Continuing my series on European composers and their influence on electronic music, it’s my pleasure to introduce this 2 hour special on Iannis Xenakis, one of the more complex individuals of 20th century art, which has been compiled with loving care by James Harrington and Rich Garner.
Like Stockhausen and a teacher of his, Messiaen, Xenakis’s life was profoundly affected by the Second World War. Born in 1922 and originally trained as an architect, he was part of the left-wing ELAS movement that actively resisted during the British occupation of Greece towards the end of the European conflict, suffering a serious facial injury that resulted in the loss of one eye.
Fleeing to Paris in 1947, he became an assistant to the famous Le Corbusier, and at the same time studied musical theory under Messiaen. The French composer urged him to use the mathematical theories that he had learnt in his studies as an architect and engineer in his music, the result being the overtly complex Metastaseis in 1954, which took onboard his memories of warfare, combining Einstein’s theory on time and mathematical ideas proposed by Le Corbusier. Rather than adhering to the strict linear theory of time in music, ideas of energy and matter were applied. The score for this phenomenal piece of music was more like an architectural theory drawing, but pertinently Xenakis argued that musical scores were one-dimensional, unlike architectural pieces which were 3D. The score for this piece would inspire his design for the Philips Pavilion at the World Fair in 1958, which was host to a multimedia piece that became a leitmotif throughout his career.
Although Xenakis was employed full-time by Le Corbusier, who saw great potential in him alongside Edgard Varese, it appears that his affection for composing was very much a hobby, and his influence on modern music seems all the remarkable for this. He was a pioneer with regard to computational and mathematical theory in music, and in 1979 designed UPIC, a computerised musical tool where the composer draws waveforms and envelopes on a digitised X and Y axis, allowing for real-time performance, but with a number of algorithms that could manipulate the piece in time to the user’s desire. Multimedia or Polytopes as he referred them to, would become a central aspect of Xenakis’s musical aesthetic, and it was often the case that he combined his architectural skills with them. Like most of my series, this 2 hour excerpt compiled by James and Richard is just a taster, and within you will find excerpts of a varied number of works alongside in its totality, the composition “La Legénde d’Eer”.