29 March 2007


Sorry for the long delay. The thirteen instrument piece - Traffic - has been completed, parts are turned in and I wait in anticipation of the performance. What follows are a number of my reflections on the Xenakis I've been listening to lately. I've been unable to obtain really any of the scores for these later works.

Voyage absolu des Unari vers Andromede (1989): An electronic piece said to evoke an interstellar journey, what we end up with is a whole low of glissandi in essentially one continuous gesture. Pleasant, but not among his finer works in the medium.

Knephas (1990): A powerful choral tribute to Xenakis' friend and supporter Maurice Fleuret, the work is filled with complex choral clusters and an unremitting dissonance. Xenakis has a strange sense of counterpoint here in which chords are changed in the manuevering of individual elements within a sustained texture - we hear something similar in Tetora, I believe. Now this isn't particularly any different than Bach and it's hard to describe. The are no phrases per se, just shifting notes within a sustained harmony. Since Xenakis doesn't really change harmonies the sounding reslut is one of an almost prismatic reflection of dissonance. He also does a nice gesture in which different voices take up different notes of the melody, each holding their individual pitch. The sounding result here is one of a shifting melodic cluster - interesting.

Tuorakemsu (1990): Tribute to Takemitsu for which I was unable to obtain either a recording or score.

Kyania (1990): This a twenty minute orchestral piece that is somewhat interchangeable with a number of his other late orchestral pieces. There are a few interesting moments when various, or mostm, instruments drop out and the listener is left with a small curious melody, these are always striking moments and moreso here given the eternal saturation of the pitch space. In listening to this I was reminded of that piece of Stockhausen's whose name escapes me here - anyone? - in which instead of adding notes to a score he took a score full of notes and then subtracted some sections - the "negative space" if you wlll becomes the sounding space - that which remains. I think Xenakis' pitch use is similar. We take the entire continuum of sound and then we subtract most of it to leave a set of pitches which will be the sound of the piece. From there we saturate the space with that pitch collection. It's an aeolian harp gamut in which various parts are excited and other parts are not as different times. There becomes no harmonic motion, but there is pitch motion - like a progression of twelve-tone chords.

Gendy3 (1991): A much more interesting electronic piece, perhaps one of my favorites, though it seems it is hindered by strange synthesized sounds that sound remarkably similar to old-school synthesized instruments. The harmonic field is again relatively static and it seems like this piece could effectively be orchestrated. The harmonies are interesting and the sound is really of Xenakis - muscular. Apparently, he had quite a difficult time creating this piece. There is an article in a 1993 Perspectives that discusses with a lot of mathematical formaulas the construction of this work. It is an example of theory that attempts to recreate rather than elucidate a work, detailing the mathematical formulas that Xenakis went through to create the piece.

Troorkh (1991): Concerto for trombone and orchestra whose overall impression, to me, is one of stultyfying dullness and tepidness. There is alternation of the soloist and ensemble combined with a relaince on homophonic wind textures, the piece has none of the power and energy of his earlier works. I wonder if Xenakis was cowed by the ensemble.

Paille in the wind (1992): Unable to hear a recording - instead played it through myself on the piano. Against and alternating with cluster chords on the piano the cello demonstrates its tessitura. A short - two pages only - slow satisfying miniature that could be taken up by a pianist of moderate ability and a cellist of greater ability. We do however certainly hear the way that Xenakis uses sieves not as scales but as pitches isolated from the continuum of sound.

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