“Music should lead to one’s total uplift through the loss of consiousness in front of a direct, rare, perfect truth”, he had said. This seldom seen truth he had been searching for a lifetime in ancient greek philosopfy, mathematical way of thinking, architecture, music and, mainly, in the revolutionary, under ecstatic combination of them. Revolution and art were two concepts totally identified with his determinant aesthetics. Philosophy, politics and music had become one.
“Restricting a person in a limited field, specializing him, is one of our culture’s standoffs”. Reacting to the extremely unconventional “serial system”, he boldly proceeded beyond atonality, overcoming even the dilemma of whether an “acoustic episode” can be called as music or not. For him everything was music, as soon as it reflected the human mind and the nature.
“If you go South” he said, declaring this way the primary stimulus of his inspiration, “you have the hudrents of bird, insect, cicada sounds besieging you from every side. Those sounds differ in volume, density and their placement into space. But what counts is the acoustic mass. This is what creates the beauty of the sound of cicadas, crickets etc.”
Xenakis’ psycological attacks leave none apathetic. Whether you worship or detest them. This worrying universe that “griefs” from yells and clangs, war sirens and bombings, car crashes and demonstrations, hammerings and volcano eruptions, directly sets two very ambitious goals: it claims at the same time an “illustration of the fundamental harmony of the universe” (as he described it in 1963 in his book Formalistic Musics) and a cathartic interference into human psycology.
“Like Beethoven’s music, Xenakis’ music, strict and difficult, is the music of imperative and regal moves, the music of the superior forces of nature. Earthy, never anecdotal, never sentimental, but supremely expressive, it makes us feel guilty for our weaknesses, exalting our courage. It is a music of a craftsman of power…”, Harry Halbreich, a distinguished musicologist had commented.
Xenakis’ biographer, Nuritza Matossian had said about him that “he never stoped being a combatant of the resistance. He just transfered his battlefield to music.”
Xenakis has no descendants. He didn’t create an aesthetic “school”, as other distinguished artists did. Why should he anyway? His students are searching nowadays strictly personal paths by continuing the lonely “battle” of an artist-scientist with equations and computers or by choosing the popular game of eclecticism. And they usually end up in “ironic” postmodern rituals or in “dialogues” between futurism and classicism. However, those idiosyncratic ways of search lack of “the vigorous and pluralistic vision of the experimenter” who provoked the forces of creation, combining the power and light of electronic sounds” (as Humanite wrote).
– «…I think the main characteristic I have received from most of these men, some of them being the highlight, as Koun, who was my teacher, as Gkatsos, as Elytis, with whom we were friends· first of all Manos Hadjidakis, Jani Christou, the intimate friendship and association that we had, we initiated in many things and the last of all Iannis Xenakis, who came and put all these things –concerning me of course- in the very strong form of intellectuality, I mean our life, an action that is a stunning part. Besides, when I kept asking him many times, because we were collaborating for thirty-five years, what the art could do towards the human being, then he was answering in repetition that “the rule of the art in the human’s life is to open spaces for human intellectual. Nothing else!
Of course there are a lot of questions about this, I made it clear to myself, I answered the questions “what is the relation between intellectuality and art?”, when we always mean that art is a psychosomatic part. Nevertheless, the human intellectuality acts, exists, realizes, experiences through the psychical world. The mind isn’t something separate. We live in a period that the mind is separated from the heart and the rest of the system. And it isn’t a bad thing if we understand something or not. The bad thing is that the human has become unstable, that the human has become schizophrenic, a lazy guy of neurosis and he has been doing, repeatedly for the last fifty years -perhaps earlier-, the same mistake, providing larger dimension in his mind than in his body and soul. The outcome of this is that the human “travels” more and more, like spacecrafts, which can leave this place and go to another direction. Something like this happened to me! The brain lost its immediacy with the body. For instance the body is burning and transmits the information to the brain, but the brain doesn’t keep any information, as many as you may give it. You can remember at most some things from those that you have read, that you have listened, in order to transmit them to someone else, but it is useless for us, because it has lost its unity with the emotional world, with the human. He can’t understand the damage of this action. He tries to think rationally in order to pass it to his mind, which is “small”, as everyone’s of course. He tries to think rationally in order to bring them into our alignment, to understand them.
