Enter in Xenakis’ universe

For more than a generation of today’s musician, the knowledge and the use of contemporary instrument-making deriving from scientific progresses of the 20th century goes without saying, and these musicians benefit from its unprecedented accessibility. If one has always thought highly, and rightly so, of the invention of the piano towards the end of the 18th century, considered as the outcome of a science which implemented a mechanic enabling a revolution in sound production, we realize that the same holds true for the computer in the 20th century. And, like the piano, the computer has a history which consists of repeated trials and errors in order to attain the greatest technical and expressive available possibilities.

Visiting the exhibition « Iannis Xenakis : Composer, Architect, Visionary » which the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presents until October 17th, one enters at the heart of this recent history, with as a guide a character embodying heterodoxy by a creativity and inventiveness unheard of in the context of the birth itself of the computer and of its musical possibilities. With the possible exceptions of Varèse, with whom he shared the acoustic space of the Philips pavilion at the Brussels universal exhibition in 1958, and Jean-Claude Risset, Xenakis was probably the only composer at that time that could understand and anticipate with so much foresight the promises of audio-numerical technology, from both a technical, as well as a musical and artistic, standpoint. One quickly notes that all the computer tools with which we are used to work and compose sound nowadays, and that will become as “natural” as the piano for future generations of musicians, take root in his work. We could therefore add to the nomenclature of all this titles that of the inventor and instrument maker [1].

The CCA unequivocally demonstrates this by presenting a very large corpus of drawings and sketches that bear witness to the development of a network between acoustics and optic, natural consequences of an approach particularly attuned to the fundamental problem of a corollary definition of space and time. Because this is primarily what it’s about: converting the “thinked space” into sounds to create a new space related to time. One single space then that can express itself within an immobile area as well as in chronometric space. The emblematic coupling “Philips Pavillion – Metastasis” thus remains the perfect example of a symbolic embodiment of Xenakis’ philosophy of time and space. And this coupling bear links to the computer’s main postulate, which is to represent information, whatever its nature, from a single language so that it can then be processed in different ways.

If this concept of time and space is not exactly new, it is invested in Xenakis with new forms which chart the characteristics of a territory whose frontiers seem to be moved by a perpetually expanding force. Progress, research, discoveries, reversal of preconceived or acquired ideas, genuine de-territorialisation of an object to seize it and interpret it differently. While Boulez and Stockhausen strive to carry out the sacred links between their practices with that of tradition, Xenakis charts an orphan trajectory that takes refuge in the methodological precepts of scientific research. Xenakis is haunted by the science of his era and by the great upheavals it undergoes as if he relived those he himself experienced in his youth. It is thus natural that science should also be the vehicle of his expressivity.

Those who conceived the exhibition presented by the CCA had the foresight to offer to the viewers the opportunity to listen to Xenakis’ music while glancing at his visual artworks. The contrast is stunning. The charm of the drawings sometimes with a touch of colours and which forcefully testify to the great cycles hidden from the physical world through the prism of mathematical models, relentlessly collide with a music that, as a strange beauty, affords the real world a sort of unsuspected liberty. And yet, the alloy “art and science” with Xenakis becomes possible when the proximity of this relation between two worlds transforms itself into an oscillation forever repeated, “letting heard,” at different frequencies, their inherent antinomies as well as the inalienable necessity of their coexistence. Perceived that way, the exhibition hosted at the CCA appears as a great score made of these intertwined oscillations, whose form unveils the passage of a being into a world which he himself invents from scratch.

Julien Bilodeau, August 28th, 2010.

The author of this text has also commented the exhibition « Iannis Xenakis : composer, architect, visionary » presented by the Canadian Center for Architecture for the Espace Musique blog. Audio excerpt are available online from the following link: Entrez dans l’univers de Xenakis.

On the agenda concerning this event:

September 2nd : Sixtrum : « de rythme et de timbre », 7PM, Paul Desmarais theatre of the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

October 1, 2010: series of conferences on Xenakis, organized by CIRMMT, from 8:30AM to 6PM, Schulich School of Music of McGill University.

October 6th, 2010: concert in homage to Xenakis with the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, 8PM, Claude Champagne concert hall.

Dates TBA: two concerts in homage to Xenakis presented by the Transmission ensemble, at the CCA.

