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Reviewed by:
  • Makis Solomos, editor: Presences of/Présences de Iannis Xenakis
  • Martin Laliberté
Makis Solomos, editor: Presences of/Présences de Iannis Xenakis Softcover, 2001, ISBN 2-9516440-1-9, 268 pages, annotated bibliography; Centre de Documentation de la Musique Contemporaine, 16, place de la Fontaine aux Lions, 75019 Paris, France; telephone (+33) 1-47-15-49-85; electronic mail, World Wide Web

Yet another publication on Iannis Xenakis?! One might think that this "well-known" composer had been properly studied over the last 30 years, especially after the significant impact his music had in the 1960s and 1970s. Clearly, this is not the point of view of the younger generation, of Xenakis's children rather than his siblings, so to speak. An international symposium on Xenakis was held in Paris in 1998 under the leadership of Makis Solomos and Marianne Lyon. It included presentations [End Page 88] by 25 specialists, most of them Europeans. The proceedings of the symposium were published last spring by the Centre de Documentation de la Musique Contemporaine (CDMC, the French Performing Rights Documentation Center), slightly after the composer's death.

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These proceedings are already regarded in France as a major contribution to the field of "Xenakian studies" and must be signaled to the English-speaking community. Reflecting the symposium's organization, the 27 contributions of this book, eight written in English, are grouped in five parts: Sources and Late Works, Theories, Aesthetics, Analysis, and Architecture and Polytopes. The book also contains two important appendices: a complete list of the composer's musical works and a comprehensive annotated bibliography, including a discussion of all of Xenakis's own writing. If, in fact, the appendices alone justify buying the proceedings and making the effort of reading technical French, it would be a pity not to detail the main contents.

After reading the book, one gathers that the study of Xenakis's music has evolved significantly in the last decade. The contributions signal that the musical community is now getting over the shock of Formalized Music and the composer's other theoretical writings. Obviously, the theoretical and technical aspects of Xenakis are still very much part of the field, but most of these contributions depict and discuss another Xenakis—closer to the real, multifaceted man, perhaps. It is now well known in Europe that for this composer, algorithmic and formal processes were only a means to attain a much more important objective: creating significant and original music. In fact, in his own late writings and teaching, Xenakis was surprisingly distant from the formal aspects of his music (the calculations evidently bored him) and preferred to discuss aesthetics and philosophy. The second generation appears to have followed his lead in this regard.

The first part of the book deals with the origins of Xenakis's music. It includes an early text (1955) of the composer in its first French translation, discussing the specifics of Greek music; in turn, the ideas included in this article are used by Makis Solomos as a conceptual grid shedding a most interesting light on the quite sudden acceleration of Xenakis's music from his Bartókian early pieces to Metastaseis, his striking "debut" piece. Mr. Solomos also discusses the relationships of young Xenakis with serialism and with Olivier Messiaen. That discussion is amplified by Ricardo Mandolini's text in the second part of the book, as we will see. Another starting point for Xenakis was his contact with Pierre Schaeffer and the early musique concrète group. François Delalande and Evelyne Gayou, of the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel/Groupe de Recherches Musicales (INA/GRM), present several useful historical facts on the first years of that studio and Xenakis's work there between 1954 and 1962. For instance, they underline that, in 1958, as an associate member of the group, he took part in a sub-group pondering the relationship of music and mathematics, clearly a forerunner of the essential EMAMu, Xenakis's own research center. The two authors also discuss the gradual divergence of the composer from Schaeffer, especially because of the latter's attitude...


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