Tommaso Nervegna :: Iannis Xenakis, Notre Dame du Haut

Iannis Xenakis (Ιωάννης Ιάννης Ξενάκης) (May 29, 1922 – February 4, 2001) was a Greek modernist composer, musical theoretician and architect. He is regarded as an important and influential composer of the twentieth century. His music theory book Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition is regarded as a very important, if esoteric, work of 20th century music theory.

“By 1979, he had devised a computer system called UPIC, which could translate graphical images into musical results”, wrote Andrew Hugill in 2008. “Xenakis had originally trained as an architect, so some of his drawings, which he called ‘arborescences’, resembled both organic forms and architectural structures.” These drawings’ various curves and lines that could be interpreted by UPIC as real time instructions for the sound synthesis process. The drawing is, thus, rendered into a composition. Mycenae-Alpha was the first of these pieces he created using UPIC as it was being perfected. In 1982 Xenakis developed his Music Timbre and Cadence Scale which is used quantifying musical styles in modern music.

In conversation, Iannis Xenakis frequently distanced himself from being seen in too strict terms – like many other composers for whom method and structure were the easiest aspects of music to discuss verbally, he sees the role of such things as relative. One way to envisage this approach is that the method constitutes a thematic germ, a starting-point, and from there the normal musico-aesthetics, personal obsessions and practical considerations play their normal role in finishing and shaping the piece. Indeed from the 1970s onwards Xenakis’ use of this method became deeply assimilated into his general musical thinking and he reports in interviews from that time that the strict application of statistical processes was no longer necessary to produce the results he was looking for.

Xenakis appeared easily bored in interviews when people attempted to take an overly simplistic view of him as ‘complex’ – the various clichés surrounding him appeared to greatly annoy him in interview and he would frequently make recourse to the wider aesthetics of music in general and the other arts, in order to contextualise his contributions to music making. In a sense his early statements about “looking at music statistically” were a response to what he saw as the mistake of placing too much emphasis on the likely benefits of applying methodology too rigorously. It is also important to note, however, that this does not constitute any true dichotomy between Xenakis and his peers – the application of single-minded rigour to composition in post-war music was relative and momentary, and as with his own work, the poetic and aesthetic significance of the gesture as a modern equivalent to programme-music, as well as the vital role played by musicality and music-editing/shaping has been widely undervalued in favour of simplistic characterisations of such music as purely intellectual.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Official website: Iannis Xenakis

2 Responses to “Tommaso Nervegna :: Iannis Xenakis, Notre Dame du Haut”

  1. February 25, 2011 at 17:30

    Undoubtedly one of the masters of the twentieth century.

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