16 August 2012


Iannis Xanakis: Metastasis
Order to Complexity to Disorder

Kundera on Xenakis. Xenakis severed relations between himself and music. Music as defined by a certain tradition, a heritage. He was not "new" he was "other." Unlike.

Xenakis "does not stand against some earlier phase of music; he turns away from all of European music, from the whole of it's legacy."

In this turn he locates a new origin for sound, not in the notes of man, but in nature. The sound the world makes, alive with rain, with dry heat and machinery.

Xenakis looks to the world of sound, sound with origins not confined to the heart of one man, or his intellect. In this turn he breaks with the authoritative notion that man is the heart of society, a person elevated above other life forms. In this turn from the lie of sentient beings, he takes his place within nature, where man and woman are small parts that do not define the whole.

Bakhtin also takes a turn from the I of writing to the world of speech. In his turn he locates the world of sound within an utterance— man at once a part of the grand dialogue, no more or less than a speaker.

About Xenakis' legacy: "Will he be remembered by music lovers?"

That is a question of music: what harmonies and scales are being agreed up, what instruments played, what opportunities for vocalizations, what beings expressed and realities explored.

They both fondle the dichotomies that have divided Nations, thoughts and music: man/nature; man/woman; oral/written; civilized/savage.

About Xenakis: "What will remain is the act of enormous rejection: for the first time someone has dared to tell European music that it can be abandoned. Forgotten."

So many parts of life are accepted as inevitable, events that cannot be avoided or evaded, certainties. This may be why some twist themselves around the barbed wire of free will and original sin. They are so certain,—as sure to follow as night follows day— of the story of their life, an appropriate score, an authority to empower their position.

Kundera mentions the circumstance of Xenakis' life: being sentenced to death, civil war, disfigurement. In his mind these circumstances "Led Xenakis to side with the objective sound of the world against the sound of a soul's subjectivity."

Many artists and many children of war (especially survivors of wars of extermination) break open in the attempt to understand. Arahon Appelfeld writes, "The numerous books of testimony that were written about the Holocaust are, if you will, a desperate effort to force the Holocaust into a remote recess of madness, to cut it off from life, and in other cases, to envelop it in a kind of mystical aura, intangible, which must be discussed as a kind of experience that cannot be expressed in words, but rather in a prolonged silence." (Beyond Despair)

The first time I heard Xanakis I thought of Beckett. I also think of Broch, beginning The Death of Virgil while interred by the Gestapo, finishing it in poverty and exile. None of these artists accept the inevitable. They have lost the certainty of day following night. And they respond with compositions: Metastasis. Pas Moi. The Death of Virgil.

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