You can see the people from Pontus, that if you don’t focus in one person, but you look at them in a general view, then it is something amazing, but you cannot observe what happens through the mind. All these people are experiencing them! […]
Our great teachers, like Gkatsos, withdrew and wrote lyrics only for songs, but each of his lyrics had a great philosophical meaning -always diacritic in order not to highlight that he was philosophizing- and understandable to the people, when he is tells him a story, withdrawn from the encephalitis, without losing the power of his intellectuality. He could -this is the difference with the great persons, like Elytis- understand that this is related to the human -with his world specifically- or not. This is exactly what it was! The same with Manos. Manos was a special figure into the society. He was intuiting what was going to happen in fifteen days for someone, he could see all the upcoming actions. Koun was pent up in the basement, in order to avoid all these things and he was working on the human world. Most of them were common guys, with whom he would like to make theater -both cultured and educated- he was motivating things from their origin, their soul.
The massive performances of Koun were psychism, so deep. In there also was Jani Christou, where amazing struggles were happening. They were fitting together, they had the same subject, but Christou was a very educated man and passed all his life into philosophy and, I could say, in the functional structure of philosophy, because we philosophize on something and later we leave this out from our lives.
I mean that all this part is his dedication to the completion of human, everything that tried to happen in the greek civilization with this part, which is mentioned as anthropocentric civilization. Anything else, music….poetry….insipidity! Related with the natural characteristics of things, with the cosmic event, in any case with the commands, this was Xenakis. A philosopher, explorer, researcher, that through the sounds was trying to find the relation of all these “events”, I mean the science of Physics, which counted to the human, and how the human was reshaping them into himself. This part of experiences, I mean the physical functions and experiences, the physical actions, he was incorporating and restoring a new condition, which we mention to as art. A little more scientifically, a little more clear, a little more concrete.
The same path also followed Jani Christou, with the difference that the psychism of human was coming to Christou. He was putting the human to function to the maximum. It seems that Christou didn’t believe that anyone had the time to change what he lives […] the psychism, the memories, all the things and become a more mental human, a different kind of genius, as Xenakis believed. That was the only difference between them. So Christou, too, – I think these things are important- having studied philosophy and psychoanalysis and Jung and all these things, these great persons, he was using this tool. The other one, who had studied mathematics, electronic music, he learned this stuff. But having known and loved them both, they were searching for the same thing, the human. And the first pieces of Xenakis are songs from Epirus, anastenaria (fire-walking) and the other one the same things, through the dynamic of psychism he tries to discover a new step towards the human. This is what I think! Anything else is useless.»
– Then the referral of them both to traditional elements is related to the deepest human creation? Like a primary material?
– «Only this way! Only this way! We bring a primary material back. Let’s talk about Xenakis. Xenakis brings the primary material back every time. There was no chance for me to behave in his works as an opera singer. He composed four big pieces for my voice, the Aïs, the two monologues for the Oresteia, Kassandra and Athena, Kormoris for voice and piano and Promitheus, which he prepared but didn’t manage to complete. These things are primitive. There is no belcanto, no singing, no music, it is a dimension. Of course this doesn’t need resultants, as we say, “there will be high…there will be wild” […]. When you involve with a poetic text…tribunals, the goddess Athena in Oresteia with the text of Aeschylus…why you have to say it like this and not in another way? Why you should organize to say like this? For what reason? There is no reason. You should understand there is an, authorized by the society and its laws, stupidity! That’s what it’s about. You are authorized by the law of the society to do all these nonsense, because everyone does these.
You make the plan in your mind about how to say this text, instead of -as you also do as a composer, that you get in the mood to compose- to discover what music is, instead of discovering what the poetic text of Aeschylus is. […] These are the concerns with these great men, Iannis and all the others I mentioned before. No one can say something more. All these things, the repeated discussions, I don’t like to doubt them, but I do, because they lead nowhere. We should teach people to exist, think and experience as Xenakis did.
They should experience as Hadjidakis, learn and experience having them as their lead, in order to experience the things with the same sense and also construct intellectual situations, I mean thoughts, which can protect them a little. One thought can protect us, make us stable. So where is the music? What is music? You can say many things, from these that we have listened and read. There is no principle, title about what music is. The sounds, the harmonics, the one connected with the other in order to describe all these…In fact it’s an inner world that is either completely dark or completely colorful.
