Iannis Xenakis

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Iannis Xenakis in 1975.

Iannis Xenakis (Ιωάννης Ιάννης Ξενάκης) (May 29, 1922 - February 4, 2001) was a Greek composer, music theorist and architect. He is commonly recognized as one of the most important post-war avant-garde composers.[1][2] Xenakis pioneered the use of mathematical models such as applications of set theory, varied use of stochastic processes, game theory, etc., in music, and was also an important influence on the development of electronic music.

Among his most important works are Metastaseis (1953–4) for orchestra, which introduced independent parts for every musician of the orchestra; percussion works such as Psappha (1975) and Pléïades (1979); compositions that introduced spatialization by dispersing musicians among the audience, such as Terretektorh (1966); electronic works created using Xenakis' UPIC system; and the massive multimedia performances Xenakis called polytopes. Among the numerous theoretical writings he authored, the book Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (1971) is regarded as one of his most important. As an architect, Xenakis is primarily known for his early work under Le Corbusier: the Sainte Marie de La Tourette, on which the two architects collaborated, and the Philips Pavilion at Expo 58, which Xenakis designed alone.


[edit] Biography

Xenakis was born in Brăila, Romania to Clearchos Xenakis and Fotini Pavlou, and was educated as a child by a series of governesses. At the age of ten he was sent to a boarding school on the Aegean island of Spetsai, Greece and later studied architecture and engineering at the National Technical University of Athens. Xenakis participated in the Greek Resistance during World War II, and in the first phase of the Greek Civil War during the period of Churchill's martial law [3] as a member of the communist students' company of the leftwing Lord Byron faction of ELAS (Ethnikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos, Greek People's Liberation Army) ' . He received a severe face wound from a British army shell which resulted in the loss of eyesight in one eye.[4] In 1947 he fled under a false passport to Paris. In the meantime, in Greece he was sentenced in absentia to death by the right-wing administration. In Paris he worked with Le Corbusier; while his assistant, Xenakis designed the Philips Pavilion for the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels.[5] The Pavilion's hyperbolic structure was, in fact, based on the formative structure of one of his most famous pieces, Metastaseis, composed some four years earlier. The dual nature of "Metastaseis" and the Pavilion are an example of Xenakis' theory of meta-art – the concept that an artistic expression can be realized mathematically in any artistic medium.[6] Xenakis performed at many world expositions and fairs, and played annually in the Shiraz Art Festival in Iran.

Xenakis's primary teachers of composition were Aristotelis Koundouroff, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, and Olivier Messiaen.[7]. His first meeting with Honegger exemplifies his attitude toward formal instruction: asked to play one of his compositions on the piano, Xenakis was stopped promptly as Honegger pointed out parallel fifths and octaves. Xenakis had written them intentionally and refused to "correct" the piece. Honegger attempted to humiliate Xenakis, who simply left to study with Milhaud. However, he believed Milhaud's teaching also imposed restrictions he found arbitrary and inessential.[verification needed]

Meanwhile, he continued to work full-time as an architect in Le Corbusier's employ, composing only as a hobby. Xenakis was a creative architect, exploring the possibilities of new materials and shapes in construction, and was frequently entrusted with important projects that called on his technical and artistic skills. Le Corbusier, who came from a musical family (and pretended to hate music) also mentored Xenakis as a composer; he regarded Xenakis and Varèse as two of France's most innovative and promising.[verification needed]

Later, Xenakis approached Olivier Messiaen for compositional advice, expecting to have to start his musical studies again from the beginning, but was told "No, you are almost thirty, you have the good fortune of being Greek, of being an architect and having studied special mathematics. Take advantage of these things. Do them in your music." Messiaen, whose own compositional style did not follow established precedents, did not try to impose the limitations of baroque counterpoint or serialism as previous teachers had, but rather let Xenakis find his own musical ideas and guided them along. Xenakis attended Messiaen's Paris Conservatoire classes regularly, and his confidence grew along with his compositional skill; he would shortly thereafter combine the mathematical ideas he had been developing in Corbusier's studio with the musical tools he had been honing with Messiaen to produce his first major work.

Notable students include Pascal Dusapin and Robert Carl.

He was married to writer Françoise Xenakis, née Gargouïl. They had a daughter, painter and sculptor Mâkhi Xenakis.

He died in Paris in 2001.

