Vol. 34 Issue 4 Reviews

Ralph Paland  and Christoph von Blumröder, eds.:  Iannis Xenakis: Das elektroakustiche Werk

Hardcover, 2009, ISBN 978-3-85450-414-6, 260 pages, illustrated, index, US$ 129.95; available from Verlag der Apfel, Schottenfeldgasse 24/13, A-1070 Vienna, Austria;
telephone (+43) 1-52-661-52; fax: (+43) 1-52-287-18; electronic mail office@verlagderapfel.at; Web www.verlagderapfel.at/.

Reviewed by James Harley
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Book CoverDuring 11-14 October 2006, Ralph Paland and Christoph von Blumröder organized an international symposium on Iannis Xenakis: The Electroacoustic Works. This event was held at the Musikwissenschaftliches Institut at the University of Cologne and featured an international roster of researchers and a number of concerts presenting the complete set of electroacoustic works by Xenakis (see review in CMJ 31:3, p. 82). The organizers of the symposium have carried on their work to edit this volume of papers for the benefit of all those unable to attend the event.

Iannis Xenakis: Das elektroakustische Werk is the 14th volume of a series of books titled Signale aus Köln: Beiträge zur Musik der Zeit, for the most part edited, or co-edited, by Christoph von Blumröder, who is a musicologist based at the University of Cologne. This particular volume comprises articles in both German and English, about evenly weighted (the articles are presented either in one language or the other). While this may pose a bit of a barrier for English-language readers not counting German as one of their reading languages, it presumably poses less of a barrier for readers in Germany, who are much more likely to read English in addition to their native tongue (and perhaps others). Article summaries or abstracts in the other language may have helped monolingual readers, but this would have no doubt added considerably to the page count and the editorial and production costs. That aside, the book is carefully edited and handsomely produced. There are abundant references and notes in each article, figures are clearly reproduced, and the index is useful.

The articles are grouped into eight sections, each containing two or more articles. The introductory section, with remarks by the editors, to some extent set the context for the volume (and symposium). Christoph von Blumröder’s “Iannis Xenakis 2006” provides a fairly broad, historical view of Xenakis’s thought and work, particularly his electroacoustic compositions and related writings. Ralph Paland’s “Diamorphoses / S.709” is in essence an introductory note for a concert presentation of these two works by Xenakis (they were performed for the opening of the symposium). The final section of writings collects several more such concert notes on the different electroacoustic works of Xenakis. These were written by Jochen Graf, Gerardo Scheige, and Michael Stark, and were intended to provide introductions to the four concerts of these works held over the course of the symposium in Cologne. All these notes are quite substantial in content, and will help readers become familiar with these works even without attending concert presentations of them (they are all available on recording, in some cases in stereo mixdowns of the multi-channel originals).

The second section, “Das elektroakustische Oeuvre im Überblickt,” contains two articles giving overviews of Xenakis’s work in the electroacoustic domain, the article by Daniel Teruggi focusing specifically on Xenakis’s association with the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM). “Continuities and Changes in the Electroacoustic Music of Iannis Xenakis” by James Harley discusses all the works, including computer-generated compositions.

“Philosophische und kompositionstechnische Prämissen” contains four articles exploring both philosophical and technical issues. Gerard Pape discusses Xenakis’s conception of time, most usefully explaining “out of time” structures in his music. In “Formalisierte Kompositionsweisen in der frühen elektroakustischen Musik,” Martha Brech examines the formal thinking around the composition of Xenakis’s early works, notably Diamorphoses and Concret-PH. Her article contains a number of useful sonograms of this music that support her analyses. Jan Simon Grintsch, in his “Random Control: Xenakis and early mainframe computers,” focuses on the early computer work Xenakis carried out, particularly leading to his ST algorithmic compositions, dating from 1962. Mr. Grintsch is particular interested in studying the influence that the technology and programming languages of the time had on the composer’s thinking. Finally, Agostino di Scipio discusses “The notion of synthesis in Xenakis’s music.” In this study, the author groups the various manifestations of synthetic sound in Xenakis’s electroacoustic music into five categories: 1) granular synthesis (analog); 2) direct stochastic synthesis; 3) hardware synthesizer (analog); 4) table look-up synthesis with graphical input; and 5) dynamic stochastic synthesis. Mr. Di Scipio in particular outlines Xenakis’s critique of the Fourier theorem, and his search for alternative methods of synthesis.