It’s a thing inside us, which dominates us, unexplained, and from that point for this! Everything that I made right now! From the same place appears a sound, at this moment that I’m talking to you, I can sing something, but we don’t know why. It is unexplainable! It’s the nine Muses, the music. That thing, called inner world, is in fact music, or because of the Muses, and then poetry is created, theater, love, and the outcome of this thing is that music often tells us that we enter this world trying to discover why this thing troubles us so much? Why am I not going to drop in a lake to swim and relax? I go and do that in Thermopiles. I go there, get in and forget. The time I was sitting in the hollow, I felt that at the same point were the 300 Spartans of Leonidas. The night before they died, they bathed, they were washed in this water, maybe also in the same hollows, and I was shocked.
They were purified! They bathed, they braided their hair and the next day they left and went to play “thieves and policemen”, only having left their footsteps, their soles, their marks through their action. Can you transform this into logic? Can you explain this? Instead of trying to understand why this land has so many “heroes”, like Xenakis and Christou. Why do they exist? How it happens? And they had good social status. […]
The ancient Greeks created many gods. Have you ever seen any of them being ugly? There is no one!
The last thing I have to tell you, is that Jani tests out the human by composing these things that can’t be played, but he tasks him to play them. When you attend in the stage and you should complete a long monologue, 20 minutes in duration, with the speed of light, with a wealth of texts and the percussion player should be on time with you and the other way round, the sounds, the scales and all these things, or another musician, like a pianist, you can’t read these, so how can you play them? You are going to see that this is a fight, where Jani puts the player in the stage to assert. The action of fighting is what interested Jani primarily and it comes from his inner world.
The action of fighting for the reconquest of a human attribute, which is almost lost at this moment. So, do you want to be a composer? Do it! In other case you can compose just for fun, for celebrates, songs for the “table”, “tsamika”, for dance, songs about parting and many others. At the recent years there is a classification. I don’t know why sometimes everything seems silly to me. Everything that we do seems as a stupidity to me, a constant “theater”.»
(The interview with Spyros Sakkas took place on 13 of March in Athens)
Fragments from the study of Aristotle in English translation, which I consider that they are important for my research and some of those from which I inspired.
THE POETICS OF ARISTOTLE
BY S. H. BUTCHER,
LONDON, MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED,
«I propose to treat of Poetry in itself and of its various kinds, noting the essential quality of each; to inquire into the structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the number and nature of the parts of which a poem is composed; and similarly into whatever else falls within the same inquiry» [1447a]
«So in the arts above mentioned, taken as a whole, the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or ‘harmony’, either singly or combined» [1447b]
«People do, indeed, add the word ‘maker’ or ‘poet’ to the name of the metre, and speak of elegiac poets, or epic (that is hexameter) poets, as if it were not the imitation that makes the poet, but the verse that entitles them all indiscriminately to the name» [1447b]
«There are, again, some arts which employ all the means above mentioned,-namely, rhythm, tune and metre. Such are Dithyrambic and Nomic poetry, and also Tragedy and Comedy» [1447b]
«Since the objects of imitation are men in action» [1448a]
«The same distinction marks off Tragedy from Comedy; for Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life» [1448a]
«Hence, some say, the name of ‘drama’ is given to such poems, as representing action» [1448a]
«First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures; and through imitation he learns his earliest lessons» [1448b]
«Be that as it may, Tragedy -as also Comedy- was at first mere improvisation. The one originated with the leaders of the Dithyramb, the other with those of the phallic songs, which are still in use in many of our cities» [1449a]
«Once dialogue had come in, Nature herself discovered the appropriate measure» [1449a]
«For the iambic is, of all measures, the most colloquial» [1449a]
«For the Tragedy endeavors, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, or but slightly to exceed this limit; whereas the Epic action has no limits of time» [1449b]
«Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions» [1449b]
«Now as tragic imitation implies persons acting, it necessarily follows, in the first place, that Spectacular equipment will be a part of Tragedy. Next, Song and Diction, for these are the medium of imitation» [1449b]
«The Plot is the imitation of the action» [1450a]
«Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality -namely, Plot, Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Song» [1450a]
«The separate parts into which Tragedy is divided -namely, Prologue, Episode, Exodos, Choric song; this last being divided into Parodos and Stasimon. These are common to all plays: peculiar to some are the songs of actors from the stage and the Commoi» [1452b]
«A well constructed plot should, therefore, be single in its issue, rather than double as some maintain. The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but reversely, from good to bad. It should come about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty, in a character either such as we have described, or better rather than worse» [1453a]
