Karlheinz Stockhausen: Helicopter String Quartet – A film directed by Frank Scheffer

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Helikopter-Streichquartett is one of the most controversial and talked-about works of art in recent years. Composed for the Arditti Quartet and premiered at the 1995 Holland Festival, it involves the four members of the quartet playing in four different helicopters in flight. The music each member plays is sent to a central space and mixed at a sound board.

In his film Helicopter String Quartet, Frank Scheffer documents the complex preparations in the month leading up to the premiere of this work, eliciting insights from the composer on its conception and execution. Stockhausen tells Scheffer that the idea came to him in a dream about musicians who could fly. He subsequently produced a fascinatingly original score in which the music for each instrument is written in a different color, and in which the four string lines frequently jump from one staff to the other in imitation of birds flying in formation. Stockhausen also analyzes the content of the work for Scheffer, highlighting how the writing for the quartet merges with the sonic characteristics of the helicopters. Scheffer goes behind the scenes and, stage by stage, depicts the enormous effort behind the realization of Helikopter-Streichquartett.