Is there a name more Ridiculous and Improbable than “Dilaceratus Hacketti”? Most assuredly– and even Famously: Iannis Xenakis.
WHILE auditing a musical composition class in 1940s Paris, Iannis Xenakis showed his work to his instructor, the great composer Arthur Honegger. “This is not music,” Honegger informed the young man, and he was right. It was architecture.
At the time, Xenakis was working in Le Corbusier’s studio, calculating the load-bearing capacity of concrete for low-income housing. His interest in music, and his recognition that music and architecture were both manifestations of mathematics, impelled him to see the geometric figures on his drawing board in terms of sound – and to set them in musical notation.
This radical idea would never be accepted by the classically trained Honegger, or even by avant-garde contemporaries such as Pierre Boulez, but by the time of Xenakis’s death in 2001 at the age of 78, he had arguably done more to bring music back to its mathematical roots than anyone since Pythagoras. This superb exhibition of his working drawings at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, compellingly – if all too compactly – shows how he did it.
Do listen (and watch) carefully to the video above. While it can be said that portions of it are formulaic, cold, impersonal, it cannot be entirely dismissed as merely a trick of algorithms, like the Dice Game apocryphally attributed to Mozart, or some of John Cage’s over-enthusiastically Random contributions. The overall structure Xenakis creates really does have something to say about the individual elements, leading to a feeling of genuine Composition, surprising elegance, and inner beauty.