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Reviewed by:
  • Music and Architecture: Architectural Projects, Texts, and Realizations
  • Martin Iddon
Music and Architecture: Architectural Projects, Texts, and Realizations. By Iannis Xenakis. Translated, compiled and edited by Sharon Kanach. (Iannis Xenakis Series, no. 1.) Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2008. [xxii, 337 p. ISBN 9781576471074. $48.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.

As the ten-year anniversary of his death approaches, more than fifty years since the premieres of the pieces that brought him to international attention, Iannis Xenakis continues to cut an apparently paradoxical figure within the world of new music. On the one hand, though definitely (and sometimes defiantly) not of Darmstadt, Xenakis was resolutely of the European avant-garde, as musically and mathematically uncompromising as any of the scions of serialism. Yet, for whatever such a term may mean within the frame of “new music,” Xenakis’s music is, comparatively speaking, [End Page 308] popular. Perhaps Xenakis’s “outsider” quality—always seemingly more plausible in his case than in others, like Kagel or Ligeti, who took on a similar mantle—really does continue to play a part in his remarkable ability to transcend the sometimes violent infighting of the cultures of new music.

For all this, in terms of the English-language discourse, Xenakis continues to seem curiously underrepresented. The present volume hardly fills all the gaps (nor is it intended to) but it does provide much new material that will be vital for future research. Particularly, it allows the non-French-reading scholar access to an aspect of Xenakis’s work that can hardly be regarded as anything other than central: his relationship with architecture and the ways in which architectural thinking permeate his compositional output. Even for those readers who have linguistic access to Xenakis’s own Musique, Architecture (Tournai: Casterman, 1971), or its translations into Japanese, Italian, or Catalan, the present volume brings the extant portion of Xenakis’s writing on the subject fully up to date.

The volume is divided into four sections, dealing in turn with Xenakis’s tutelage in the Le Corbusier studio, his writings on architecture, projects undertaken as an independent architect following his acrimonious split from Le Corbusier, and his various Polytopes, which perhaps represent Xenakis’s most comprehensive and coherent synthesis of music and architecture. Each of the sections is made up, in the main, of Xenakis’s own writings, many of which are drawn from the previously unpublished documents held within the Iannis Xenakis Archive at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and, in the case of the first large section, from Paris’s Fondation Le Corbusier. Each section, too, contains insightful commentaries on and introductions to the various texts by Sharon Kanach, who translated and compiled the volume as a whole (and who is also the translator of Pendragon’s revised edition of Xenakis’s still-formidable Formalized Music).

The first section, focussing on Xenakis’s time working in Le Corbusier’s architectural studio in Paris is, perhaps inevitably, the most biographically focused section, though it is also the most diverse. A wide variety of archival materials is presented, including Xenakis’s own explanation of Le Corbusier’s “Modulor” (and a separate document explaining its direct relationship to the composition of Metastaseis), Le Corbusier’s patent application for the “undulating glass panes” (which Xenakis devised, based againon the principle of theModulor), correspondence between Xenakis and Le Corbusier regarding the Olympic Stadium in Baghdad, Xenakis’s formulation of a “climactic grid” to permit “the enumeration, coordination and analysis of the climactic conditions of a place” (p. 25), and documents from the negotiations surrounding the construction of the convent at La Tourette, for which Xenakis was chief architect. The section as a whole is fulsomely illustrated with numerous pages of original texts, plans, sketches and photographs of the various buildings on which Xenakis worked. Inevitably, too, there is a wide range of documents detailing Xenakis’s precise involvement with the design of the Philips Pavilion. The juxtaposition, in the context of that project, of Xenakis’s furious letter to his mentor Hermann Scherchen, regarding Le Cor busier’s removal of his name from what he regarded (quite rightly, on the evidence presented here) as his project with contemporaneous documents by Xenakis...


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