Magazine article Artforum International

Iannis Xenakis: DRAWING CENTER, NEW YORK

Magazine article Artforum International

Iannis Xenakis: DRAWING CENTER, NEW YORK

Article excerpt

IANNIS XENAKIS, WHO DIED IN 2001 at the age of seventy-eight, was the embodiment of Goethe's famous quote "I call architecture frozen music." Trained as a civil engineer, Xenakis went on to study composition with Olivier Messiaen, and his mature work intensified the two forms' interrelationship: He fashioned musical scores from the notations of advanced mathematics and designed buildings utilizing the geometric shapes incorporated in the scores. While Xenakis's music is scientific in construction, as Messiaen once observed "the preliminary calculations are completely forgotten at audition. ... The result in sound is a delicately poetic calm or violently brutal agitation, as the case may be." The exhibition "Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary," curated by scholar Sharon Kanach and critic Carey Lovelace, lined up Xenakis's own handwritten studies for his music (many on architectural graph paper) alongside photos of his architectural sites and audio documents, taking a significant and gratifying step toward an appreciation of Xenakis outside avant-garde classical-music circles as a singular artist who took the spatial and interdisciplinary implications of a modern concept of music--as sound moving through space--to their apex.

Xenakis was opposed to so-called graphic scores, which afford a flexibility to performers that had no place in his rigorously calculated music, and he eventually converted all of his studies into standard musical notation. So the studies displayed here are not works in and of themselves, though they are artfully done; they remain essentially blueprints, analogous to a director's story-boards for a film (albeit more exacting). Yet they prove revelatory. In the studies for his first major composition for orchestra, the forceful Metastaseis (1953-54), multiple glissandi (continuous glides from one pitch to another, a radical orchestral gesture at the time) are rendered as hyperbolic paraboloids. The final score for Metastaseis (also displayed) is realized as an army of single notes repeated from bar to bar, yet it is the graph-paper studies that more accurately transcribe the density that the piece, when performed, conveys. (An MP3 player filled with otherwise hard-to-find recordings of all the pieces was available for consultation.) One study for Pithoprakta (1955-56), an early example of Xenakis's "stochastic" music, which used probability systems to generate scores (an interesting contrast to John Cage, who used indeterminacy in the service of composition), maps out a series of sonic events using colored symbols--crosses, circles, diamonds, and triangles. Here the drawing, and further studies and calculations for the piece, better illustrates his thinking than the music does. A ca. 1964 illustration of Achorripsis (1956-57) that Xenakis made for a fellowship lecture indicates the music's construction as well as its sound, using a matrix of colored squares representing levels of instrumental density, from green or white to black or navy blue, with rows and columns assigned to instrumental groupings and fifteen-second increments, respectively. The drawing of wavy lines, generated in part from mathematical "random walks," in Cendrees (1973) not only delineates the piece's microtonality but coinci-dcntally corresponds to the walking art of Richard Long and, more recently, Tim Knowles. …

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