Karlheinz Stockhausen 1928-2007
Helicopter String Quartet (1995)
Director: Frank Scheffer
Year: 1995
Time: 77 mins
Music: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Arditti String Qaurtet

Dedicated to all astronauts, Helicopter String Quartet was composed for a very classical formation, the string quartet, in a very unusual setting: four players in four different flying helicopters, synchronized by means of voice signals and click marks. Stockhausen once had a dream. He was at some high-class party where he didn't feel welcome, and he just wanted to fly away from there. He suddenly starts flying in the air and through the objects, performing an elegant flight that mesmerizes the tuxedo-clad party guests who had snubbed him before. This was, the composer says, the very origin of this controversial piece. And throughout this fascinating documentary we see Stockhausen joyfully narrating the many signs, premonitions and supra-rational events that lead him to compose the piece. Many ideas merge in Helicopter: the dream of flying, music as a flying object, the double goal of translating the helicopter floating pitches into a score and integrating them in the recording, or the spiritual connotation of the flight. There is an overt spiritual quest in Stockhausen's composition, but this modern mystic must come to terns with his earthly dimension and become entangled in the mundane details of material reality in order to achieve an approximate translation of his dream. We thus are presented with a sample of the painstakingly meticulous rehearsals with the Arditti String Quartet and the immense technical challenges posed by the extravagant idea of putting four musicians playing together in four different helicopters. Stockhausen's joie de vivre and childish enthusiasm is evident throughout the film. There is, however, a key moment in the film in which the composer betrays an enormous inner angst: asked, during the dress rehearsal, to compare his dream to its practical fulfillment, Stockhausen doesn't fail to notice the obvious contrast between the freedom he felt in his dream and the heavy burden of technical and practical issues that surround him and somehow keep him from enjoying the moment. A grimace of sad resignation is then briefly allowed to take over his face. This is perhaps one of the strongest points about Scheffer's film: more than a simple documentary about an unusual avantgarde performance, fascinating as it may be, it is also a narrative about a man driven by messages from the unconscious, sticking to his vision by means of premonitions and rigorous hard work, but finally recognizing the vacuity and failure inherent in his attempt to make his dream come true. -- Eye of Sound