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The passing of the years. And the end of time. New Year's Eve on The Sound Barrier!

The Sound Barrier for Sunday 31 December 2017

My gorging of The Sound Barrier with the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, following the four-week famine during my absence, will have the second of its two weeks this weekend, as the show sees out the final hours of 2017. And again my theme will be the passing of time, and then ultimately its end.

Last week, we listened to how time passes through the durations of sound. This week we will hear it passing through the courses of the years. DER JAHRESLAUF (THE COURSE OF THE YEARS) was composed in 1977 as a theatre piece that eventually found its way, slightly elaborated, into the opera cycle LICHT, as the First Act of the DIENSTAG (TUESDAY), but this weekend I will be bringing you the initial version of the piece in its very rarely-heard original orchestration for Japanese gagaku orchestra.

DER JAHRESLAUF tells the story of the of the passage of time, of attempts to stop it, and of its relentless determination to continue. It is almost always heard in its subsequent orchestration for Western instruments, or in its later version as part of LICHT, but the gagaku version was revived in Tokyo in 2014 and this is the version I will be bringing you on Sunday night. The sounds of the traditional Japanese instruments, weaving their way through the passage of years, decades, centuries, and millennia, as the piece plays out in four different time-scales, wedding the traditional with the new, seems to somehow capture what the passage of time is all about. It is a work that Stockhausen associated with the beginning of a new year, and so it seemed the perfect piece to kick off Sunday night's show.

In the second half of the show I will be bringing another rarely-heard work of Stockhausen, or at least one that is rarely heard on its own. UNSICHTBARE CHÖRE (INVISIBLE CHOIRS) is a huge octophonic work for recorded choirs, projected around the auditorium during the first and third acts of the Thursday instalment of the LICHT opera cycle, but it can also be played separately. Its astonishing polyphonies and harmonies, and the extended vocal techniques of the choirs, with clicks and whistles and whispers, seem to replicate the sounds of the cosmos itself.

The texts, sung in both Hebrew and German, draw on a range of non-canonical spiritual sources, including The Apocalypse of Baruch, which tells of the end of time. But its message is not one of Armageddon, but of transformation, where hope emerges from horror. It's a brilliant work in every sense, celebrating the endlessness of the end of time in an explosion of sound and colour.

Whatever 2017 has been for you, and whatever you are hoping 2018 will be, I hope you are able to mark the passage of the one to the other by tuning in, or logging on, to PBS this Sunday night at 10 PM (AEDT) where I will be farewelling one year and welcoming another with the music of the man who really knew how to compose time.

As always, the show is available both on radio and online, so you can listen live anywhere in the world, as well as listen back to the audio archive, via the PBS website, afterwards.

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