Fragments from the book of Christos Tsanakas “Iannis Xenakis-The music of stars”

Christos Tsanakas: “Iannis Xenakis-The music of stars”


“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).


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