[edit] Influence, compositional methods, architecture, theory, political protest and conceptual art

Xenakis pioneered electronic, computer music, the application of mathematics, statistics, and physics to music and music theory, and the integration of sound and architecture. He used techniques related to probability theory, stochastic processes, statistics, statistical mechanics, group theory, game theory, set theory, and other branches of mathematics and physics in his compositions. He integrated music with architecture, designing music for pre-existing spaces, and designing spaces to be integrated with specific music compositions and performances. He integrated both with political commentary. He viewed compositions as reification and formal structures of abstract ideas, not as ends, to be later incorporated into families of compositions, "a form of composition which is not the object in itself, but an idea in itself, that is to say, the beginnings of a family of compositions."[citation needed] Specific examples of mathematics, statistics, and physics applied to music composition are the use of the statistical mechanics of gasses in Pithoprakta, statistical distribution of points on a plane in Diamorphoses, minimal constraints in Achorripsis, the normal distribution in ST/10 and Atrées, Markov chains in Analogiques, game theory in Duel and Stratégie, group theory in Nomos Alpha, set theory in Herma and Eonta, and Brownian motion in N'Shima. At the Shirah Arts Festival in Persepolis, he designed Polytope as a composition specific to the historic site.[8] The following year he was commissioned by the brutal dictator, the Shah of Iran, to compose Nuits, which Xenakis dedicated to political prisoners, in protest of the Shah’s atrocities.[8]

In 1962 he published Musiques formelles, a collection of essays on his musical ideas and composition techniques. This was later revised, expanded and translated into Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition in 1971, one of the most influential works in 20th century music theory.

In 1966, Xenakis founded the "Center for Automatic and Mathematical Music" in Paris and subsequently set up a similar centre at Indiana University.

From 1975 to 1978 he was professor of music at Gresham College, London, giving free public lectures.

"By 1979, he had devised a computer system called UPIC, which could translate graphical images into musical results, wrote Andrew Hugill in 2008.[9] "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 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.[verification needed]

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.[verification needed] 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.

Composers who have acknowledged being influenced by Xenakis include Krzysztof Penderecki and Toru Takemitsu.[citation needed]

[edit] References

  1. ^ Hoffmann, Grove: "[Xenakis] belongs to the pioneering generation of composers who revolutionized 20th-century music after World War II."
  2. ^ MSN Encarta encyclopedia, “Iannis Xenakis (Ιάννης Ξενάκης) (May 29, 1922 - February 4, 2001) was a Greek composer and one of the most important modernist composers of the 20th century” [1]
  3. ^ pg 56; Winston Churchill, by Martin Gilbert, Oxford University Press, 1966
  4. ^ Barthel-Calvet A., "Chronologie", in Portrait(s) de Iannis Xenakis, p.25-82
  5. ^ Harley, James. 2004. Xenakis: his life in music. London: Taylor & Francis Books. ISBN 0-415-97145-4
  6. ^ Amagali, Rosemary Tristano. 1975. "Texture as an Organizational Factor in Selected Works of Iannis Xenakis". M.M. Thesis, Indiana University.
  7. ^ Bartgel-Calvet A., "Chronologie", in Portrait(s) de Iannis Xenakis, p.25-82
  8. ^ a b Leonardo Vol. 40, No. 1
  9. ^ Hugill, Andrew. The Digital Musician, New York: Routledge, 2008, pp. 95, 182.

[edit] Bibliography

  • Amagali, Rosemary Tristano. 1975. "Texture as an Organizational Factor in Selected Works of Iannis Xenakis". M.M. Thesis, Indiana University.
  • Baltensperger, André. 1995. Iannis Xenakis und die Stochastische Musik - Komposition im Spannungsfeld von Architektur und Mathematik. Zürich. Paul Haupt.
  • Bardot, Jean-Marc. 1999. "Cendrées de Xenakis ou l'émergence de la vocalité dans la pensée xenakienne." Undergraduate thesis (equivalent). Saint-Etienne: Université Jean Monnet.
  • Biasi, Salvatore di. 1994. Musica e matematica negli anni 50-60: Iannis Xenakis. Bologne. Università degli Studi di Bologna.
  • Harley, James. 2004. Xenakis: his life in music. London: Taylor & Francis Books. ISBN 0-415-97145-4
  • Hoffmann, Peter. "Iannis Xenakis", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 23 December 2006), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • Mâche, François-Bernard. 2002. Portrait(s) de Iannis Xenakis Seuil. ISBN 2-7177-2178-9
  • Matossian, Nouritza. 1990. Xenakis. London: Kahn and Averill. ISBN 1-871082-17-X
  • Varga, Bálint András. 1996. Conversations with Iannis Xenakis. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-17959-2
  • Xenakis, Iannis. 2001. Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (Harmonologia Series No.6). Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press. ISBN 1-57647-079-2

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

NAME Xenakis, Iannis
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Ξενάκης, Ιάννης (Greek)
SHORT DESCRIPTION Composer and architect
DATE OF BIRTH May 29, 1922
PLACE OF BIRTH Brăila, Romania
DATE OF DEATH February 4, 2001

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