Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Xenakis is Front Page News



Well sort of, on the front page of the Guardian website in the side bar (I was somewhat surprised to scroll down see the slightly amusing yearbook style photo of him above).

Here is the article (by Tom Service, unsurprisingly perhaps).

18 comments:

Lizzie said...

I came across Le Corbusier’s pavilion for the first time the other day (although in the book I was reading stated they were 425 speakers. Either way, it’s a lot!). The Barbican also has a double bill documentary on Xenakis work which looks interesting - going to see it in March. I know very little about his music & how he composes, but I’m fascinated so hopefully the film will enlightened me.

Edward Lawes said...

Barbican thing sounds good, pretty useful being in London for that sort of thing.

I've got an hour long documentary on Xenakis but it's in Japanese, one day I might meet someone who can translate it perhaps (same goes for the only Ligeti documentary, thats in French, more chance of getting that translated I suppose).

Also there are a couple of DVDs i've got, one with a surround sound version of an electro acoustic piece called La Legende d'Er and it has a really good interview with him (which I have some bits uploaded to my youtube channel, not ripped by me from the DVD though. I got it off Divx Stage6 ages ago and it was badly edited and compressed so I tried to sort it out a bit)

Another good DVD is one on Wergo called Mythos and Technik, it features various pieces of his and decent interviews with the performers/conductors.

Ive been meaning to post a big contemporary classical DVD review round up thing at some point, I should get round it (lots to review though).

In terms of Xenakis books, there is 'Formalised Music', it 'the' book to get although its pretty technical (lots of maths and philosophy) for a more relaxed introduction there is 'Conversations With Xenakis' (Varga) which is two extended interviews and there is a book by James Harley called 'Xenakis: His Life in Music' which discusses each of his compositions (more or less I think, ive not finished reading it yet). Also another one re-published recently about music and architecture but its uber expensive so I think i'll pass for now (there is probably one of those 20th century composer books about Xenakis too, not read it though).

Lizzie said...

Thanks for all of that Ed, its really helpful. I actually got a book from the libray this morning on Xenakis by Nouritza Matossian, which is really interesting. Its about his whole life and at the moment I'm reading about his time spent working for Le Corbusier, it talks about the Modular and Golden Section, which I'm trying to get my head around. Not sure how this relates to his music yet though.
My uni library had the 'Conversations with Xenakis' but only on one week loan. Might get it anyway & try to remember to renew it! They didn't have the other one you recommend. They had 'Formalised Music' but it sounded too indepth for me.
Checked out the interview with him you put on youtube, that was really good.

Edward Lawes said...

Good stuff, not heard of the Matossian book, i'll look it up.

Re the 'golden section' he used it in some of his early compositions, e.g. a fibonacci sequence, durations of 1,1,2,3,5,8,13 etc, not sure if he used the concept much into his later/mature work, I think he moved into more complex stuff based on probability and various calculus type operations (its been ages since I read formalised music, need to revisit it at some point even if the maths is mostly beyond me).

Re the modulor, it was a unit of measurement (or units), all ratios/proportions in his architecture should ideally relate to it (a bit like the ancient use of ratios like the square root of two you find in cathedral design). Supposedly designed around the proportions of the human body.

Lizzie said...

Ah, now I understand. Thanks.

Edward Lawes said...

Re ratios/geometry and their use in music/architecture, I wrote a piece based on the square root of two once, it was a movement in my 11 route piece (for that fluxus inspired event 7inch cinema did).

Each movement was based on an area of Birmingham that the 11 bus went through, and Hall Green's movement was based on the Church of The Ascension which I looked at on google maps and found what I hoped I would find, various square root of two relationships in the ground plan (I wonder if the people who run the church know about it?, thought about emailing them but it seemed far too nerdy or something).

It also lies as it should, east-west with the altar facing to the east (these are codes written into the architecture almost, I suppose 'God' was supposed to see them or something, 'sacred' geometry is ancient, and interesting, in a nerdy way, again).

I made a post about it ages ago with my scribblings on the subject...(square root of two is very simple, its the relationship of the side of a square to its diagonal)
http://complementinversion.blogspot.com/2008/05/work-in-progress.html

And here is progession of root rectangles (start with a square and take the diagonal of it, then take the diagonal of that shape and so on, you end up with a series of root rectangles)..

A 'nice' pattern based on that progression..

http://complementinversion.blogspot.com/2008/07/guess-pattern-win-prize.html

A harmonic/musical rendering (probably would be better in quarter tones, the idea is still percolating somewhat)

http://complementinversion.blogspot.com/2008/08/sound-of-root-rectangles.html

Lizzie said...

That was a lot of information to take in.

