Saturday 7 March 2009

Total Immersion: Iannis Xenakis - Double Bill of films

The Phillips Pavillion designed by Xenakis in 1958.

Here is a brief report from guest poster Lizzie on the recent Xenakis documentary double bill at the Barbican in London (originally posted as a comment on a recent Xenakis post then she edited it a bit so it could be included here, thanks Lizzie :-)

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.

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