number of works of electronic music produced by Iannis Xenakis represents
only a slight percentage of his overall output (roughly one-ninth including
mixed-media works coupling live instruments with tape). Nevertheless,
their historical importance in this relatively new realm of music remains
uncontested, They can be catalogued into four groups, each corresponding
as well to a spedfic period: those composed in the Paris GRM (Groupe de
Recherches Musicales) studio (1957 - 5962); works intended for multi-media
productions, namely the famous Polytopes (1969 - 1977); pieces conceived
and composed with the help of UPIC 1 (1978 -1989); and finally, compositions
based on the computer program GENDYN (since 1991). This CD includes the
main works from the first period, one from the second period, and one
from the last.
1954. when Xenakis first entered the GRM studIo, it was run by Pierre
Schaeffer, the inventor of the expression musique concrete.
There, he composed Diamorphoses (1957), Concret PH (1958), the tape of
Analogique (Analogique B, 1959), Orient-Occident (1960), and Bohor (1962).
These first electronic works were in phase with his instrumental works
from the same period - except for,perhaps, Orient-Occident - and this
is why they can be radically distinguished from the electronic works composed
during the same period by his contemporaries who also worked In the GRM
studio (Schaeffer himself, Pierre Henry, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen...).
In the same manner,X enakis first instrumental music immediately
distinguished itself from the ambient serialism of the then musical avant-garde.
provided an opportunity for Olivier Messiaen to render tribute to his
former student: The preliminary calculations of these huge spider-webs
are transformed into a musical delight of the utmost poetic nature.
(2) Messiaen was certaintly thinking of the passage of glissandi between
6:oo and 6:16, but in essence, his comment could be applied to the entire
piece. Diamorphoses is, in fact, based on a specific formal preoccupation:
a sort of study of white noise and its graduations through the process
of densification. (3) However, the musical result is far from the genre
of an etude due perhaps to its ternary form - not unlike many
of Xenakis instrumental works - which gives a certain dramatic
effect. In another connection, the listener can easily distinguish the
origins of certain sound sources used: earthquakes, a plane taking off,
World Fair took place in Brussels in 1958. At the time. Xenakis was working
as an engineer and architect for Le Corbusier, and conceived the extremely
original Philips Pavilion for the event. Concret PH (PH for
the Hyperbolic Paraboloids which characterize the Pavilions architecture)
was played between two performances of Vareses Poeme Electronique.
Both works were performed via 400 speakers inside of the structure. This
very short work is a sound continuum without a single break. Xenakis pre-recorded
crackling embers from which he extracted very brief (one second) sound
elements. Then he assembled them in huge quantities, varying their density
each time. This work can be compared to his instrumental preoccupations
concerning "clouds of sound" during the same period.
of the first histories of electronic music ever written (4) already refers
to Orient-Occident as a major masterpiece for tape. And it is worth pointing
out that it happens to be one of Xenakis "easier works"
probably due to the narrative project behind its composition. Orient-Occident
was conceived as a music for a film by Enrico Fulchignoni commissioned
by UNESCO. It traces The films development which relates the passage
from one civilization to another from prehistoric times to Alexander the
Great. Although it is certain that Xenakis did not compose an illustrative
music, some of his chosen sonorities are quite suggestive. For example,
the highly reverberated atmosphere toward the end (beginning at 8:oo)
seems to evoke the later civilizations of Antiquity marked by a special
is dedicated to Pierre Schaeffer who, however, didnt appreciate
it at all. Bohor was in the worst case (I do mean, best) the wood
fires of his beginnings. No longer were we dealing with the crackling
of small embers (Concret PH), but with a huge firecracker, an offensive
accumulation of whacks of a scalpel in your ears at the highest level
on the potentiometer.(5) he declared with his usual sense of humor
... It is true that Xenakis Fauvism here achieves new
limits that only a few later instrumental works such as Persephassa dare
to surpass: an extraordinary and deafening sound continuum where the listener
is invited, in a figurative sense, to hear bells chime while standing
inside them! Will we ever know how Bohor, which follows no formal principle
ever elucidated by Xenakis himself nor his critics, was composed?
the end of the 1960s, Xenakis attempted a synthesis of the arts; the result:
his fomous 'polytopes'. Since these implied repeated performances, it
was only natural that the sound source be on tape. However, Hibiki-Hana-Ma
is based solely on instrumental sounds. Xenakis recorded and reworked
sequesces played by an orchestra, a 'biwa', and a snare drum but never
rendered them unrecognizable. Distributed over 12 tracks (and later reduced
to 8), the works sonorities were elaborated in function of a highly
pronounced spatialisation. The title of this piece, which was written
For the Osaka World Fair in 1970, means reverberation - flower -interval.
GENDYN program, which Xenakis began working on in 1991 at CEMAMu completes
the project he began in his instrumental works of the 1950s: how to create
a black box which could realise an entire musical work on
the basis of a few givens (of course, the composer is able to intervene
and eliminate any chosen sequence). Generally speaking,the computer generates
both the sound synthesis and the composition process itself without any
breach between the two levels. Xenakis here manages to unify micro- and
macrocomposition. The program consists of an algorithm which explores
stochastic timbre more thoroughly than ever before, resulting in a waveform
which then evolves constantly through the introduction of polygonal
variations with the help of probability procedures. This is what
Xenakis calls the process of dynamic stochastic synthesis
(6) To date Xenakis has realised two works with this program: Gendy 3
(1991) and S.709 (1994. S.709 was premiered in Paris in December 1994
and is a marvelaus illustration of the GENDYN programs capacities.
Both the sounds produced in the piece as well as the global evolu-tion
of the composition are literally unheard of: despite the abstract nature
of the processes involved and their mechanical nature, the Xenakis sound
world is immediately recognizable!
The UPIC is the musical drawing board developed by Xenakis
and his team at the CEMAMu reseaich center in Paris, beginning in 1975.
(2) Olivier Messiaen, Preface, in Revue Musicale no 244 1959,
(3) Cf. Nouritza Matossian, Iannis Xenakis. Paris, Fayard 1981, p.148
and Baunt A. Varga, Conversations with Iannis Xenakis. London, Faber and
Faber Ltd. p.110
(4) Herbert Ruscol,The Liberation of Sound: An Introduction to Electronic
Music, U.S.A. Prentice Hall, 1972, p.235
(5) Pierre Schaeffer, "Chroniques xenakiennes", in Regards sur
Iannis Xenakis, Paris, Stock, 1981 p.85
(6) For a further description of "dynamic stochastic synthesis",
cf. Iannis Xenakis, Formalised Music, 1992 edition with new texts compiled
and edited by Sharon Kanach, Pendragon Press, pp. 289-293
translated by Sharon Kanach