Iannis Xenakis: New Music Rockstar

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Iannis Xenakis was a brilliant composer who has an almost cultish following. When I was in college, mentions of the word Xenakis were often accompanied by Ozzy Ozbourne-esque fists of rock and tongue-waggling. Why would a post-war, Greek-French composer, mathematician and architect be the source of such rabid devotion?

Xenakis is one of the most unique voices in concert music. While people often sweep his output under one heading or another, the techniques of his musical language are totally different from anyone else’s. He was an architect -- as a young man, working under Le Courbusier -- and as such sketched out many of his works visually before delving into the no-nonsense world of notes. Also his notes! He was one of the first composers to assign every single member of the orchestra their own part, creating textures so complex they defy any auditory deciphering.

When I found out there was a major festival of Xenakis going on at The Drawing Center this season, I thought it’d be a perfect time to introduce one of new music’s most-adored post-war composers. This week on Hope Springs Atonal (weekdays at 1), we’ll be exploring Xenakis as both composer and major inspirational force.

Xenakis was fascinated by stochastic effects: sounds comprised of many little elements that combine to form an entirely unique soundscape; for example, although the sound of a rainstorm is made of each individual drop of rain hitting the ground, we are only aware of the total roar of precipitation. As a result, Xenakis truly pushed the boundaries of what is considered music, in really the polar opposite of the way John Cage pushed music; instead of finding music in happenstance and everyday life, Xenakis found music in form and order.

Iannis Xenakis and John Cage (Photo by James Klosty)

What are your thoughts on listening to his music -- do you find it poetic or cacophonous? Brutal or peaceful? Or are we lacking the terms to even talk about it?

Hosted by:

Nadia Sirota

Comments [8]

Monty String from Port Moresby, PNG

Boola Boola, Richard Mitnick, PNG says hello. Thanks for the info re contributing but we've all been on the books for some time now. We're sorry to hear you have no connection to QXR or NYC - maybe they have some kind of thing against hiring anybody from NJ. You're a cyclist? Me, too. Although even a mountain bike is no protection against the pythons here which are a real pest. Let's talk some more while we listen to the great stuff on QXRQ2.
Zip me a line at my e-address anytime.

Feb. 27 2010 01:49 PM

Yo, hey Monty -

Glad Q2 is being heard so far away. I like it that you seem to indicate multiple sets of ears.

Have any of you joined WQXR, to support Q2? You know, getting this done, servers, streaming, whatever, it all costs money. WQXR's parent station WNYC, used to have a joke that WNYC stood for We Need Your Cash. One of our great music people said, "Public Radio is public; but it is not free"

Anything that you folks might contribute will be greatly appreciated.

There is a pledge drive on right now, so you don't even need to look for the Contribute button on the web site. Right now, if you click on http://www.wqxr.org the first page you see will be a huge Concribute page.

I am told that you can earmark your pledge to Q2.

I have no connection to WQXR or WNYC as anything else than a (fanatic) listener.

Thanks for listening.

Feb. 26 2010 06:34 PM
Monty String from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Great job, Nadia,

Your enthusiasm for the works coupled with your musician's knowledge makes you a delight to listen to.

Xenakis is a wonderful composer. Q2 saves our lives here in the jungle. A great big thank you from a bunch of us.

Feb. 26 2010 05:11 PM

Thanks for the clarification!

Feb. 25 2010 04:20 PM
Dan Leeman from Ottawa, ON Canada

Alban Berg's Violin Concerto was written
in memory of Manon Gropious, 18 year
old daughter of Alma Mahler by her 2nd
husband, Walter Gropius. Manon was 18
years ago, not 18 months. I am enjoying
your program up here in Ottawa, ON

Feb. 25 2010 02:23 PM
c^3 from princeton, nj

fabulous selection of xenakis' metastasis! i'm a new fan to this completely different, unfamiliar category of music and so far i'm loving the adventure!

Feb. 23 2010 01:15 PM

More Nico Muhly, please -- maybe he could be the focus of a week, as Caleb Burhans was recently? Great to hear his Clear Music opening the show today, such a luminous sound.

Feb. 23 2010 12:14 PM

Efharisto, Nadia!
And John Adams' Harmonium, fantastic anytime, anywhere.
Request: Is there a way the Q2 site could display the lyrics of vocal/choral pieces as it does the playlist? It would be such a help to have texts handy, so we don't have to go Web-diving to find the ones we've mislaid, the lines we've forgotten, the libretti we've never found, you know?
Great show, as ever, thanks!

Feb. 22 2010 01:44 PM

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