I looked at your photo of Hall Green church and have to say having spent very little time in one I had no idea they were built in the shape of a cross! I'm sure Bill Hicks would have had something to say about that too, but anyway. I remember hearing about your piece based on the No. 11 bus route, but don't think I ever heard it. Do you have it online anywhere?

I read your blog entry on the pattern and the answers to it, and after some doodling myself, I understand some of it, but am still trying to get my head round it. I'm unsure how this relates to the fibonacci sequence. (I've been reading about how Xenakis uses this in part of his Metastaseis piece). Well, I understand how the fibonacci sequence works (that you half the number before and add it together to get the next number i.e so half 2 = 1 add those together you get the next number 3 etc).
But is that the same as the square root of 2 principle?!

I looked it up on wikipedia too, but I'm still confused. I know it's probably really simple, and I loved maths at school (geek I know!) but yeah still not seeing it. I'll try and look it up somewhere else that has explanation in layman's terms. Once I understand that I'll be able to work out how you chose the notes in your 'Root Rectangles' piece (nice sunnies btw!). Cheers.

Edward Lawes said...

Sorry to overload you with info but this whole geometry and architecture and music stuff has interested me for a while so I have built up some info about it....(I shall now add yet more detail to that previously included here)..

The cruciform shape of churches isn't obvious unless you look at the ground plan or an above view, I read a book on ancient geometry so became more aware of the history of these proportions and their importance (you can do a lot with a compass and a straight edge, no need for arithmetic or a metric system etc, goes back to Eygpt and Greece/Euclid if not earlier).

Then I saw a BBC documentary called 'How To Build A Cathedral' (I think) and it mentioned the square root of 2 relationship from the transcept (the cross) to the nave (the long aisle bit). Cathedrals were once 'high tech' I suppose, I am not religious but this history makes me much more interested in churches and religious history (I like the music too).

Anyway, this proportion amongst others were thought 'holy' or 'sacred' or something, as if one dimension grew from the other, in that Hall Green church the square root is also repeated in the width of the transcept to the east end (interestingly, or not, it was built as a chapel, the transcept was added later, the architect knew his history, and/or perhaps the original architect inteded to add one so built the chapel with that in mind).

Oh also, the BACH motif is sometimes called the 'cruciform melody'... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruciform#Cruciform_melody (the BACH motif unifies two things I am currently interested, spatial/geometric metaphor and text/gematria type elements)

Re christian geometry, there are pictures of Jesus as a geometer holding a compass ( http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/JesusGreek.htm ), and sometimes inside a vesica piscis, which is made from the intersection of two circles (square root of 3), also the origin of the christian fish symbol I think.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesica_piscis

Back on topic, these root rectangles are related to the golden section but I didn't use that relationship in my root rectangles chord or in the movement from the 11 route. You can make the the 'section' (Plato) by taking a square, bisect it (halve it), take that diagonal and bring it down and make that the new width of your square, then you have a square with a rectangle on the end, the square is 1 and the rectangle is .618 (in the horizontal plane), so the overall rectangle is 'golden', if you add another rectangle of the same size to the other side of the square you have a root 5 rectangle (1 + .618 + .618 = 2.236 or square root of 5).

So the golden section (or the 'rectangle of the whirling squares' as it is called in one book I have) is related to root rectangles but only a sort of sub-component I suppose.

These sorts of proportions and relationships (the part of the whole etc) are perhaps universally 'interesting', visually, conceptually and perhaps musically, this is what I was investigating in those pieces and what I am trying to bring into a research proposal for an Mphil (I need more of a specific portfolio though before I submit it, that is what I am working on ATM, not just geometry but metaphor and representation in general, like gematria).

Re the history of geometry and the golden section, here is an interesting lecture by a Ron Eglash about fractal geometry in ancient sub-saharan Africa (in the design of buildings and street plans). Its less than 20mins long so isn't 'heavy' or whatever.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n36qV4Lk94

The 11 route piece isn't online, only a few movements were fully scored, most were improvised around pitch matrixes (pitches derived from information about each postcode area).

I might record some movements from it or rework some elements, not sure.

If you liked maths at school you did better than me, I hated it, it wasn't applied to anything so I didn't see the point (I am not 'naturally' good at maths at all, but im interested in the aesthetics and history of it, so I struggle on with it).

Lizzie said...

Thanks so much for all that Ed. I'll read the links in a minute. But just wanted to say I've worked out how to do root rectangles or dynamic rectangles as I now know they are also called. It was much much simpler than I thought! I have post-its full of lines all over the place! Might celebrate now & have a cup of tea! lol

Edward Lawes said...