The fourth section focuses on intermedial relationships in Xenakis’s music. In “From hand to ear (or seeing is hearing): Visualization of Xenakis’s creative process: methods and results,” Sharon Kanach introduces the readers to Xenakis’s rich archives, including numerous drawings, sketches, and notes. These provide insight into the creative processes of this unique figure. Ralph Paland offers a more detailed, technical discussion of intermedial relationships and influences in his article “Rhetorik der Abstraktion: Intermediale Evidenzverfahren in Iannis Xenakis’ elektroakustischer Musik.” He pays particular attention to La légende d’Er, as this work was produced in Cologne as a multi-channel electroacoustic work eventually intended for incorporation into Le Diatope, a multimedia architectural installation. Finally, Makis Solomos analyzes Xenakis’s Orient-Occident, a work originally created as a soundtrack for a film. Mr. Solomos in particular studies the differences and similarlies between the original soundtrack and the shorter concert version of the work (much better known through recordings), while also setting the music into the context of the film itself. (During the symposium, the film was shown, for many the first time it had been viewed.)

The fifth section focuses on “Musikalische Analyse,” with three articles examining individual works. Rudolf Frisius uses an examination of Diamorphoses to discuss the problems of electroacoustic analysis, providing numerous sonograms to exemplify his points. Tobias Hünermann analyzes Bohor, in particular studying the composer’s strategies for spatialization in this eight-channel work. His analysis is greatly aided by access to archival materials and to the individual tracks. Peter Hoffmann provides an exegisis of GENDY3, Xenakis’s algorithmic digital synthesis work from 1991. Mr. Hoffmann has created his own version of the algorithm in order to study the work in greater detail, and his presentation is thereby uniquely insightful.
The sixth section, “Diskurse—Rezeptionen,” looks at Xenakis within the wider context of modern music and aesthetics. Frank Hentschel offers a philosophical discourse on Xenakis’s place in history in his article “Xenakis und die Diskurse von Hochkultur und Neuer Musik.” Wolfgang Gratzer ranges even wider in his article, “Komposition und Werkkommentar: Xenakis und die Geschichte der Eigeninterpretation.” His discussion explores issues of commentary and the relationships between the composer and the composer’s own discussion of his work, along with the commentaries of others. The focus is not on Xenakis’s electroacoustic music as such, but the article helps to set the composer’s perceived and desired intentions into a historical context. Friedrich Geiger looks specifically at the critical reception of Xenakis’s electroacoustic work, drawing on a range of international references to support the discussion.

The seventh section, “Hörweisen—Lesarten—Horizonte,” contains two articles that look at perceptual aspects of Xenakis’s work. The article by Roman Brotbeck, “Xenakis hören,” discusses specific aspects of his music such as the glissando, as a way of theorizing an approach to listening. He draws on La légende d’Er specifically, tying the music to the texts that the composer selected to go with this music. Simon Emmerson, in “Noise, flux, process: metaphor and transcription in the electroacoustic compositions of Iannis Xenakis,” develops a framework for Xenakis’s sonification of noise as models for natural processes of various types. He then goes on to test this framework by evaluating the remixes by various artists of Persepolis presented on an Asphodel release (ASP 2005).

Altogether, this is a fine collection of articles on a specific subject. German-English readers will find much of interest, and researchers looking into the electroacoustic music of Iannis Xenakis will find a wealth of good work and numerous references to pursue.