«He ought to show invention of his own, and skillfully handle the traditional material» [1453b]
«In constructing the plot and working it out with the proper diction, the poet should place the scene, as far as possible, before his eyes. In this way, seeing everything with the utmost vividness, as if he were a spectator of the action, he will discover what is in keeping with it, and be most unlikely to overlook inconsistencies» [1455a]
«Again, the poet should work out his play, to the best of his power, with appropriate gestures; for those who feel emotion are most convincing through natural sympathy with the characters they represent; and one who is agitated storms, one who is angry rages, with the most life-like reality» [1455a]
«Hence poetry implies either a happy gift of nature or a strain of madness. In the one case a man can take the mould of any character; in the other, he is lifted out of his proper self» [1455a]
«As for the story, whether the poet takes it ready made or constructs it for himself, he should first sketch its general outline, and then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail» [1455b]
«A letter is an indivisible sound, yet not every such sound, but only one which can form part of a group of sounds. For even brutes
utter indivisible sounds, none of which I call a letter. The sound I mean may be either a vowel, a semi-vowel, or mute. A vowel is that which without impact of tongue or lips has an audible sound. A semi-vowel, that which with such impact has by itself no sound, but joined to a vowel sound becomes audible, as G and D» [1456b]
«A newly-coined word is one which has never been even in local use, but is adopted by the poet himself» [1457b]
«As altered word is one in which part of the ordinary form is left unchanged, and part is the re-cast» [1458a]
«The perfection of style is to be clear without being mean» [1458a]
«There was a deep evolution in the whole music world and basically the commonality was an effort to dispense with the fetters of an ossified academic art, which wreathed our music life, starting from music education and reaching to the concert halls, succeeding to convert what used to be a place of sacrament and high concepts, into a place of pedantic repetition of works with no meaning at all –when I am talking about it, I mean the international music atmosphere in the whole western world, which is characterized of a superficial perfection, deprived of a meaning, of humanism and most importantly an obligation feeling or better, the privilege of the mission to do this holy thing, called music.
This effort was made in a dual way: a) we consciously break the academic limits we are facing, when b) we subconsciously dig deep to obtain the past from eras and values that are now lost.»
«The characteristic in Christou and Xenakis is that, every other composer in Europe and America needs to go out of Europe in order to find something similar, to the traditions of Japan, India, Indonesia, when Greeks don’t need to do that. We have our own past, which is basically the European past, and this is where Xenakis and Christou dig.
The work originates from the idea of Heraclitus, who says that what stands against something is the dual form of unity.»
«With those deep thoughts, Christou tried to express the subconscious worries of modern human, who, as we know, feels as if the primitive awe awakens inside him in the new form of personal stress.»
«Christou, in this map, opens new horizons […] but, on the other side he regains the feeling of something we had lost, because we cannot understand the music of Bach, if we don’t have the feeling of the patterned nucleus, not even classical music.
Today, as we said, with the academic ossification and the imitation of an empty perfection, we take each note and try to count it up in an imitative way, when it basically seems as if we want to express, to find the meaning of a big text, not even by spelling, but itemizing the letters. When basically the feeling of the letters should be lost into the feeling of the word, which grows the sentence, and the sentence grows the period and the period grows the general meaning. Same happens in music. Bach started with the improvisation on themes.»
«Shapes that are calculated with the most unbelievable geometrical mind and creates a feeling in the infinity, which he had calculated in its tinniest detail, awakens primitive feelings and relieves us, because it makes us understand the stress.
Every musical instrument is totally free, as we are in life and have the feeling we can do whatever we want and time passes by, and as we have the feeling we are absolutely free, there is this tragic question of drama: where does the free will reaches? And where are the limits between will and destiny?»
«Destiny is organized in the general plan of the work, leading in fluctuations and to a feeling that wakes through a sound we don’t know… it starts from outside or inside us? In the beginning we are trying to conceive it, to make what happens accurate. By the time we become conscious, it is so big in size and depth that is really threatening.»
«“Metapraxis”: a philosophical meaning in which we are led to do something beyond what we would normally do, we are doing it because of a need coming from inside or outside […] A superior need we have not predicted.»
«…it reaches this point where it creates awe and you see how alive it is presented [in the score] … Until we end up in panic.»
«The conductor should have an entirely different (unusual) movement perception.»