Re-watching that Ron Eglash lecture reminded me about his book, i'm going to order it I think, that stuff about mod 2 pseudo-random numbers in West-African religion/ritural was pretty interesting, worth researching.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0813526140/africanfractalsw

Edward Lawes said...

Ah ok, dynamic rectangles then, I learned about them in Hambidge's book 'The Dynamic Elements of Symmetry', where he calls them root rectangles (but part of a dynamic system IIRC).

That is where the 'rectangle of the whirling squares'.

Edward Lawes said...

That is where the 'rectangle of the whirling squares'***comes from..

They are easy indeed, who knew you could have such fun with a compass and a ruler, pencils and paper?

Lizzie said...

Just watched it as well. Very interesting. Never thought I'd be into this kind of stuff. Back to Xenakis.

Edward Lawes said...

'back to Xenakis'

Erm, yeah.

Lizzie said...

I saw the Xenakis documentaries at the Barbican today that I mentioned a couple of weeks back. The first one was by the BBC and comprised of interviews with Xenakis and his wife Françoise mainly filmed whilst he was visiting his old school on the island of Spetzai. It also had an interview with the writer Nouritza Matossian (who wrote the book on Xenakis I’m reading, which I told you about).

Anyway, it was more about his life and how his experiences and education influenced his music rather than how he composed. I can’t remember if it was him or his wife who said that he tried to explain and understand the world –particularly the order in chaos and the structure in randomness – through his music. There was a speaker who talked about his music before the documentaries were shown and he used the analogy of a flock of birds in the sky all flying in their own way/direction in a way that appears to be random but together they form an order – you can clearly see the outline of the flock of birds and where the sky begins – and that is how a lot of his music, particularly Metastaseis works. Roger Woodward, the Australian pianist who first performed Keqrops said that after he plays Xenakis music he feels like he can do anything! which is hardly surprising considering how complex and demanding the piece is. Anyway, it was a good documentary in that you really could understand what drove him to write the music he did and see what a complete thirst for knowledge and understanding of the world he sought but I really wanted to understand more about the way he composed. (When I booked the tickets I failed to notice that the BBC Symphony Orchestra is playing 7 of Xenakis’ pieces this evening – damn!)

Edward Lawes said...

Thanks for the review Lizzie, can I post it as a new post/informal review on this blog from you as 'Lizzie, guest correspondent'?. I'll preface it by linking to this comments section and say it was in reply to a previous discussion etc and its not intended to be a formal piece of work, no probs if not or if you want to edit it first or whatever, it's just a thought/suggestion (your description of the event is to the point and informal in a good way imo, like this blog attempts to be hopefully).

Lizzie said...

Hi Ed, that would be great :) I've edited it a little and added a section on the second documentary.

Total Immersion – Xenakis Composer Day at the Barbican

As part of the Barbican’s composer day on Xenakis was a double bill of documentaries about the life and music of Iannis Xenakis preceded by a talk by Ivan Hewett.

Something Rich and Strange: The Life and Music of Iannis Xenakis
The first documentary, by the BBC, comprised of interviews with Xenakis and his wife Françoise mainly filmed whilst he was visiting his old school on the island of Spetzai. It also had an interview with the writer Nouritza Matossian (who spent 10 years collaborating and working on his biography, simply titled Xenakis – well worth a read, although I think it is unfortunately now out of print). 

Anyway, it was more about his life and how his experiences and education influenced his music rather than how he composed. I can’t remember if it was him or his wife who said that he tried to explain and understand the world –particularly the order in chaos and the structure in randomness – through his music. Speaker Ivan Hewett gave a 20 minute talk about his music before the documentaries were shown and he used the analogy of a flock of birds in the sky all flying in their own way/direction in a way that appears to be random but together they form an order – you can clearly see the outline of the flock of birds and where the sky begins – and that is how a lot of his music, particularly Metastaseis works. Roger Woodward, the Australian pianist who first performed Keqrops said that after he plays Xenakis music he feels like he can do anything, which is hardly surprising considering how complex and demanding the piece is! Anyway, it was a good documentary in that you really could understand what drove him to write the music he did and see what a complete thirst for knowledge and understanding of the world he sought but I really wanted to understand more about the way he composed.

The second documentary titled Building Sights Europe: Iannis Xenakis simply followed Xenakis on his visit to the Dominican monastery Le Couvent Sainte Marie de La Tourette near Lyon, which he worked on with Le Corbusier. Although Xenakis assisted Le Corbusier on the design of this monastery he had in fact never seen it until now. The documentary was very brief, only 10 minutes long, but enough to get a glimpse into Xenakis the architect and see how even then (he worked on this building from 1954-1957) he was using musical ideas as part of his architectural design.

Edward Lawes said...

Thanks Lizzie, i'll post it in a bit.