New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
One of the most original and radical composers of the 20th century, who pioneered the use computers and mathematical formulas for the creation of music which many times shocked the music world, Iannis Xenakis was an epic personality. Greek resistance fighter who lost an eye for his cause and had been condemned to death, civil engineer, mathematician, and architect who began as Le Corbusier’s protégé, Xenakis transformed the musical landscape by creating his own musical language to shape the world of sound.
“His string quartets are like rediscovering music from the beginning, says violinist Dimitris Chandrakis, who has performed Xenakis at the Onassis Cultural Center, “It’s like discovering how to put notes together”.
Xenakis, born of Greek parents in Romania in 1922, died in 2001, but his music, an amalgam of the work of ancient Greek theorists, Byzantine chant, folk music — when he began composing his goal was to elevate Greek folk culture — and pockets of Western music, above all Bach, easily belongs in the 21st century, having had great influence on young composers. “Xenakis lived into the third millennium where his music really belongs,” said his biographer and friend, Nour Matossian, at his funeral in Paris.
Xenakis articulated the concept that art and science are unified by using statistical and chaos theories to construct music, but behind his calculations and theories, it has been said, Xenakis was an instinctive and even lyrical, composer.
The lyrical side of Xenakis, who was steeped in the philosophy and poetry of ancient Greece and once said, “I am a classical Greek living in the twentieth century”), is poignantly alive in his pre-compositional sketches, graphic notations, architectural plans, and preparatory mathematical renderings in the exhibition, Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary, at the Drawing Center in Manhattan through April 8, 2010.
The first showing in the U.S. of Xenakis’s papers, Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary, presents an inside view of Xenakis’s sensitive and enigmatic creative process.
Xenakis’s sketches, drawings, and musical scores, although never intended as “art”, occupy a unique place in the history of drawing. Featuring vibrant forms projecting into space within drawings two dimensions, the curators write, “They are the way he imagined sound”.
One way to look at these drawings of what seem to be incomprehensibly complex concepts is as if through the eyes of a child: there are delicate colored drawings on graph paper that are musical scores but look like games, like “page from notebook, 1959”, the “Territory” drawings, and the “Pithoprakta” drawings, as well as the large, beautiful, crossword-like “Vector Matrix for Achorripsis”.
Others look like needlework, like “Diatope”, and some musical scores, like the “Metastaseis” drawings resemble sweeping architectural renderings. Others that might be microscopic plant life, like “Study for Terretektorh” are musicians’ groupings, and the “Mycènes Alpha 1978” drawings look like strange animal forms.
Some of the architectural drawings might look like games, as well, and then there are photographs of the buildings for which Xenakis is primarily known, the Sainte Marie de la Tourette convent, on which he collaborated with Le Corbusier and , and the Phillips Pavilion at Expo 58, which he designed alone.
There are affecting personal photographs as well: a yellowing photo showing Xenakis as a young boy, in 1933, with his two brothers and Uncle Sophocles.
Xenakis as a Greek resistance fighter standing with others in a military truck.
A dramatic shot of Xenakis as a handsome young man, in 1957, listening to Le Corbusier as the great architect points to a model of the Philips Pavilion with others looking on.
A pensive Xenakis in 1995, seated in half shadow before a blackboard of his calculations, covered with photographs of the planets.
Two listening stations in the exhibit have looping videos, one showing his spectacular 90 minute spectacle, the Polytope de Mycènes, set in the ruins of Mycenae (performed on his first trip back to Greece after being condemned to death) that involves torch-bearing children, herds of goats let loose, readings and performances from Homer, and projections on the wall of the ancient citadel, flames, fireworks, and a children’s chorus finale from his Oresteia.
The co-curators are former Xenakis students. Paris-based new music specialist Sharon Kanach, the preeminent scholar of Xenakis’s life and work (now editing and translating a series of books of Xenakis writings) and executor of the Xenakis papers, and New-York based Carey Lovelace, art critic and curator “combined their passions” to choose the nearly 100 artifacts in the show from the Bibliotheque Nationale’s enormous collection of Xenakis papers.
“As we’ve been developing this event, putting together the show, and setting up concerts, etc., I found that many people have had incredibly intense, affecting experiences, listening to his music, looking at his architecture, hearing his lectures”, said Carey Lovelace. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience Xenakis for yourself.
The exhibition’s 200-page four-color catalogue is a must-have.
As an architect and as a composer whose music has been only sporadically performed in the U.S., Xenakis (who became a member of France’s Academy of Beaux Arts in 1984, was awarded the Kyoto Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of Music in 1997, and Italy’s critic’s Prize of Turin in 1990, is at last getting the attention he deserves here. Accompanying this exhibition is an ambitious schedule of public programs, concerts, and symposia around New York in collaboration with Electronic Music Foundation (EMF).
The exhibition in New York coincides with the 2010 launch of The Xenakis Project of the Americas, under the auspices of the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation within the Graduate Center of City University of New York. Not to be missed are screenings of documentaries and films such as “Something Rich and Strange”, and “Orient-Occident: Images d’une Exposition” (a film commissioned by UNESCO that uses the sounds of bowed boxes, bells, and metal rods, sounds from the ionosphere).
Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary will travel to the Canadian Centre for Architecture (June 17 – October 17, 2010) and the Museum of
Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (November 2010 – February 2011).
Drawing Center: 35 Wooster St., New York, NY. Tel.: (212) 219-2166.
(January 15 – April 8, 2010)
Hours: Wed. 12 p.m. – 6 p.m., Fri. – Sun. 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Go to http://drawingcenter.org/events_public_01.cfm for more information on events related to the exhibition.