[1] In reference in particular to the UPIC machine which Xenakis developed in the workshops of the CEMAMu (Centre d’Études de Mathématique et Automatique Musicales) in 1977.
For more than a generation of today’s musician, the knowledge and the use of contemporary instrument-making deriving from scientific progresses of the 20th century goes without saying, and these musicians benefit from its unprecedented accessibility. If one has always thought highly, and rightly so, of the invention of the piano towards the end of the 18th century, considered as the outcome of a science which implemented a mechanic enabling a revolution in sound production, we realize that the same holds true for the computer in the 20th century. And, like the piano, the computer has a history which consists of repeated trials and errors in order to attain the greatest technical and expressive available possibilities.

Visiting the exhibition « Iannis Xenakis : Composer, Architect, Visionary » which the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presents until October 17th, one enters at the heart of this recent history, with as a guide a character embodying heterodoxy by a creativity and inventiveness unheard of in the context of the birth itself of the computer and of its musical possibilities. With the possible exceptions of Varèse, with whom he shared the acoustic space of the Philips pavilion at the Brussels universal exhibition in 1958, and Jean-Claude Risset, Xenakis was probably the only composer at that time that could understand and anticipate with so much foresight the promises of audio-numerical technology, from both a technical, as well as a musical and artistic, standpoint. One quickly notes that all the computer tools with which we are used to work and compose sound nowadays, and that will become as “natural” as the piano for future generations of musicians, take root in his work. We could therefore add to the nomenclature of all this titles that of the inventor and instrument maker [1].

The CCA unequivocally demonstrates this by presenting a very large corpus of drawings and sketches that bear witness to the development of a network between acoustics and optic, natural consequences of an approach particularly attuned to the fundamental problem of a corollary definition of space and time. Because this is primarily what it’s about: converting the “thinked space” into sounds to create a new space related to time. One single space then that can express itself within an immobile area as well as in chronometric space. The emblematic coupling “Philips Pavillion – Metastasis” thus remains the perfect example of a symbolic embodiment of Xenakis’ philosophy of time and space. And this coupling bear links to the computer’s main postulate, which is to represent information, whatever its nature, from a single language so that it can then be processed in different ways.

If this concept of time and space is not exactly new, it is invested in Xenakis with new forms which chart the characteristics of a territory whose frontiers seem to be moved by a perpetually expanding force. Progress, research, discoveries, reversal of preconceived or acquired ideas, genuine de-territorialisation of an object to seize it and interpret it differently. While Boulez and Stockhausen strive to carry out the sacred links between their practices with that of tradition, Xenakis charts an orphan trajectory that takes refuge in the methodological precepts of scientific research. Xenakis is haunted by the science of his era and by the great upheavals it undergoes as if he relived those he himself experienced in his youth. It is thus natural that science should also be the vehicle of his expressivity.

Those who conceived the exhibition presented by the CCA had the foresight to offer to the viewers the opportunity to listen to Xenakis’ music while glancing at his visual artworks. The contrast is stunning. The charm of the drawings sometimes with a touch of colours and which forcefully testify to the great cycles hidden from the physical world through the prism of mathematical models, relentlessly collide with a music that, as a strange beauty, affords the real world a sort of unsuspected liberty. And yet, the alloy “art and science” with Xenakis becomes possible when the proximity of this relation between two worlds transforms itself into an oscillation forever repeated, “letting heard,” at different frequencies, their inherent antinomies as well as the inalienable necessity of their coexistence. Perceived that way, the exhibition hosted at the CCA appears as a great score made of these intertwined oscillations, whose form unveils the passage of a being into a world which he himself invents from scratch.

Julien Bilodeau, August 28th, 2010.

The author of this text has also commented the exhibition « Iannis Xenakis : composer, architect, visionary » presented by the Canadian Center for Architecture for the Espace Musique blog. Audio excerpt are available online from the following link: Entrez dans l’univers de Xenakis.

On the agenda concerning this event:

September 2nd : Sixtrum : « de rythme et de timbre », 7PM, Paul Desmarais theatre of the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

October 1, 2010: series of conferences on Xenakis, organized by CIRMMT, from 8:30AM to 6PM, Schulich School of Music of McGill University.

October 6th, 2010: concert in homage to Xenakis with the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, 8PM, Claude Champagne concert hall.

Dates TBA: two concerts in homage to Xenakis presented by the Transmission ensemble, at the CCA.

[1] In reference in particular to the UPIC machine which Xenakis developed in the workshops of the CEMAMu (Centre d’Études de Mathématique et Automatique Musicales) in 1977.

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