«…as I have said in Heraclitus, it is something that, maybe for us, is consciously the end, but in the cosmic meaning it is nothing but a station for the eternal flow, which the conscious part of human cannot understand just through thought, but needs to obtain, or better admit the wisdom of the subconscious.»
Giorgos Koumendakis speaks about his opera «Fónissa» (=killer) based on the work of Alexandros Papadiamantis
«Papadiamantis’ language was the basic element for me to work on this opera. It is a complex and extremely poetic language, which gave me the opportunity to set it to music. The second element is Fragogiannou, who has an amazing personality, equally complex, very dramatic, reaches extreme situations and overcomes the human nature constantly, so I believe she could be one of the characters of the opera.
I have been working on traditional, byzantine music and ison for ten years. This opera is the end of this period. I found a way to pass the Greek traditional identity to the western music. This brought my own music to its edges so I believe the only way to this fulfillment is through a drama work, as an opera. The elements of the tradition are multiple and very modern at the same time. I set aside small units of very big tension, which you see and understand and hear and feel through a constant repetition. This creates suspense continuously, a thriller of the human being, which you never know where may take you. This may be concerned as a European or American minimalism. It is not! It is a Greek minimalism, a psychobiography, giving me the opportunity to reach the content of it, specifically music itself does what the human mind can’t. It reaches Fragogiannou’s and the other roles’ souls, Papadiamantis’ soul and feeling, what the text wants to give and in the same time I believe it takes off to a globe that, in this moment, I can’t see where it has reached. I know for sure that there has been an overage to my personal language and attitude. I used elements from Cretan music, the Cretan “kontilies”, from Pontos, with those unbelievable repeated units that create a very big elan, almost warrior -meaning the emotion- and also the polyphonic songs from Epirus. In this opera, after each murder, a lament is heard from a polyphonic ensemble of four women and is all based on polyphonic Epirus’ songs. What I want to be clarified is that I have not taken those elements as they are, but I bring them in my consciousness, in the music foresight through their memory, so when they are recreated, when they reach back and come to the surface, they lose what I kind of despise, folklore. So, even if the Greek traditional element is always there, it gives universality simultaneously.»
«All this music, which was passed in me through this hypnotic process, was recorded in my mind and many, dozens of pieces passed by, that I can’t hear anymore. One of those is a “pentozalis”, which was the basic core for me to create “Five more steps to sleep” and was connected to a lullaby I also remember from my grandmother. It brings back my ancestry, which has had a massive role in my music identity in the last years, the whole tradition, not only Cretan. Most of all I hold as a memory what I have felt, what I have experienced from tradition and I carry as something really important. It comes in a very natural way, like the water that flows in the channel with no obstacles, comes up in the surface and writes itself down in a personal way, the way I sense things lately. Those memories become something very modern. Many times I feel that I continue the anonymous creators’ tradition. Their names are not known, but this progression is recorded and this thing, coming from a long time ago, I am trying to let free in time. I honestly don’t care if my name is written in all this process.»
Interview with G. Koumendakis
«I abstract all of the material from Greek traditional music, I can say folk music as well, but through a very personal way. I take the core just as it is and start processing it, without corrupting the basic elements. Of course there are western characteristics when there is an orchestra, but the core, the energy of the music, the beat, all this material, let’s say primitiveness, stays almost clean.»
G. Koumendakis' note about his piece Forget me
«During the last few years, Greek traditional music has been the moving force of my compositions. I re-invent, re-structure and re-compose traditional music themes, preserving their energy and subtlety, the authenticity of their primordial model, their vibration and soul, following the paths of the “anonymous” folk composers; the “anonymous” composers of every kind and without borders, outside any racial self-admiration. As this material swirls in my hands, it inevitably gains something from my personality (the dose being determined by the material itself as well as the innumerable “hearings” of my music, as the sound is being shaped step by step on paper). These large or small doses of personal expression leave no room for returning to familiar ground.
The work Forget Me for solo flute (2009) forms part of the cycle of works under the general title Typewriter Tune, which attempts to decipher musical letters sent to various recipients. Each work offers the next something from its own world and thus a succession is created with a beginning lost in time, a present that is not static and a future looking into the superiority of evolution. In Forget Me for solo flute, the recipient is the “anonymous” creator, whereas the music material is derived from two traditional dances: a Karsilamas from Thrace (a 9/8, face to face dance counted as 2+2+2+3) and a Serra, a Pyrrhic dance from Pontos (a war dance from the Black Sea region in 7/16). »