic space.

A five-octave marimba (starting at a cello’s lowest note), like the one I use in performance, has a sonic scope and depth which allows the performer/composer to create extremely visceral, earthy and elemental sonic expressions that give the instrument the power to produce profound musical statements.

Nathaniel Bartlett marimba

What is the appeal of new music and electronic music for you, and why should audiences pay attention too it?

This question is also a difficult one to tackle succinctly, but here are some brief thoughts. New (and recent) music is the cornerstone of a healthy musical culture, and the concert music (or art music, or whatever term one uses) culture in the US right now is profoundly sick.

The organizations in our culture that seem to think so highly of themselves — orchestras, NPR “classical” stations — are essentially zombies. They are dead bodies that only appear alive to a casual observer because they are still staggering around.

The appeal of electronic musical resources is actually similar to the appeal of percussion. Through the use of electronics, I have access to a huge sonic palate, not only in terms of timbres, but whole sonic concepts, for example, the complex kinetic spatialization of sound, and the exact repetition of a musical fragment via live recording and playback.

electronic music

Tell us what you think of and would like audiences to know about Karl Stockhausen and his importance and beauty as a composer?

In short, Stockhausen (below) was a composer (1928-2007) who produced a large body of work that included pioneering endeavors with: electronically produced/manipulated sound, sound spatialization, musical structure, concert presentation, and more. He had a great deal of influence on many other composers, and part of understanding the music of today is understanding its lineage.

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Is there anything special audiences should listen for in your upcoming program of specific works by Stockhausen?

Talking about specific musical characteristics with only the text I am writing here might be a little too abstract. I will, however, talk briefly about the works at the concert before they are projected.

What I can say here is that I will encourage listeners to meditate on how old this music is (1955-1960) and what that means from both artistic and technological perspectives.

For listeners new to this music, I think my only advice would be to listen to the sounds Stockhausen (below, with pre-digital electronic equipment) created for his works, as opposed to thinking about what sounds or parameters he is not using.

This is not metric, tonal music. Listening to this kind of music through a “Mozart framework” would be like attending a Shakespeare play and remarking that it did not make sense because there was no tennis being played.

karlheinz stockhausen knobs

Is there more you would like to say or add?

Yes! Thank you very much for asking about the upcoming performance, I really appreciate it, and it has been my pleasure to answer your questions!

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