What was that noise?

I think it’s safe to say that Craig Burrell is not a fan of Iannis Xenakis:

The Wikipedia page for Iannis Xenakis calls him “an important and influential composer of the twentieth century”. To the extent that this claim is true, it serves as an indictment of twentieth-century music. If you thought the Moog machine was sufficient reason to hold electronic music in contempt, Xenakis is going to introduce you to a whole new world of pain.

It gets better, or worse:

Parts of it sound like garbage trucks being dropped through plate-glass ceilings. Certain episodes made me want to phone a fax machine in order to hear something more beautiful. The “compositions” bear pretentious titles like Diamorphoses, Concrete Ph, and S.709. This nonsense is sufficient proof that being “important and influential” is a very equivocal honour.

J. S. Bach had a perfectly nice S. 709 — Chorale-Prelude “Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend” — but we won’t go there.

Certainly Xenakis’ electronic compositions can be something other than pleasantly sonorous, but perhaps the weirdest of the lot are the pieces he worked up with the UPIC device, which basically takes a paper drawing and derives sounds from it. Mr Burrell includes a video of Mycenae alpha (1978), which I concede is a bit unsettling. However, Xenakis has written orchestral, vocal and piano works, in addition to the electronic stuff for which he’s best known; I can’t claim a great deal of familiarity with his catalogue, but I will admit to a certain fondness for Mists for solo piano (1981), which is aptly described by the chap who uploaded the video as “chaos splattered across a fairly rigid framework, interspersed with little flurries of aggravation.” It’s easier for me to handle than, say, the twelve-tone ditties of Schönberg and friends.

And yes, I know: the last post I did on things musical (yesterday) included references, albeit indirect, to Waylon Jennings and Megadeth. I am nothing if not inconsistent in my tastes.


  1. Charles Pergiel »

    17 November 2008 · 5:48 pm

    I wouldn’t call “Mycenae Alpha” music, it sounds more like sound effects for a science fiction movie. Matter of fact is sounds so much so that I looked up Xenakis on IMDB and Iannis is listed as a composer for one movie, but it’s not sci-fi, it’s “For the Whales”

  2. Bryan »

    18 November 2008 · 11:19 pm

    Hmm… I think I’ll stick to my Miles Davis, Fishbone, and Thievery Corporation, with occasional forays into Ray Charles, Bob Marley, and Jimi Hendrix. How’s that for inconsistent?

  3. Lynn »

    21 November 2008 · 7:40 am

    Inconsistent? I’ve got yer inconsistent right here! In my CD cabinet you will find Mozart, Bach, Palestrina, Beethoven, Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Elliot Carter, Alan Hovhaness, Arvo Part, Pink Floyd, John Denver, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Willie Nelson and Loreena McKennitt among many others.

  4. Lynn »

    21 November 2008 · 7:40 am

    No Xenakis yet though.

  5. CGHill »

    21 November 2008 · 7:54 am

    I actually have more Xenakis than Palestrina, but neither is a major factor on my shelf.

    And I really need to dig into more Hovhaness.

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